Work Hard, But Not Too Hard, and Then Stop, and Then Do it Again the Next Day

"Give it your all!" they say. "Give it your 110%!" they demand.




Look, I've been there. I've done the sleep-every-other-night, eat-Cambell's-Soup-at-Hand--cold!--while-speed-walking-to-class, shower-every-third-day routine. I hustled and bustled to graduate this school in order to get accepted into that school, and then graduated that school to accepted into this other school to graduate and get a job as soon as I possibly could.

And yes, school is a nice, safe place to tell someone to give it their 100%, or 110%, or 300% or whatever adults are telling kids to do these days. In school, teachers can tell students what to do, students can follow it to a tee and walk out with gold stars, unicorn stickers, and big, red "100%!" stamps all over their homework assignments.

What follows after graduation is a different story. In particular, when you're a teacher, a runner, or a self-proclaimed writer (yes, I am talking about myself in this blog post and in every post in this blog for that matter, damnit), no one is going to tell you that you've given it your 100%, OK, Good Job, You Can Go Home Now.

I mean sure, with tasks it's easy enough to know if you've done something completely wrong: you're a sandwich maker at a cafe and your boss just yelled at you for cutting the cucumbers into quarter-inch slices when he specifically told you to cut them into quarter-sized slices are you trying to run him out of business with all the extra cucumber slices you're practically giving away to customers what is this a soup kitchen for the needy?!; you're a copy runner and you just ran off 80 copies of the first page of an 80-page report instead of one copy of the entire report (again); you live alone and haven't done the dishes in 6 days and have resorted to searching kitchen drunk drawers for lost stashes of takeout chopsticks (something I'm completely making up off the top of my head, what? I've never done this before ha ha ha ha ha).

Yes, it's possible to do tasks completely wrong. Endeavors, as they shall henceforth be referred, unlike tasks, do not come with checklists or cheerleaders or screaming bosses or soft-spoken career counselors that tell you, Yes, You're Doing it Right or No, Slice Those Cucumbers Thinner.

Wait, what are endeavors?


Traveling Solo: Alert, Aware, and Less Alone and Than You Think

Due to scheduling conflicts, Brian and I parted ways in Malaysia, and I ended up climbing Mt. Kinabalu without my travel partner.
When Brian asked me which country of those I'd been was my favorite so far, I started rattling them of with considerable ease: Cuba... China... France... Malaysia... we both immediately noticed a pattern. "Those are all places you've gone without me" he accused me.

At first, I cold-heartedly brushed off his observation and innocent wist, insisting that it was a coincidence. After all, I couldn't explain why China was more interesting to me than Thailand, why Paris was more romantic to me than Cambodia, or why I was able to meet (and dance the night away with) so many friendly locals in Cuba. I reasoned that I wasn't trying to make him jealous--the fact that those countries were in many ways my favorites was just the way the cards fell.

But then again...

When I went to South Korea with a group of friends, we chattered non-stop on the subways and as we absent-mindedly window shopped down crowded boutique neighborhoods. I hardly noticed the bustling scenes as shop window after shop window after small cafe flew by. In Vietnam, I caught some kind of stomach parasite, so Brian was charged with building our itinerary, dragging me from one landmark to the next, and seeking out plain rice and bread for my meals while I stayed locked up in the hotel or sat with my head down at a picnic table. With someone to care for me, I let myself be led around around blindly. That trip still is a bit hazy to me. In Taiwan, Brian and I met up with one of Brian's Taiwanese friends and for 10 days, we all practically held hands as we stayed at parents' homes, were taken on truck rides by uncles and cousins, and were even told exactly what to eat in order to get the truest sense of the legendary Taiwanese cuisine. Going to Taiwan was like coming home, except without being able to understand anything.

These trips were great. They were memorable. It almost didn't even matter where I was because I was so engrossed and distracted by the warm company of my friends. I had fun, I relaxed, and I was safe.

On the other hand... when I think of Cuba (a country I'd gone to before Brian and I were a couple), I remember vividly the time that I walked through small neighborhoods, past cigar and trinket shops, through a small park with two skinny trees and a stray dog, and by the beach. I bought a cheap popsicle from a middle-aged man wearing a hat. I saw old men sitting at a park bench, smoking and talking. I saw little kids begging their parents for candy I had never seen or heard of before. I saw a stooped, wrinkly, old lady sitting on the front step of a doorway, staring off into the distance and puffing on a fat cigar. Oh, and this magical walk I had gone on? It last about 20 minutes. 30 minutes, tops. I remember meeting up with a group of Cuban friends with my own lose, new group of tourist friends, and making plans to meet up to on a trip to the beach the next day. I remember being proposed to three different times by three different guys--all of whom over 40 years old--when I went dancing at a rumba night club. I remember chatting politics for hours on end as the hours reached into the morning at calmer, quieter night clubs with groups of 20-something-year old Cuban friends.