Salad Makes You Skinny and Other Lies I Tell Myself

I view lettuce as a vessel. Salad holds great potential for all flavors other than lettuce. Caesar salad deserves salty sourdough croutons piled high. Taco salad merely hints at healthy beneath layers smeared with stringy cheese and thick globs of sour cream. Kale should be seen but never totally tasted. If you can still see the salad greens, keep going.

This concept of "more is good, but the most is better" spills over the confines of my salad bowl. I'm not very good at doing things halfway unless we're talking about laundry. When it comes to laundry, I just throw all that shit in one washer and hope for the best. In every other aspect of life, I strive for anything from extreme competence to mild perfection, the latter of which is obviously impossible to achieve but still what I rudely demand of myself. I convince myself that the things waiting for me at work are consistently more important than those waiting at home, like the kind of mystery novel that makes your spine tingle with anticipation or baking until the apartment smells like browned butter and sugar whipped smooth.

The Young Professionals of NYC strive for a level of perfection even Kim Kardashian's butt has yet to achieve. While the ambition is inspiring and the shared loss of late nights and suffering social lives comforting, constantly pushing towards The Next Big Thing is exhausting. I once walked past an otherwise nondescript girl in tears on the phone because she had believed she might have completed an art deal incorrectly. This was apparently a Very Bad No Good Situation because Coworker Sally, who handled the rest of the day's transactions, had done hers differently. Who was right? Who was wrong? Girl on The Phone worried for several blocks about the sanctity of letting her mistake go until the morning when it could be properly addressed as opposed to approaching the overachieving Sally after hours about what to do next, like, right now. Lagging behind her, I realized I had happened upon a kindred neurotic soul.

If you are a type-A personality like me and Girl on the Phone, your inability to sit still and let life happen is likely both your greatest strength and weakness. It's easy to let the details bog you down  a few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night convinced I had coded an invoice at work incorrectly and didn't sleep until I had spent an hour on the phone with IT to fix it. Slowly, I am learning that managing personal expectations for yourself is about picking your battles. You can choose to worry about the extra croutons on your Caesar or you can eat them because you want them and you can go to the gym regularly and also you can climb up multiple subway stairs daily, damn it. You can compare your accomplishments at work with those of your coworkers or you can give yourself a pat on the back for making it through the day and your crowded inbox with a sliver of sanity intact.

I'm not advocating half-assing your way through life in the name of "balance." That is no way to live. The real lesson here is learning when to call it. Sometimes you don't need to color-code and program each cell in a spreadsheet. You can just enter the data, double check that it's correct, and send it on its merry little way. Fun fact: few people care that you color-coded the spreadsheet. Unless this extra emotional energy is truly helping people understand the content, accurately entering the data in a timely manner is often all that is necessary. Learn where you can give yourself some slack and save that energy for the hard stuff.

I paint a pretty picture of "prioritizing" and "focusing on what's really important in life." But like most things, it's one thing to talk the talk and an entirely different thing to get your life together and walk the walk. On vacation recently, my friend greeted me with a hug and strict instructions to stay off my email (which I snuck into at night, so clearly I have some work to do here). I just keep piling things on the to-do list, saying yes, raising my hand higher, until the things I do just because they make me happy are barely able to breathe under the weight of obligation. This lopsided work-life balance is my current fix-it-before-it-fixes-you. Learning to let go has been a gradual and generally painful process, not unlike what I imagine weaning yourself off of french-fries must feel like. I like my job. I like to work. But work can't define you and it can't consume you. Those things that truly make you happy, whether a person, pet, or casual pastime, deserve to be prioritized too. At night, when I can either start something new or leave the office in time to go pummel some stress out via kickboxing, I try to pick the latter. The beautiful thing about work and your half-finished kale salad is that both will be right there waiting for you in the morning.