The Silver Lining of Self-Inflicted Torture

This morning, I was at the subway during peak hour with a latte in hand. Normally, I am fortunate that I live close enough to the office that I don’t need to subway as my commute. But today, I was heading to a different office, and experienced the joy of Shanghai subway at rush hour. I was in no particular hurry, and the carts were jam-packed with people on top of one another like sardines. So, I sat on the platform, sipping on my latte, and watched the carts go by.

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Twenty minutes later, after watching nearly a dozen carts go by, I finished my latte and got on a less-than-sardine-status cart. Yet all day, I’d been haunted by the thoughts that crossed my mind while I waited: Every single person in these carts looks absolutely miserable, and this is simply not the way to live. Why do humans torture ourselves by squeezing into crowded subway carts, going to jobs that most of us don’t love (I count myself lucky that I actually love my job at the moment), in order to buy things that most of us don’t need?

Tonight, after a frustrating study session that pushed me into a level of meltdown I hadn’t experienced since college, my existential crisis worsened.

Let me back up. At the start of 2015, I told myself I’d work on living a more balanced life. Then a month later, I signed up to take the level one of CFA. Yes, that is the exact opposite of balanced living. Over the past 3-ish months, I’ve clocked in over 200 hours of studying, and diminished my once hyperactive social life to mere nothingness. It basically feels like finals week, but for 3, going on 4 months.

A friend in Shanghai told me that I like to do things in extremes; I think she’s right on the money.

So, tonight, after my mini (mega) meltdown, I began to have serious doubts on my just-do approach to life for the first time. I don’t typically think through big decisions. I tend to just leap. My belief is that if you think too long and hard about the big things in life, then you’d never do it. It’s worked out for me with joining the Peace Corps, moving to China, going to grad school, etc. I’ve never regretted any of these decisions, but I must admit doubts now exist on this journey to collect that CFA initial behind my name.

The same way I looked at packed-full of subway carts and ask why we humans inflict such torture upon ourselves, I asked myself the same question.

Challenge is good. When I signed up for the CFA, I was looking for a goal to achieve, and a challenge to conquer. I wanted to use a specific part of my brain that’s been idle for a while. I wanted to have some focus other than going to work and then running all around town meeting people for lunch/brunch/drinks/coffee/dinner.

So far, those specific goals have been achieved. I’ve been laser-focused, and have been extremely selective in my social activities. Yet, as always, there are tradeoffs. I haven’t been to yoga in ages, and my overall activity level has declined dramatically. I feel sluggish and have taken up morning runs over the last two weeks to feel slightly more alive.

At this moment, with 3 weeks until the exam, it is uncertain whether I a.) will actually pass this exam, or b.) will continue to pursue the CFA Charter (there’s level 2&3) even if I do pass it, but at least in the process of living in extreme conditions, I am inching closer to my equilibrium, and understanding how, in reality, I actually want to live my life. This, is by far a much more valuable lesson than discounting cash flows. Always a silver lining. I hope the thousands of miserable-looking people who passed before me in those crowded subway carts this morning, also have their own silver lining, and will come out of these horrid daily commutes to live a more balanced life.

This article first appeared at www.Wanderlustwendy.com.

Wendy Lee

You can contact Wendy Lee at wendylee86@gmail.com.

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