Living life in extremes

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay

I first came across this poem when I was in my highschool English class and 7 years later the words ring truer than ever. I’ve always been the kind of person to embrace life to its fullest, but there came a point where I saw myself slowly retreating back into a bubble of isolation. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grab a knapsack, put on some shades and park myself in a hole of deep despair. Rather, I slowly withdrew myself and stopped reaching out as much. I spent more time with myself and had a period of self-discovery that continues to shape who I am and who I want to be.

In response to this, I jumped back out of that time of reflection a while back and have more recently taken the opposite extreme approach to life. I have become the “yes girl.” It originally stemmed from the need for a bounceback from the shut off world, and eventually evolved into this desire to experience more and take advantage of my time to really invest in the relationships I have.  

Examining both extremes, I feel most people would say the second is far more appealing, but I would argue neither are healthy. Edna St. Vincent’s poem illustrates this perfectly. When you take life by the horns and go full-speed all in, your candle is literally burning at both ends. Picturing this happen, one can logically assume that the candle will burn out twice as fast, and this weekend that is exactly what I experienced. My candle of life energy was SO gone by Friday, that surviving until my vacation day Monday seemed impossible.

In fairness, I was burning my candle of social light. I wasn’t working late nights doing research or writing a thesis. I was simply saying yes to all the friends I hadn’t seen in so long, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  By the time Monday hit, however, I realized I desperately need to find some middle ground between social butterfly and happy recluse. I was flat burnt out and had no one to blame but myself.

It all comes back to doing all things in moderation and with a sense of balance.  In truth, when anyone is burning that candle at both ends, it’s a bright little show for about one or two nights, but then what are you left with?  Melted wax, a lot of smoke, and a need for time to put together a new candle. In simplest terms, you will never be your best self when you let your life slip into extremes.

 So I will continue to build in and place value on time with all the people I love and care about, but I also need those nights with just myself, and this means that sometimes I need to learn to “just say no.”



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