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Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Using Celebration as Self-Manipulation

Imagine it. You have a collection of seventeen test prep books you’re carrying by hand. You don’t have the money right now to get an Uber or a Lyft, and the buses are detoured from your stop. So you have to walk a mile and a half to get all of these test materials to the students who are waiting for your first lecture. You arrive barely on time, drenched in sweat and thinking one thing:

‘Next time, I’ll work harder.’

It’s a true story, by the way. I used to teach for a small competitor of Kaplan and Princeton Review. Don’t worry about looking for it online; apparently, it went out of business a couple of years ago. They recruited graduate students with high GRE and SAT scores to teach in their city of focus; in essence, we were their evangelists for no-frills tutoring across the country.

They aspired to give the students precisely the tools they needed to advance their scores, and nothing more; no unnecessary vocab cards, no online mock exams, no fuss. For a work-hungry graduate student who wanted some experience in alternative teaching, it was perfect.

On a hectic day, I biked from the top of Oakland to Fort Mason in San Francisco and taught both the GRE and the SAT on the weekend, Though I left the teaching exhausted, I still felt I could do more…somehow.

Ironically there’s one lesson I‘ve taken from the experience. On the final day of instruction, after six weeks of intense preparation, the final lesson we give to the students is:

‘How will you celebrate once this is over?’

I admit I don’t have the best answer to this question.

I’m a workaholic. I work through my anxiety by piling on more tasks. I know it’s not healthy. It worked perfectly when I was writing my dissertation, but it’s a problem after the fact. Because of this Sisyphean quality, I’ve cast off the importance of self-celebration.

I tell everyone else, however, to celebrate to their heart’s content. Not everyone’s like me, and they deserve to relax, right? Go party. I’ll even come with you if it will help you relax.

As one of my favorites reads Self-Compassion: the proven power of Being Kind to Yourself discusses in exceptional depth: If you were speaking to your friend in the same way you spoke to yourself, how would they feel? If so, then why treat yourself in that manner?

If you’ve gotten this far, it’s probably because you feel the same. The problem is, understanding anxiety isn’t enough to address it.

We need something stronger. How about some psychological manipulation? What if I told you planning your rewards, would help you work harder?

This is why the lesson I taught stayed with me for years after my last class.

Of course, you deserve to relax. Of course, you deserve a change from the hectic schedule you’ve adopted for whatever reason. But, for people like us, we need an extra push. For instance, that if you don’t reward yourself, your work will suffer. It’s true. We advised our students to specifically plan for their own reward, so they would work harder during the process.

And, to be clear: your celebration doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s. Love to read? Buy a new book. Love to sleep? Take a nap. Binge watch that new Netflix series you’ve been putting off. Go wild.

And for a chronic worker like yours truly, I can learn to fake it until I make it. Eventually, with the right rewards, I can learn how to relearn balance and manifested self-appreciation.

Next time, I promise I’ll catch a Lyft. I finally learned, I’m worth the trip.

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