December 31, 2012

Ask the Expert: Moderation. ~ Michael Finkelstein, M.D.

Photo: URBAN ARTefakte

Preparation is the key to success.


Our teenage daughter is bright and ambitious. She looks at challenges as opportunities, and has a will to achieve that my wife and I couldn’t have dreamed up if we tried. Her aspiration is inspiring and refreshing to everyone around her, but she’s now got an overachiever reputation to uphold—one that she’s quite cognizant of—and she takes it quite seriously. From time to time we fear she’ll burn out. Indeed, we have witnessed this already, having been there for her, along with her expansive network of friends and acquaintances, when things have gotten a bit too intense and she found herself in over her head.

Recently, she’s been talking about pursuing a double major in college, and, while I know she’s capable of achieving anything she sets her mind to, I’m afraid that she’s lost some perspective and some balance. I want to express this concern, but I’m afraid she’ll interpret it as my doubting her abilities, which couldn’t be further from the truth. My wife feels the same way. Your suggestions would be appreciated.


Firstly, congratulations to you and your wife for raising such a dynamic individual. Your daughter sounds lively and effervescent, and just from your description, I have no doubt that, regardless of what she decides, she’ll go on to do great things. Clearly, you and your wife are dedicated and provided her with stability, which is so important to her process.

I can also understand your apprehension in expressing this concern, and agree that she may suffer from the consequences of taking on too much, yet, presenting that to her can backfire just the same. Overachievers straddle a delicate position—their drive is fueled in part by their desire to achieve the best, but that desire must be balanced out by the acceptance of an occasional failure, or it wreaks havoc on that very drive, and, in turn, their happiness and fulfillment. They often operate from a place that’s as impulsive as it is sincere, and execute things quickly, which may align in this scenario to doing a double major in four year’s time. And, then there are the personal, emotional and social consequences of the tendency to focus so hard on work and achievement.

This does not take away from your daughter’s lofty goals. Indeed, they may be quite valuable to her and to everyone around. The only thing to be sure of, as with any goal, is to check that it is directed toward such a meaningful purpose, and not just set for the sake of adding a notch to one’s belt. Luckily, it sounds as though your daughter is aware of this, too, and that instead of needing to reevaluate her objective, she may just need some guidance on how to prepare for it.

I’m going to suggest that you take a step back and focus on the micro-present, thinking less about how your daughter will grapple with the stress and toil of such a heavy course load, and more about what she can be doing now to become proficient in taking it on.

Think of a heavy snowfall, a phenomenon of nature that is largely unpredictable until it is over. As it begins, we may have the sense that we are about to face an obstacle, but we also know we cannot predetermine its course, though we may wish we could; certainly, our weather people try. This leads to some anxiety, much of what you are experiencing now with your daughter. But, just like with the impending storm, we would be wise to prepare as best as possible, putting down salt even before the snowfall, as we have more work cut out for us once the snow is on the ground, and then even more work if the snow hasn’t been cleared before it’s stepped in, driven on and iced over. Here, with adequate preparation, the problems can be mitigated to some extent and, in the interim, we, by sensible action, mitigate much of our anxiety.

Sit down with your daughter and talk to her about the necessary steps she’ll need to take leading into this challenge—albeit, an enriching education is our “obstacle,” a scenario that can be even more thrilling than a gorgeous snowfall—and help her lay out a plan to get there. I have a feeling that she’ll have the touch points clearly outlined, and you can help her develop the skill of filling in the blanks of her proposed journey.

Lastly, you also mentioned a large network of friends, which doesn’t surprise me. It sounds as though your daughter operates with a level of valor that draws people to her, and most individuals with this quality share a similar social structure. Here, you can take some additional solace in knowing that a large network gives way to a greater set of resources, whether they account for substantive networking connections or simply emotional support, which can be just as substantive. Don’t undervalue this as you measure the size of the tools in her impressive arsenal. Her relationships will benefit her greatly as she continues to navigate through her burgeoning web of achievement. Indeed, the greatest level of success that she can achieve will be largely dependent on how she preserves and cherishes these friendships (as well as her relationship with you and your wife) even through the impending storm she is setting out to face.


Michael Finkelstein, M.D., has gained acclaim for his pioneering approach to integrative medicine, since beginning his private practice more than 20 years ago. Board-certified in both internal medicine and holistic medicine, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a graduate of the Associate Fellowship Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona School of Medicine, Dr. Finkelstein is a self-professed “Doctor of Common Sense.” He is a dedicated healer who views health and well-being as a wholly singular unit, one that must be taken seriously and considered with compassion, intention and commitment. Dr. Finkelstein’s concept of “skillful living” applies this holistic approach to overall well-being—the business of living must be developed, like a skill, with mindful, dedicated attention. To read more from Dr. Finkelstein, sign up for his bi-monthly Moon Letter here or for further information visit his website.


Editor: Thandiwe Ogbonna

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