By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
How would you like to have the hopeless task of being the next head of the United Nations? Or would you prefer being the dictator-for-life of a poor country like North Korea who is constantly arm wrestling with nuclear powers over the development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles? Or the current president of a theocracy like Iran who is being threatened with tough economic sanctions by foreign countries because he wants a cheap source of nuclear power for his impoverished Muslim citizens? Or the democratically elected president of the leading opium producing country in the world who has no other viable cash crop to export from their rugged terrain? Tougher assignments than yours? Maybe.
Or are you an intelligent, ambitious woman like Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, or Condoleezza Rice? These women have to prove day after day that they are more capable in what they do than the numerous male competitors who want their jobs. Besides, as the occasion arises, they must be successful homemakers, loving mothers, and tolerant wives. Even Martha Stewart couldn’t handle the stress of, well, let’s not go there. Both women and men with power and connections are tempted to do questionable things that may be considered illegal, also.
Stress comes with the territory of living. It is part of the job of surviving. We were unaware of it until our parents gave us their long list of “do’s and don’t’s.” Remember that list? What was on your list? “Be on time. Do your best. Pay attention. Clean up your mess. Obey authority. Dress for the occasion. Speak up. Tell the truth. Mind your manners.” And so forth. You know, all those little things that are so important because disobedience might be rewarded with some kind of horrible consequence besides shouting.
You have to do everything just right. Only heaven knows what’s going to happen to you, if you don’t. Punishments include such things as frowns of disapproval, scolding’s, loss of your allowance, whippings, detention, expulsion, dismissal from your low-paying job, and maybe even some jail-time. Not to mention the embarrassment, the shame, the disgrace to the family, and usually the self-flagellation that you mentally inflict upon your inner self.
And that’s where you have to deal with stress, inside your mind. Stress is a fear that something distasteful or life-threatening will overtake you in the future, and that frightening consequence will be your fault alone. But what is the truth behind that scary assumption? Who is responsible for us being born? For teaching us how to deal with the challenges of life and work? Who created this mess that humans are fitfully trying to dominate because God supposedly gave us dominion? The Creator, our ancestors, our leaders, our employers, our neighbors, ourselves? Stop and think. Who is at fault for not achieving unrealistic expectations? Share the blame with them!
Ask yourself: Is the external situation confronting me really such a mess or just something that needs my personal attention because there is no one else to do the work, and possibly no one better for the job? Why not figure out what has to be done and stop fearing the consequences of making another stupid mistake? Do what can be done, and explain what can’t. Ah! here comes the moment when you feel stress because bosses frequently refuse to listen and to participate in making tough decisions. The best way to avoid stress under such circumstances is to resign and let your boss solve the hairy problems which will then be his or hers, not yours.
Easier said than done? Certainly, but the stress of finding another job may actually be much less in the long run. Besides there is a good chance that you will land in a better workplace where the self-imposed stress is less. Or worse, of course, if you can’t convince yourself that you will be able to measure up to the performance requirements of your new job description.
The secret to avoiding stress is to be extremely confident, but not over-confident, in your abilities to handle the challenges that are likely to present themselves. This is not cockiness, nor a false confidence in abilities that are lacking. Failure doesn’t frighten those who know how to avoid stress. They prioritize what needs to be done, and tackle the most urgent issue. Success isn’t guaranteed in any endeavor, but failure isn’t an automatic disaster – it may be a disguised learning experience.
Even retired seniors can be plagued by stress. What must they do with all their free time? There are so many options, so many decisions: Should I be “productive” today or lazy? Buy groceries? Take another pill to improve my regularity? Pay the bills? Wash the car? Mow the lawn? Call a friend to play golf? Get out of bed? Shave? Face the shame of wasting another day reading or watching TV or nagging the wife? Take the loving spouse out to dinner?
At any age we can mentally beat up ourselves after-the-fact for not making timely decisions or for making poor ones. But what’s the use of doing that? That’s a waste of time, isn’t it? What is accomplished today with lamenting the past? You got through all that agony somehow, why carry it along with you into the future? “I goofed up yesterday, so I’m likely to do that tomorrow and the day after that.” If you convince yourself that failure is your ultimate destiny, then stress takes over your life and you suffer all the symptoms including depression. To avoid future stress, we must learn the lessons that past mistakes or failures have taught us. It’s the repetitious, but avoidable, unsuccessful patterns of behavior that add immeasurably to our level of stress.
Reverse the process. Assume you are going to avoid doing stupid things. (At least much more of the time.) Take the position that you have the mental and physical attributes for your job, and enough intelligence and persuasiveness to involve competent helpers when the going gets rough.
If your boss or mentor refuses to assist you when you need help, then it’s time for you to move on, confidently expecting to find a job that you are capable of handling with little trepidation. You must be honest and objective in evaluating your talents and experience, however. In the right setting and with a sincere desire to improve yourself day by day, stress should be minimized and enjoyment in the work place maximized.
Now, what do you suggest that this unproductive, retired factotum do with the rest of his free time today?