On What Really Matters

In my daily stoic journal, I was asked — am I doing work that matters? There’s a morning & night section in this journal for each day. I thought for awhile that it was dumb, but I see the use now. You can feel very differently in the morning and the nighttime. In the morning I might feel more hopeful, or more dreadful, it really depends. And then at night I feel more realistic, or sadder or happier because something I experienced either confirmed my biases or changed my mind. But this morning I wrote some interesting things.

I talked about how it still never feels like athletic trainers make a difference, or that our work matters. I know it matters, but…sometimes that isn’t enough. It’s a thankless profession, sure, but it goes deeper than that. The people we serve are generally quite thankful, but it’s the people who don’t get it, who never will. Sometimes their doubts are hurtful and frustrating and irritating. The other thing I wrote is that I am not my work. I am me. Those can be 2 separate things! And that took me awhile to understand. We can love our professions, but we need to be able to separate our true worth as a human from our [perceived] worth as a professional. That perspective has made me happier than I ever have been, even in times when it’s really difficult.

As a future PhD student…I don’t know how to describe how much I think my work matters because I don’t want to under- or over-estimate, and I don’t want to speak on matters I don’t know. I do know that contributing to science that changes the course of sports medicine (well, a girl can hope, even in the smallest of ways — see below), and mentoring future clinicians & researchers is what I’ve wanted for a few years now, so I know this is the right move to take. And I know I can make differences even in small ways. And that leads me to what I wrote tonight.

After a rather frustrating run-in with people today, who made me wonder if my natural instinct to not trust people immediately (out of generally healthy skepticism, not hate or anything else!) was correct, I wrote that changing the world depends on all the little things. Baby steps, where everything matters, and nothing is too small — I hear this from sport and strength coaches all the time. It’s true, and there’s nothing more that I love than seeing athletes embrace that mindset. Anyway, I wrote that change is not always flashy, glitzy, or glamorous, because that’s simply not realistic. If anything, I want to show people reality — in love, death and distraction (cue the song by EDEN). And maybe that’s why I’m here.

I think that what matters is more than just the simple work we do. It’s the way that we relate to people, the way we treat them, the way we see them. It’s the lessons we learn, and the ones that we can teach because of those lessons we’ve learned. Our work matters, but we also matter as humans that interact and exchange emotions and talk and laugh and cry.

I’ve learned that it’s easy for me to be open about the struggles that I’ve emotionally moved on from — I’m very emotional, but it just means that it’s hard for me to hide my emotions, so I feel them head on, and then I move on. Granted, I have so much more to learn right now, but being that way in life about my past mistakes has taught me a lot of lessons. It’s also showed me that I want to be that person for others, the type of person who wasn’t always there for me. And the reason that I can’t specifically describe what I mean is because each person needs something different in their relationships — whether it’s with a mentor, a friend, or a partner. I’ve had to get out of my own head and begin to recognize other people as individuals who trust, love, and hope differently.

I say this all because I felt so aimless today. Yes, it’s nice to be off from work, but I’m itching to do things! And maybe it’s because my natural instinct is to do stuff so I feel like I’m valuable, but maybe this break from work is exactly what I needed — to show myself that I am valuable in other ways. Which I’m still working on figuring out, but it’s also hard to write about important life things when I’m sleepy on melatonin and desperately need to go to bed, but cannot, because I’m playing lo-fi chillhop study music or whatever it’s called, which makes me feel a lot of emotions.

So though I thought a lot about if our work matters or not, I started to wonder…does it matter if our work matters? But also, is our work separate from who we are, or is it best if it’s a part of us? I absolutely love what I do, and I know it’s part of me (just not the only part), but I know that’s not the case for everyone. There’s a lot to unpack there. But I think what matters here (hehe) is that I’m thinking more about how I interact with the world, and how to maintain my…me-ness as I navigate it. So if you start to wonder if your work actually matters or not, the truth is that it’s not going to matter until you yourself believe that it does.

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Jen Xu

Jen Xu

Athletic trainer, coffee lover, looking for a hobby I don’t have time for. I write about fitness, mental health, being Asian-American, and personal growth.