Finding Your "Rules to Live By"

I’ve been struggling a lot recently with keeping track of who I am.

This might sound dramatic - it’s not. Becoming a medical student has created the challenge of maintaining a sense of “me” like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

On top of my academics, I’ve become swept up in the excitement of being involved in a myriad of clubs, volunteering, research, and student government activities. While all of this has been incredibly rewarding, I seem to keep running into the same question at the end of my busy day: how do I stay Sarah?

So many studies, like this one, have shown that most medical students fail to seek mental health care when they need it. But it’s not only med student’s that are affected. Everyone, in the craziness of life, work, and family, can risk losing sight of the practices they really need to stay sane as well.

While I think everyone should see a therapist, I understand the challenges that can be associated with doing so. There are, however, a few simple things that everyone should take the time to do for their mental health.

Ask yourself: What are the things I value? What defines who I am?

Ask yourself: What are the things I value? What defines who I am? Discovering the answers to these questions is not only important; it’s necessary. When you begin to consider what it is that you value, try to discover what you really value. I’ve personally struggled with this concept. My first thoughts are friends, family and accomplishing my career goals. I want to be successful, so I feel that I need to value what will get me there, but it isn’t supposed to be like that.

I often find that I define success in the way society defines it: money, power and prestige. Your true values, however, should be the things that truly matter to you; they should represent what you would choose to do with your life, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I thought these answers would come easily, but looking within myself in that way was a lot harder than I had anticipated. It felt like I was peeling myself down to the core of who I truly am, past all of society’s expectations. Working through this, I discovered a new layer of loving and caring for myself.

I sat down a few weeks ago and began to think about what I value. I had never done this before and it had only occurred to me after a prompting from my therapist (that’s right, I see a therapist on a regular basis and I’m not at all ashamed to admit it). I thought: friends, of course I value friends. But that’s not it; that’s not what I truly value. I value community.

I realized that having a community of people I can vent to, enjoy time with or help out means a lot to me. I’m happier on the days when I feel like I have that sense of community. So, now that I discovered this, I had to find a way to practice it.

Since that moment, I’ve made a point to try to talk to the people I care about every day. Those conversations serve as a constant reminder of who really matters in my life.

Some of these values can be classified as something I’ve heard termed “non-negotiables.” For example, I very much value exercise. I know that without exercise I start to feel anxious, tired and incredibly uncomfortable. Without regular exercise I’m really not a fun person to be around. Thus, exercise is my “non-negotiable.”

I make a point to work it into my day, somewhere, regardless of my schedule, even if it’s just five minutes of squats and lunges. I had never realized how important it was to me until someone pointed it out as a “non-negotiable.” A “non-negotiable” is anything you need to feel happy and healthy; anything that you will not sacrifice, regardless of your busy schedule. It can be anything, from your morning cup of coffee to watching an episode of your favorite television show. It must be mentioned, however, that a “non-negotiable” should be something that truly benefits you. Six shots of whiskey before bed, for example, is not a “non-negotiable.” Let’s be reasonable here.

By sitting down and really considering your values and “non-negotiables” you begin to learn more about who you truly are, which is a difficult thing to do. You unveil the ways in which you want to improve yourself; you uncover the person you truly want to become.

So, why is this all so important? Personally, I’ve found that determining my values has helped me find a sense of direction, grounding and methods for self-care. During really hectic times in my life, things seem to calm down once I check in and remind myself what’s truly important to me. I’m very guilty of living a life set around the expectations of other people rather than the expectations I have for myself. Setting my values has helped me realize the difference between the two.

Finally, have you ever made a vision board?

Well here's a great article about how they work. When I lived in San Diego, my friends and I would organize a vision board party at the start of each year. We gathered a bunch of magazines, cut out whatever caught our eyes and, as strange as it sounds, made mod podge collages. I had never done this before, and wasn’t quite sure what the point of the vision board was. It turns out, vision boards are a great, creative way to determine and achieve the goals you have for yourself.  Once you put everything down in a tangible format, most of it comes true! I snapped a photo of my vision board and kept it as my phone background so that every time I looked at my phone I was reminded of the goals I had set at the beginning of the year. The vision board is not meant as a way to record your resolutions, but as a way for you to let your year unfold before you with a sense of direction.

The things I’ve recommended may sound a bit corny. You may decide that recording the things you value or making vision boards isn’t quite up your alley. That’s fine! If these methods don’t suite you, find some other way to express yourself or make tangible the things you value in life. Regardless of your schedule, recording your values will help you live a happier, healthier life in the long run. It has for me, anyway.

Cheers to you being you.


Sarah Knight

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMSII)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Sarah Knight