Human being or human doing?

Somehow, we’ve turned the question of “how are you?” to “what are you doing?”

When asked “how are you?” we often respond with “good, just going to the library” or “good, lots to do today!” But I didn’t ask what you were doing. I want to know how you’re doing. Not that I don’t care what you’re doing–I certainly do care, even the most minute details of your day. But I’m more interested in the state of your soul. Are you feeling well? Are you feeling worn down? Let me hear it.

Instead, we find our value in what we’re doing. We take too many class, do too many extra-curriculars, and lead too many organizations. We worry about what we’re doing for others and how we appear, but we forget to take care of ourselves. I don’t mean the daily habits that we have to do for ourselves. I mean we forget to take time to relax. We’ve certainly forgotten the concept of a Sabbath day.

Sometimes, being selfish is the best thing you can do. Last fall, I had several personal issues in my life come to a head. I hit a wall. I also secluded myself, as much as one can when sharing a large house with 10 roommates. But I felt like I couldn’t relate. Here I was, dealing with this emotional, existential crisis and all my friends could worry about was their next exam.

Looking back on the time, it was one of the best trials I could have experienced. It wasn’t easy, of course, but there was one person who really stood above the rest. She said “I know how so-and-so is, and I know that this is happening. But how are you? How is Annie?” And that took me off guard.

For months, I had told everyone I was “okay.” And I was okay. But I was so wrapped up in the madness, and taking care of everyone else’s issues, that I wasn’t paying myself any mind. I was taking care of me.

After this question was posed to me, I realized I had to change something. I was leading in 3 different organizations, having 9 meetings a week, and overexerting myself to help my family through the issues we faced. At the beginning of the Spring semester though, I realized I needed to take a break. I stepped down from a major leadership role. I knew some would see this as selfish, but then it dawned on me: sometimes being selfish is the best thing you can do.

Since making this decision, I’ve been healing. I made time for myself throughout the week. I read in the mornings, I made time to go to the gym, I learned how to relax. And I’ve finally been able to answer that question: “how are you?” I am doing better. I am actively transitioning from being “okay” to “good.”

So I challenge readers to take a step back from whatever it is you feel swamped by. Ask yourself how you’re doing. Not what you’re doing, or should be doing. But examine your heart, mind, and soul. If there’s something that needs improvement, figure out a plan that will lead you to healing.

Most of all, when you ask someone how they are, take the time to listen to their answer. And if they just say “good,” then dig a little deeper.

Annie Kate Swain


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