Chill Out: Why Too Much Self-Reflection Can Be A Bad Thing

by Sebastian Scholl

An international coffee producer took me under his wing as an assistant roughly eight months ago. At no point in my life had I ever been a regular coffee drinker, nor did I particularly like it the few times I had a cup.

However, the opportunity popped up around the same time I began realizing that my app startup was going nowhere fast, and in less than a month, I was graduating from Boston University. At that time, my mind was made up that there was little more worth doing in life than traveling and writing.

If my motives had been more transparent, as they are now, it would have been clear that my true goal was to do some soul searching. In the five years prior, my travels had me visit and live in almost 25 countries. I didn’t want the momentum to stop.

I clung to the promise of living on Panamanian coffee farms, doing business at the Djibouti shipping docks and dining with business titans of the burgeoning specialty coffee industry. It was a hook that got me on board without a tug of resistance.

In a short span of less than a year, I’ve come upon a number of adventures, from jumping out a window in Shanghai to escape muggers to romping along the Italian coast with world barista champions at beach parties.

I’ve had my role in a collection of stories that I both will and certainly will not tell my children one day, as every person should. However, while the activities and lessons have been abundant, what there has been the most of is downtime.

I've spent hundreds of hours eyeing a cartoon plane slowly tick its way across pixelated oceans behind static buzzing airplane monitors. Those hours in transit might just be equal to those spent watching moody clouds blanket across our coffee farm.

My goal of finding time to soul search, discover myself, reflect or whatever you’d like to call it, was most definitely realized. And I know that my current situation may sound exotic and ideal for some people. However, as with any achievement, it rarely turns out to be as great as you'd expect.

A funny reality of being a Millennial is that everyone seems to have found an answer for who we are and what we should be doing, except for us. Frankly, I’ve never been too fond of the suggestions I've heard.

There are definitely strong commonalities between us that take no detective to recognize as the influences of our whims and fancies. I’ve always associated most deeply with a feeling of wanderlust. It has so far been the most influential motivator to push me towards doing the things I’ve done.

Without a doubt, the hours I’ve had to relax, reflect, write and edit have truly helped me come into my own person. At some point in the journey, I began to better understand why I tended to think, act and feel certain ways about certain things.

It was as though I had developed a higher consciousness that helped steer my reactionary and less mindful spirit. I’ll be forever grateful that I had such time to brew my character to the strength it now has.

I say brew because while having so much time to self-reflect over cups of coffee, I’ve come up with a somewhat decent metaphor for how using downtime to reflect is a lot like brewing a good cup of coffee. Stick with me...

If you don’t give it the time it needs to brew, none of the flavors will develop. The taste of the cup will be lacking and empty, or flavorless.

You will know that had you taken just a little more time, you could have extracted something much more enjoyable from those coffee beans you had either bought, worked for or grew yourself.

Similarly, if you don’t take the necessary time to reflect on your experiences, you will never be able to fully grasp the lessons, wisdom and understanding stored within them.

What you need to do is give the grounds time. Just enough time so that they release all their flavors and richness. Only by doing this can you, and the people around you, ever really enjoy the final product. However, if you brew for too long, all the warmth and comfort escapes. And what you are left with is cold and bitter.

Somewhat ironically, it is very possible that after learning to never give up and always be patient, the next best lesson to learn is when to quit. I guess this just further supports the old saying that timing is everything.

It’s been pretty recent that I have come to realize one of the greatest skills a person can develop is a good sense of when it is time to just take something for what it is.

Instead of taking an appropriate amount of time to reflect on and recognize lessons to be learned or ways we can improve, we tend take more time than needed and spend it scrutinizing our deficiencies and devaluing our experiences. It’s just us mistaking analysis for activity, and severely overdoing it in the process.

I wrote this article as a suggestion. A suggestion that while we can all be easily tempted to embark on odysseys of self-discovery, there may be a point in the journey that is the right time to return home. Life’s most wonderful personal pleasures quickly lose all their magic for those who don’t.

Photo Courtesy: We Heart It