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What I Learned When I Lost Myself

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Emails. Meetings. One on ones. Kitchen duties. R&D. Financial statements. Food costing. Tastings. General Assemblies. Team huddles. Paper work. Interviews. Performance Evaluations. Firing. Training. Feedback sessions. Phone calls. Video calls. More paper work. Commuting from one restaurant to the next. More paper work. This was me. In a day. Seven days a week. Thirty days a month. One fire after the next. A rapid stream of check boxes being ticked off as quickly as my heart beats.

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There was that drive, that jolt, that fire within me — a feeling I cannot put into words; pure electricity which I can taste with every “good job!” congratulations, thumbs up or pat on the back. The feeling of simply doing great. Every accomplishment, every box ticked, every task crossed off pushes the obsession to advance further. It is one fire after the next. And it all felt amazing.

Until it didn’t. I know you saw that one coming. Unfortunately, I didn’t.

I was staring at the fish tank in her office when she told me I’d have to be admitted. There were bubbles and the fish swam gracefully through his home. It felt like I was there, with the fish, not needing to hold my breath. I could hear her voice from above the surface of the water. “We need to admit you.” The bubbles drifted and I was back on my shrink’s couch. About an hour later, I was accompanied to the psychiatric ward of Makati Medical Center, Makati City.

This is not a story of my days in the psychiatric ward, but of how I wound up there in the first place. It was not from working too much, but from living too little. This is not to say I had nothing outside of work. I have family, a handful of connections and a few interests and hobbies. But I had allowed my work to be all who I was and all who I was going to be. So when the drive stopped, and the electricity tapped out, I lost my sense of self and struggled with defining the very essence of my being.

I realized that it is one thing to have a job you do for living and another to have a purpose for living. And if it so happens that they are two different things, that’s OK so long as you are not defined by what you do, but by why you do. For me, working in the restaurant industry, my job is to put out fires left and right and attend to my team’s daily needs. It is a job I will always be grateful for. But at the end of the day, I have to come to terms with knowing that it is a job and it cannot be who I am. I have to draw the line and set boundaries in order to apply myself to other aspects of life.

If there is anything I learned from my stint in the psychiatric ward, it is that the amazing taste of electricity and drive for what you do can be applied to other interests you may have. Nourish and accelerate your passion too. There is so much more to discover and learn and be. Your heart need not beat at the same time check boxes are ticked off.  Your heart only needs to continue to beat.

Getty image by Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Originally published: May 13, 2021
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