Balancing Ambition and Vulnerability

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Juggling ambition and vulnerability is something that I have been struggling with over the past couple of years. Holed up in my office at Bellevue Hospital during the week and spending my weekends in coffee shops essentially defined the majority of my last year living in arguably the greatest city in the world, New York. In hindsight, I still can’t believe the number of times I flaked on plans or just didn’t even bother trying to make them, getting into the habit of valuing my work over my relationships. However, I don’t in any way regret how I spent my time there — the energy and pace of NYC is conducive to becoming a complete workaholic. And the hard work paid off: now I am able to live in arguably the greatest city in the world, Tel Aviv. But unlike my time spent in New York, which never had a tangible expiration date and lasted a solid 8 years, I am coming to terms with the fact that my time in Tel Aviv is terribly limited. I am already 1/5 of the way through my experience here and I am still learning how to balance several competing interests (lab, the start-up, friends, exploring Israel, alone time).

In a way, knowing that my time in this beautiful country with all of the fascinating people I have met is precious is forcing me to resist my habit of completely committing all of myself to work. For example, choosing to spend the afternoon in the park basking in the sun, hours that could have been spent in lab or working on my biosketch for an upcoming grant, is a decision that I would have never made while living in NYC. But knowing that my time here is limited reminds me of how crucial it is that I take the time to be wholly present, to be in tune with my surroundings and to feel everything in the moment. Finding the right balance between committing yourself to your work and enjoying your life is all the more difficult when your work is something that you are intensely passionate about. I have chosen a career path that necessitates a blurring of work and personal spheres, and I really couldn’t see my life in any other way. But when the mental and emotional energy you dedicate to work impedes your ability to be vulnerable to others, so much so that you view relationships (platonic and romantic) as a threat to your professional success, I know I have tipped the scales in an unhealthy way.

Living in Israel has provided me with the opportunity to challenge myself to be better balanced: to refine the skill of seeking both professional and personal development. I can recognize now that I used my work in New York as an excuse to not engage in social opportunities, to not be vulnerable to people, and to ultimately not be vulnerable to myself. Excelling in my work did provide me with a newfound sense of self-worth, autonomy and confidence. But I think learning how to share myself with others and viewing those shared experiences as advantageous to my work is the next step. So I have decided to challenge myself to be vulnerable over the next remaining 4 months in a way that I have never been: I want to maintain my independence and dedication to work, while also being vulnerable to others and to my own feelings, and find the synergy between the two.

The picture of the hodgepodge graffiti above was taken while on my way with a friend to Casbah, the cafe I have been spending most of my time reading and writing in over the last couple of weeks. I find it represents one of the small ways that I am trying to find balance: instead of disappearing for hours into a coffee shop, I am inviting my housemates and friends to work with me at the cafe. It also reminds me of all of my competing interests, which on the surface appear to be unrelated, but somehow can coexist in a fashion that ultimately makes each individual piece that much more valuable.

So the vulnerable truth is this: I am allowing myself to truly connect to a place and people for the first time in ages, and I can’t stop smiling.

 

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