Doing Life vs. Living It

I never imagined myself being someone who would seek therapy. I held the same mindset as older generations tend to have about it. “What do you need therapy for? I went to Vietnam. I didn’t need therapy.”

We’re so quick to prioritize regular check-ups for our physical health, scheduling dental appointments, and picking up prescriptions from the pharmacy. But why don’t we pay as much attention to our mental well-being?

If we can seek medical professionals for something as ordinary as dental care, shouldn’t it be just as normal to seek help for the most vital part of our being—our minds?

My expectation was the ‘Good Will Hunting’ version of therapy. I pictured myself sitting on a luxurious leather couch, challenging the therapist to see if they could handle my wit and complexity. However, the reality was far more straightforward—I logged into a Zoom call and virtually met my therapist. She asked me about what was happening in my life, and I found myself doing most of the talking.

The sessions lasted for 55 minutes. Initially, I doubted whether I had 55 minutes of things to talk about. But as I opened up, I discovered that therapy isn’t solely about an expert solving all your problems. By articulating your thoughts and feelings aloud to an impartial third party, you begin to uncover answers within yourself. Often, it’s not a concrete “answer” you seek, but rather a space where you can release the weight of unspoken thoughts and let them exist without judgment or criticism.

One crucial aspect that came to light for me was my tendency to view life in absolutes, a binary perspective. I found myself oscillating between extremes, whether it was binge drinking all weekend or committing to a 90-day sobriety period, training relentlessly for a triathlon or succumbing to a week of couch potato existence.

I want to be the best at everything I do. The problem is that my thirst to excel often leads me to seek the most optimal, disciplined, and rigid path toward my goals. My attitude then becomes:

  • If I can’t dedicate an hour to my workout, I’m not going to make any health progress.
  • If I can’t carve out a four-hour deep focus block, I won’t make any professional progress.
  • If I can’t spend an hour with my partner, I’m not going to make any relationship progress.

Holding myself to high standards can be a good thing, as it propels me forward and fuels remarkable growth and progress when I’m disciplined. That same disciplined mindset helped me lose thirty pounds, complete a handful of marathons/triathlons, meet the love of my life, and get promoted multiple times at work.

The challenge comes when anything less than optimal feels like a failure. It sets a trap where I let the optimal get in the way of the beneficial.

  • If I can’t spare an hour for the gym, I convince myself it’s pointless to go at all.
  • If I can’t devote four hours to deep-focus work, I convince myself it’s futile to work at all.
  • If I can’t set aside an hour for my partner, I convince myself it’s not worth spending any time together.

As my therapist said, “You’re doing an excellent job at doing life. But you also make sure you’re LIVING life.” I spent so much time optimizing my day that life began to look more like a to-do list than living consciously and in the present moment.

Don’t let the pursuit of perfection hinder the attainment of what is truly beneficial. Rather than vying for the ‘optimal’ outcome, I now aim for a level of satisfaction that won’t burn me out in the process.

  • I can only workout for twenty minutes this morning, so let’s make sure we get a good sweat in
  • I have a busy day ahead of me, but I’ll block off two hours tomorrow to get that big project done
  • I haven’t seen my partner all week, let me schedule a date night where we can catch up

Where do your lofty standards paradoxically hold you back?

Embrace life, but also ensure you’re truly living it.


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