On Learning and Re-Learning My Lessons

Jen Xu
7 min readNov 9, 2023


And truly hating it.

Just kidding. Hi, out there, yes, I’m still here. Just busy and excuse-y enough to ignore all the nudges of “you should write and you’d be less stressed”.

It’s weird though, lately I go from being so busy that I don’t even have time to think about my projects some days, to having full days where I get time to do my won work and get all my tasks done. But I’m living so day-to-day, not because that’s how I operate, but because it’s the only way to survive, so I don’t even remember any of the lessons I learned. I only remember what I did today, and maybe yesterday. So I’m just learning and re-learning my lessons, like “take deep breaths”, “nothing is ever the end of the world”, and “you’ll be ok but you’re still the only person who can make you truly believe that”, and “slow down”, and “you’re good enough”. And it’s somehow humbling, exciting, and annoying all at once.

It’s humbling, but in a very necessary way — I don’t do well with unexpected changes. Last week I spilled water on my laptop because I decided to buy a twisty sippy lid that I kept leaving open when I put my water bottle in my car or my backpack. Like, I know how dang forgetful I am, and I still chose to buy one of those caps?? I couldn’t even be mad at “the universe” because I clearly did that all to myself. But it was so bad I had to consider driving it an hour to get to an Apple store. Luckily it all worked out in the end, but I literally thought my life was over at the time. So you see, I need to be humbled, reminded that things like that could totally happen. A consistent stream of “life isn’t always going to go your way” actually seems to help me. No one’s probably ever had “too much luck”, but I get too comfortable when nothing bad-ish happens to me for awhile, and it makes the “awakening” of “oh wow, life can suck” a lot worse. It’s a bit extra in the “preventative” department, but that might just work for me.

It’s exciting because it reminds me that I’m still open to learning and changing when it’s right. I’m innately stubborn and difficult and try to hold my ground as much as I can — and I’ve struggled heavily with failing and being wrong and being perceived as stupid (still do) — so the fact that I’m still open to learning more about myself and re-learning the things I’ve experienced over the years is exciting. I actually do love constructive criticism from other people, but I certainly had my years where I was so scared to be wrong that I would just get angry at people for correcting me. I just go back to the days of high school water polo, where I always and only could go from 0 to 100 — I always had the best intentions, but sometimes I just didn’t do the tasks correctly. So whenever I was corrected, I would just immediately follow my coach’s/teammates’ advice because I could apply my work ethic to the correct method. I’m still like that. I almost want people to tear me down so I can problem-solve to build myself back up. Look, I know it’s weird, but I’m a masochist. I’m a PhD student who adopted a reactive German shepherd puppy (6 months old when I got her), and I swam for years and still do sometimes, and I want to learn how to run and become an endurance runner (I think?), and I love doing stand-up comedy. So, as weird as it is, it’s exciting to re-learn these lessons.

It’s annoying because for something to stick for me, I have to learn it for myself, and often more than once (see above: masochist). With more consideration to a potential ADHD diagnosis for myself, I’ve become more aware of my natural behaviors and the ways I think in my own head and interact with others. But it feels like I have to suffer the same things over and over because I just somehow forget that I’ve already learned the lesson. It feels like I should just learn it once and be good for life. I just want to keep getting better, so it’s annoying that sometimes I just…can’t. Sometimes I stall or roll right back downhill to where I started. Yuck! How dare I!

I re-learned this, recently: Some days at work I’m slammed with meetings, data collection sessions, and then more meetings — I don’t even have time to think about another task, because I can’t half-ass most of them right now. So I don’t get to do any of my own work, which honestly just makes me feel like a complete and utter failure. Well that was basically the entire last week. I was just throwing loads of negative self-talk at myself and generally frustrated that 1) I couldn’t work hard enough or fast enough, and 2) I have all these extra things on my plate that don’t even feel like part of my job, even though they clearly are. I mean, I’m collecting data for a very important research study, I’m practicing my data collection sessions so that they’re more seamless when I actually start data collection. But I just couldn’t help but get down on myself and just wonder if I’m even doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

This week, an entirely different story. On Tuesday, we didn’t have class because of election day, but I still had work to do. I went to a coffee shop, which are my favorite places to do work because they’re fun and I’m so productive. I worked for a few hours, voted, came home to walk my dog and eat lunch, and then finished my workday at the actual correct time at 5pm. It was a perfect day — I got enough done to cross some stuff off my to-do list, but also balanced training my dog (who needs a lot of stimulation) and actually taking time to each lunch. Today — I spent the morning in a coffee shop, then walked to work instead of biked just to have time to get my mind right for upcoming meetings, and got done a lot more, yet again. Imagine that! The balance of having independent, relatively less stressed work time and some meetings so I feel some sense of responsibility is just everything I need. And literally, I need it, because I am just not finding balance at all.

It helped me remember that I am in the right spot, I am doing what I am meant to do, I am doing a good job, and sure I can always do better, but I am still doing the right stuff. It helped me remember to breathe when I can, and just do the tasks that get me to where I am, instead of focusing “when will I be done the tasks that will get me to where I am?” Boy, did I need this reminder.

It also taught me the true understanding of work-life balance, which is a newer lesson right now. I finally admitted to myself that taking time to do some necessary errands like walk the dog, or say, eat lunch (ha) is not going to destroy my day. Instead of working for 6 hours straight, what if I: worked for 3, walked the dog and took a lunch (probably 30–40 minutes), and then worked for 3 more, took a yoga break, then finished up easy tasks for the last hour? Work-life balance to me always meant “add more life things”, but I failed to realize that it really matters where and when you put the life things, and that it sometimes means taking away some work things. And it’s all going to be okay.

I guess I’m in this season of re-learning old lessons, but re-learning a lot of them in new ways, even with the most minute changes from the “old ways”. It’s almost more a matter of “I’ve always known that ________ was important, but I guess it’s time to actually try it and learn that lesson…” Or instead of considering that I might be a micromanager but ignoring it as a water polo coach — actually trying to curb it and let the athletes learn for themselves (you know, letting them make mistakes and correcting them after, or else they’ll be robots & won’t understand the true purpose, which is a problem). So it’s the season of confirming what I’ve always known to be true, which will definitely help me in being more efficient, kinder to myself, and more patient with others. It feels like a wonky reset of sorts, a “back to the status quo” kinda deal, but also a “keep getting better and doing it!” sorta thing.

Like, I’ve been trying to deny the fact that I’m most efficient working in a coffee shop, because god, how pretentious?? But it’s time to embrace this. I apparently study super well with people who can’t bother me because I like to compete. So in my head, I’m competing about who’s studying harder or working harder, even if I’m wrong — but it doesn’t matter, because I get to choose the narrative. So my narrative is that I’m racing all of them and we’re running in a pack and any one of us could win at any moment. I’ve always secretly considered this as an option, but never wanted to admit it because it’s expensive and not always an option because of my job, but seeing the positive effects is a reminder that I should do my own thing if it works for me.

This feels like a jumble. But I suppose I haven’t written anything since May. That’s like, 6 months. Ugh. I definitely want to be more consistent with my writing, because forcing myself to organize my thoughts into a cohesive and entertaining…piece seems to help. It puts me at ease. Reminds me that I’m still learning and re-learning. Re-learning the fact that I’m re-learning lessons and being ok with it? Something like that.



Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, PhD student, coffee lover. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.