True North: Chapter 6- Be Careful…this stuff could kill you!

I started my new internal transfer (HR Manager) this week and had two major projects to facilitate by Friday, January 6th at5pm.  These projects created a couple of7am-9pm days (not what you’d like to deal with coming off of a long holiday break) and yes, they added a little extra stress to my life, but in the end…it all worked out.

Ironically, I LOVED the pace and the little injection of stress that these projects created.  I’ve always had a bit of an addictive personality, so whether it’s food intake, exercise frequency, alcohol consumption, and hours at work or involvement with the kids, I tend to live by the mantra of ALL or NOTHING.  This “mantra” hasn’t been all that easy to manage through life, but it has made me interesting to party with, work with, train with and to break bread with.  I know that choosing more balanced behaviours and working to live a more moderate blue print would make more sense, so I continue to work toward ways that will create my “how to” list with respect to the various aspects of life mentioned above.  My personal struggles with imbalance led me to acknowledge that “balance” in all of the above mentioned areas of life will be critical for physical and mental well being, but I’ve also learned that balance is harder to grab a hold of in our times.  As I continue exploring a more balanced set of life choices, I enjoyed reflecting on how and why stress appeared to fuel me this passed week.  As I already mentioned, what I found oddly comforting is that I think I’ve been craving a jolt of stress and I want to know why and most importantly, I’d like to break my craving for that thing we call stress.  Yes, the pressure of the projects made me push a bit harder and I felt more engaged, but something didn’t feel right.

The eerie feeling I’m looking to curb has its genesis in a pretty disappointing place.  If I was putting in the extra hours to benefit other people or to make the lives I come in contact with better, then I’d feel more comfortable with why the stress was in my life, but I didn’t deliver these projects for those reasons.   I delivered these projects, as I do with most projects, so other people would think highly of me, plain and simple.  Why this bothers me is due to the frequency that I experience these feelings and the long list of other people who I witness, on a daily basis, living through the same damn challenges (only most of them won’t admit it, yet).  Most of the people I know who put in the long hours, earn the big money, deliver the top produce aren’t doing it for their own pleasure; they seem to be doing it to please or earn the support of a parent, a boss, a friend or a co-worker.  This is why I titled the 6th chapter of this project; “This will kill…”  First, putting the word kill in any title will generate a few more hits, but in all seriousness, the way stress can hurt is real (we’ve all heard about people who fall over dead from a heart attack at 45 because of long hours, poor diet, limited exercise of the mind or body).  Long runs of stress (especially stress induced for the approval of others) might not physically kill you, but it sure as hell will help kill a person’s spirit.  Stress rooted in the appreciation or approval of other people is beginning to show its head earlier and earlier in life too.  I have some good friends who have daughters that are sweet and adorable kids.  Both are bright, creative, polite and genuinely kind, so I found it sadly hilarious that their mom, Jean, threw a comment out on Facebook this weekend about their 7 year-old, Lily, saying over dinner…”Mom, you know, people just need a little more balance in life!”  When I read the quote, I had to call them and talk to this 7 year old “philosopher in training” to get her perspective on balance and when I connected with them, I was able to hear from Lily and her nine year old sister, Emily, about their perspectives on life balance.  We talked about school, friends, practicing recorders at recess, and a number of other perspectives that only 7 and 9 year old kids could come up with.  In short, the fact that these two “little ones” even understand the concept supports that our society is continuing to move way too fast (and won’t be sustainable) and I think that both of these kids are probably experiencing some early stress in the hopes of earning the approval of people in their lives too.

In theory (and in the perfect world), there shouldn’t be any stress in life.  Please hear me out as I jump on the “philosophical soap box”.  If we wake every morning and are with the people we love, go to a place that helps make the world stronger (call that the career) and we spend some time ensuring that the people in our lives are learning and growing with us and around us, then I would imagine stress would be relatively minimal.  If I told people every day how much they meant to me and how much I loved and cared for them, then when they “died” from this world, I don’t think I would have the same level of stress and sadness that I might experience if I lost someone who I kept a distance from.  If I lived, every day, with the thought of exercising my body, feeding my body and soul with healthy inputs and resting when I needed rest, then I would achieve the physical balance needed to eliminate those dreaded stress headaches, stomach pains and anxiety that so many of us have each day in this country.

And most importantly…If I didn’t focus on what other people were thinking and saying and could change my thoughts to be focused on living and learning from the experiences I’m given, then life should become more experiential and less mundane and repetitive (as I hear it described by so many).  You know the spiel, “What’s up? Uh, you know, the same old &^%$, just a different day.  I have this exchange with two or three people per day, so there must be some validity in what I’m writing.

It sounds so easy and utopian to adjust life and wouldn’t it be an amazing flip of ideology to begin living for experiences, for learning, for the ability to share with others and to lead a more simple life?  Try it.  Whether you are 7, 9, 39 or 92…try living for you and try making decisions for you that will benefit others, not decisions coaxed by others that just make you stressed and frustrated.  When you truly make decisions for you, your energy will be that much more positive and you’ll be able to naturally help others around you.  You have all read my articles and know that I’m open to admitting that I have lived too long seeking the approval of others, but I’m also admitting that I have inadvertently conditioned my kids to start living for my approval, Emily and Lily are probably doing the same with their friends and family and hell, my 92 year old Grandmother even alluded to living her life for the approval of others (at breakfast yesterday) and those people she alluded to have all been gone for decades.

I know I’m not bringing up the next great psychological epiphany here, but something I have immense passion around is sharing these feelings (because others are struggling with this too), so be brave and admit if you live this way and work to change it.  It may sound inherently selfish to live for you, but I challenge you to begin experiencing and believing how truly connected you can become to the positive spirit and energy that all of us have when you turn those projects at work, the recorder practice at recess or the better diet we all want to eat to be about us, so we can help others.  When we start doing more of this, I think we’ll feel less and less of that stress that plagues so many.

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