I remember sitting upstairs in the vast space of Langdell Hall, Harvard Law’s library, for hours upon hours upon hours over the course of my time in grad school. Studying. Talking to friends. Taking breaks to clear my head.
There were large tables for groups and there were partitioned spaces for loners. Many of us would choose to gather at the tables. Many of us would study with headphones in – listening to music that helped us focus. I couldn’t focus as well with people around me or music in the background, so I studied alone in a partitioned space. In silence. When my mind couldn’t take the grind any longer, I would step away for a set amount of time, often roaming into a room that housed artifacts like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ lunchbox and listening to Andrea Bocelli sing Con Te Partiro. The version that was just him. I didn’t like the Sarah Brightman version as much.
I share these bizarre details of my past because they weren’t necessarily the norm. But they worked for me. They weren’t what most of my peers were doing – but in the quiet of those countless hours spent studying, before the days of social media, I had the space to develop a routine that worked for me without a thousand voices telling me what SHOULD work for me.
These days it’s so much harder. Years ago I started eating a flexible, mostly Paleo diet. Meaning I cut out sugar, dairy, processed food and the like most of the time. I still ate s’mores with my kids when we went camping. I still ate what the chef recommended when we splurged on a great restaurant. But about 95% of the time, I cut the crap out of my diet in a way that worked for my body. I affectionately called it “paleo-ish”. Over the years my commitment to it has waxed and waned. But in the meantime, the shelves are lined with keto products and everyone and their mother is telling you to intermittent fast.
You know what happens when I eat keto? The dairy bloats me. The general diet, when followed to a tee, makes me feel like I’m dragging lead weight behind me on runs.
You know what happens when I intermittent fast? I eat like a starved pig when my eating window opens. I feel so hungry and deprived that I cannot get enough food in fast enough.
But still I persist because it’s supposed to work. EVERYONE says it works.
I miss the days when we weren’t faced with an onslaught of social media trends that cut into our ability to be in tune with our own bodies and minds. When we didn’t try to prepackage our personas in a way that made every one off decision or break from our norm a threat to a public identity. Is there a little something to learn in most trends? Absolutely. I’ll lean out more if I reduce my carbs in a way that still supports my own body’s needs. I’ll fight the inflammation in my body if I stop eating at a given hour each night and break my fast in the early afternoon.
But that’s all these trends are. Baselines for different people. Bits and pieces of tools that may or may not work for you. Starting points for someone who knows nothing. But once you’ve seen what works for everyone else, step back and listen to your own mind and body. It’s a skill that we’ve somehow lost touch with along the way – the ability to learn from others without feeling the need to fit our every action into the bell curve of what everyone else is doing. But it’s those differences that make us all who we are and lead us down paths that are unique to us.