On Wednesday I was getting on my bike, when my kneecap briefly rotated around the side of my knee. It was seriously painful, and I keeled over, bike with me, and my bike frame landed on my hurt knee. Ouch.

I got picked up (literally, I was in the road) by some kind strangers and called a cab to take me home (this is why people have cell phones! I’m so glad I got one). My boyfriend was close by, thankfully, and he came and rescued my bike and got me into the taxi. At this point, I pretty much couldn’t walk.

My friends and I were meeting at a restaurant nearby my apartment, but one of them called me (D) and he set off for my apartment building to rescue me. The taxi driver got me out of the taxi, and another of my friends (coincidentally) arrived outside my apartment and he was trying to support me with one arm and push his baby with the other. Then D turned up and we all got inside.

Finally I was at my apartment, covered in a dust, gravel, a bit of blood, and lots of tears. By this time, I could put a little weight on my knee again (I’ve done this before, at first it’s agony but after a while it’s just swollen, stiff, and painful).

So that’s 3 strangers, 2 builders, my boyfriend, a cab driver, and two of my friends. 9 people. And little me having a stupid accident – again. And then 3 more friends showed up at my apartment, and my friend who’s been here visiting us and everyone’s saying, don’t worry Cate, we don’t have to go out, we’ll get takeout etc. And I washed my face, found a clean t-shirt and said – no, we’re going out. We have a reservation, and damnit when I concussed myself and went to hospital I was skiing 2 days later (and took my CSIA Level 1 the same week). In fact the 2nd (trying to learn to snowboard), third (idiot hit me) and fourth (took flight and landed on head) times I concussed myself I was skiing again the following day. I trained in martial arts in China, and when my master beat me I didn’t give up and go home (I got off lightly because I’m a girl, but still – it hurt). When I went over my handlebars after making some poor judgment in my bike riding, I walked for a bit, sure, but I made it to the end of the 46 miles. In fact the last few times I did this to my knee, I strapped my knees up, added a load of duck-tape… and went skiing.

Physical perseverance is easy. It is easy to push yourself to train harder, and the more you push yourself the easier it gets. It’s easier not to, of course, but mental perseverance is much harder. It’s easier for something that’s abstract to be more overwhelming. It’s easier to let it overwhelm you.

I’ve been getting a little overwhelmed lately, and what I’ve started to realize is that I need to take the same attitude that I do when I’m skiing, kickboxing, biking, or otherwise injuring myself.

  1. Delegate. 9 people got me home the other day, it’s not a shameful thing to let people help you when you’re physically hurt, so why do we not ask for help when we need it for more abstract things? I’ve been trying to get this WISE chapter going and at first I was doing stuff myself because I thought it was easier than asking someone else to help. It’s not! Now we have a great team, and I ask them to do things. I still have a lot to do, but more is getting done overall. It frees me up for stuff that is important, but not critical – like putting together our website.
  2. Progress is progress. If I’m injured I might still ski, but I probably won’t take that double black mogul run. I’ll still go kickboxing when I’ve hurt my shoulder, but I’ll moderate what I’m doing so I don’t injure it further. When you’re feeling overwhelmed it’s easy to just stop and not achieve anything, but crossing some smaller and easier tasks off The List mean you’ve still done something and the bigger task will hopefully seem more manageable tomorrow. Or just do a little bit of the bigger task. A friend told me a story about his dad, he came home and found his dad had eaten this whole cake. When asked, he said, “I ate it in little pieces”. The meaning I want to take from that story – chipping away at things works!
  3. Sometimes you need time off. This morning, I said to my boyfriend that I might just strap up my knee and go kickboxing. He said, “that’s a stupid idea”. And he’s probably right. I’m still thinking about it though… as a grad student I have all this guilt, I feel like I should be working all the time and it’s just not possible. Taking Sundays off has been making a big difference to me, it actually improves my productivity. I’m refreshed on Monday, and get more done during the week because I know that very little will happen over the weekend. By having a goal to finish work by a certain time so that I can kickbox, or go out with my friends I focus better. Having a 9-5 job gives you structure, and I miss that. But if I can emulate that, it’s very helpful.

I’m not sure what I’ve learned in class at grad school is the most important thing I’ll get from it, and I’m not sure being really smart actually helps you so much. I know people who are very smart who’ve opted for mediocrity, or suburbia before 25, or are still at graduate school seemingly with no plan to finish (or publish). Maybe they’re happier, and perhaps personal relationships are more important. I don’t know. I think I’m inclined to agree with this blog post by Alex Bogusky – if you have to be afraid of something, then fear mediocrity, though. But given the economy, and the rate at which things are changing right now (Java is my preferred programming language, but I can’t bank on it being in such heavy use in another 10 years) what’s more important will be the ability to learn, the motivation (and perseverance) to keep learning, and the other intangible skills we learned along the way.

Semi-related – interesting post from Seth Godin about Positive Thinking.

Slightly more related – post by Penelope Trunk about the relationship between exercise and career success.