It is no secret that the modern world values productivity.

The more we create, the more we are told we are worth.

The more we do the more we are admired and lauded.

Relaxation is perceived to be a luxury that can only be enjoyed for brief moments between all of the tasks on our to-do lists.

Yet without relaxation we aren’t really able to produce efficiently, let alone be healthy, enjoy life, and truly thrive.

I am currently in the last term of a 5 year journey toward a master’s degree in Chinese medicine.

With less than 10 weeks left before I graduate, saying that I have “senioritis” is an understatement.

Throughout my time as a graduate student I have become acutely aware of the difficulty in balancing accomplishment with self-care.

Having been born with the ambitious and forward moving tendencies of a “Wood/Metal” personality, in addition to being raised in the center of one of the most competitive, driven, and collectively over-achieving places in the world (New York City), I entered into graduate school with the enthusiasm of a fast-growing daffodil in the springtime.

I was interested in almost everything, and so I signed up for every additional class, workshop, and weekend program I could fit into my already packed schedule.

Toward the end of my second year all of my weekends were booked on top of needing to study for tests, finish projects, and attend required classes.

I finally hit a level of exhaustion that left me reconsidering the true merit of all of these extra classes.

I decided to change my approach.

Instead of signing up for everything that interested me, I began saying “no” to every activity that wasn’t required.

I even dropped out of the herb portion of my program for a while in an attempt to give myself some breathing room, but after a bit of internal struggle I eventually felt that it was important enough to add it back in a year later.

This, however, came at the cost of extending my program from 4 years to 5 as I had to make up the three introductory herb courses I had missed.

Though I did fill some of my time outside of school in an mentorship with my now-retired teacher Sheila Murphy,  the additional year actually gave me a gift beyond scholastic achievement.

With more space in my schedule I was better able to take care of myself than I would have been had I tried to cram all parts of the program into the original 4 years.

Saying “no” helped me say “yes!”

Because I had learned to say “no” to most activities outside of my requirements, I was able to say “yes” to going to the sauna, cooking healthy food, having brunch with friends, going for a stress-relieving walk in the park, or just hanging out at home watching movies with Adam (the man I now call my husband).

While all of those extra workshops and classes might have made me seem more productive on the outside, I was better able do the work I had to do for my required classes because I gave myself the time I needed to focus on the tasks at hand.

Without time for relaxation and fun I wouldn’t have done any of it well.

Even though I have to admit that I am dragging my feet with fatigue from the mere length of these past five years, I feel more ready to enter my chosen career than I would have been had I pushed through full-force without taking breaks to enjoy life along the way.

I can relate to how hard it is for most people to keep up with self-care amidst all of the demands life brings, but I also know that there are ways to modify your life in order to take care of yourself.

Even if it takes more time, saying “no” to over-productivity in exchange for more room to thrive can make life a whole lot sweeter in the end.

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