September 2009


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While doing some reading for one of my classes, I came across the following summary of a study on workplace stress and aggression:

  • 65% of workers said that stress caused physical and physiological difficulties
  • 25% view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives
  • 14% reported that they had felt like striking a coworker in the past year, but didn’t (that’s all?)
  • 25% felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress
  • 10% are concerned about an individual at work they fear could become violent
  • 9% are aware of an assault or violent act in their workplace, and 18% had experienced some sort of threat or verbal intimidation in the past year

Generally speaking, we are growing more stressed with each generation.  Why?  Well, first we have to define stress.  The textbook I am using defines stress as “the excitement, feeling of anxiety, and/or physical tension that occurs when demands placed on an individual are thought to exceed the person’s ability to cope.”  Technically this is distress or negative stress

There is such a thing as positive stress and that is the stress that pushes us to perform at optimum levels.  Here’s my take.  One reason so many people feel distress is because they introduce demands in their lives that are not in alignment with their talents and passions while neglecting the opportunities they are uniquely gifted to pursue.

Think about the things that are causing negative stress in your life.  Are these the things that you are really excited about or annoying responsibilities that “have to be done?”  Do they fully employ your talents and skills or do they require you to forsake your gifts in order to do something that makes you feel inadequate?

There are many stress reduction techniques (prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, etc.) and they have been proven to help people reduce their stress level.  Those are fine, but what if, instead of trying to cope with some of the major stressors in your life, you made some real changes and started pursuing the things in life that are really important to you?  There will still be stress, but there will be much less distress.

Superhero

My four year old daughter, Olivia, has been doing some interesting things after we put her to bed at night.  The old routine was for us to take her upstairs, read her one book, say her prayers, give the hugs and kisses, and she would silently drift away.  Not anymore.

In just the past week, I have found her in several interesting situations.  Olivia has had this deal for a few months now where we have to leave her big overhead light on and shut her door when we put her to bed.  I usually go up after an hour or so and find her sound asleep so I open her door and turn out her light.  That hasn’t been the case lately.  She’s been dressing up princess figures until past 11:00, tuning in some sweet jams on her karaoke machine, and playing dress up with her jewelry.

One particular night stands out.  After I walked up the stairs and opened her door I was relieved to find her asleep, but I almost erupted in laughter when I saw her.  She was lying in her bed with a picture of her and her older cousin, Blake, on her lap, adorned with a full complement of necklaces and bracelets, and wearing a cape embroidered with “Princess Olivia”.

I don’t know what motivated this outfit, but I can only imagine that she was dreaming of being a superhero.  Who doesn’t want to be a superhero?  We all pretended to be one when we were kids.  Even adults may watch movies and daydream about what it would be like to be one.  The funny thing is, we daydream about being Superman or Spiderman, yet spend our lives trying to be Clark Kent or Peter Parker.  I omitted Batman because Bruce Wayne would be a significant upgrade for most of us.

Now I realize that as we age, the realities of life begin to erode away at our imaginations as we give in to more “realistic” expectations.  I realize that it may seem more “responsible” to settle for a job with decent benefits and a little security.  I realize that a cape and pair of tights will not enable us to fly, climb buildings, see through walls, or gross $200 million at the box office.  But I also realize that there’s a little girl upstairs who, at least for now, thinks I’m a superhero… and she’s watching.  If I settle for mediocrity – if I limit my existence to the daily routine – she will soon look for a superhero elsewhere.

I am now elbow deep in my MBA classes as well as teaching math at a nearby college.  It is becoming more and more obvious that academics is the place for me.  My job doesn’t feel like work at all.  I enjoy interacting with the students and am honored to have the opportunity to make a difference in their lives.  I don’t get up dreading the day.  I don’t spend my whole week yearning for the weekend to come.  I don’t feel like I am compromising my time and talents just to make a buck.

I spent most of my early career hating my job.  I just want everyone to know – it doesn’t have to be that way.  You can let your gifts, talents, and discernment offer some guidance, but you also have to rely on guidance that is not within yourself.  You have to take a chance.  You have to be “irresponsible” sometimes and give up the “security” of your current lifestyle.

I’ll have more on this later, but for now I have to do some studying.

Put away your white shoes, Labor Day has provided the unofficial closing of the summer season.  We look forward to summer every year, but by August, I’m usually ready for some cooler weather, fall colors, and football.  Then again, it seems like summer just got here.  I haven’t done a poll in a while, so I am curious to know your thoughts on the waning summer season.

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I competed in another 5K sponsored by my church Saturday and ran personal best (21:53).  Despite consistently improving my times, I noted something interesting during this race… I always feel like there is just a little bit left in the tank.

 

It’s weird because I’ve run enough races now that I know I will think this after I cross the finish line.  With this foreknowledge, I always try be cognizant of my need to push harder during the race.  So I push.  I feel like I’m giving it all I’ve got. 

 

During last weekend’s race, I took longer strides on the downhill portions instead of coasting and I tried to keep my pace up on the uphill portions.  On the last climb, I felt like my legs were turning into jelly, my lungs were on fire, and my breakfast would be presented to the crowd at the finish line.

 

During the race, I felt like I was giving all I had.  But then the race ended.

 

Within one minute of completion, my breathing returned to normal, my legs strengthened, and my breakfast was being comfortably digested.  Just one minute after pushing myself to the limit, I felt like I had more to give.

 

Isn’t this true in so many other areas of our lives?  When we begin to dwell on our discomfort, challenges, or obstacles we can develop a level of self-pity that tells us we deserve a break.  We worked harder than that guy over there, right?

 

George Bernard Shaw said, “I want to be all used up when I die.”  I like that.  Sooner or later, we’re all going to cross the finish line.  I know I don’t want to feel like I left anything in the tank.