Saturday, July 22, 2017

How Do You Handle Stress?

This past week I was in training for work. Actually, it wasn't for work. It had nothing to do with what I do. But I asked my boss, "can I do this?" And he said yes, because he's cool as $hit. What I do for work is sit at a desk and mash on a keyboard. The training was for facilitation, and included team building, leadership exercises, and of course facilitation exercises.

It was mentally draining and brutally exhausting, but I learned a lot. It was also very very stressful.

There is a concept called the Leadership Wheel, which describes you in one of four directions. Norths are Warriors. They are dominant, risk-taking, self-sacrificing; they can also be bull-headed and impatient. Souths are Nurturers. They focus on harmony and relationships; they can also slow things down by insisting that everyone is heard and appreciated. Easts are Visionaries. They're creative, spontaneous and love change; they can also get bored easily and not finish what they started. Wests are Critical Thinkers. They're rational and methodical; but they won't start on something until they have all of the facts and info. And of course you can be somewhere in between.

I'm definitely more of an East than a West. I have all sorts of goals and ambitions, and I act on none of them. That's why I harp on routine so often in my posts. It's the only thing that keeps me training every day (and writing this blog every week). I tend to be a South in my day-to-day life. I like people to feel good around me and I tend to let other folks take charge. However, in stressful or difficult situations, I jump way into the deep end of North. Then I don't care about Democracy. I say, "do this! Now! Worry about your hurt feelings later."

Soothe yourself with these puffy clouds

For most of the week, I was that South. I was talkative and friendly, and tried to make everyone feel good. I sat back while others led conversations and activities, complimenting them on their strong leadership. I'm generally pretty lazy, so I do a lot of "sitting back." And contrary to how many people perceive me, I'm also pretty introverted.

So that's a whole lot of prelude for me to get to my point. Notice how I said most of the week. On our first day of training, we went to a ropes course. The purpose was for team building, which was achieved amazingly well. In the morning we sat through a bunch of talking, then did "low ropes", which were exercises low to the ground. Nothing too crazy there.

The afternoon was "high ropes". And it. was. AWESOME. It was loaded with daunting, super high in the air, extremely challenging exercises that required team work and a whole f@#kton of bravery.

Me soaring through the air like
a ridiculous superhero

There are vanishingly few things that scare me. A lot of folks are scared in open water, but I'll swim across a deep lake with no wetsuit or buoy. I'll run a marathon by myself with no food or water in the middle of the night surrounded by wild animals. I've sparred in karate tournaments against angry-looking dudes twice my size and won. I got in a really nasty car accident not too long ago that totaled the car I was driving ($10,000+ damages) and I was utterly calm and relaxed the entire time and had things taken care of and was back on the road in just a couple hours.

I know, that sounds like I'm showing off. I'm just laying context. Maybe you're expecting me to say that on the ropes course I was suddenly scared for the first time! I wasn't. Not in the least. I was really excited and I volunteered for every terrifying activity first. But - and here's where the context matters - most of the folks in the class were scared. And most of them were managers, bosses, and just people who were confident and in charge of themselves 99% of the time.

The learning moment for me though was this. I take me for granted. I know what I'm like. And it's very easy to project my view of the world on others. The dizzyingly high and wobbly poles, ropes, and platforms pulled on me like buckets of ice cream. And I was surprised that others weren't excited. They were nervous! And I realized, "people are different."

I mean, duh, obviously. Of course we're different. But on that day those differences were multiplied a hundredfold. And as someone who was learning about leadership, it was vital for me to learn and understand how different people handle stress and challenge.

There was one other guy in the class who was a lot like me: Generally chill and laid back. And I was surprised to learn that about him. Because on the first day, he too was utterly unfazed. And like me, he took charge and helped people through the physical challenges. Many of the other folks were dominant throughout the rest of the week. But on that first day, they were intimidated and reserved. It was fascinating to listen to them in the follow-up debriefs. They expressed how strange it was to be thrust in situations where they were so out of their elements.

"I'm out of my element here too. I have nothing
to do with what you're talking about."

One such guy was a boss with some two dozen employees under him. During the week he was direct, confident, and took charge easily. One of the exercises at the rope course had four people climb up a wobbly 30 foot pole and clamber onto a platform literally the size of a pizza box. Four people. And after that they had to all lean back apart, like a blossoming flower, holding onto each others arms until their grips broke. Then the belaying ropes saved us.

Of course I was the very first one up there. Then this guy climbed up. And the whole time we were up there, he clung to me like I was a life raft in the middle of an ocean. And when I say clung, I mean he hugged me as if we'd be married for 20 years. It was surreal to be that intimate with someone I'd met only a few hours ago. But then that was part of the point of the exercise. During the rest of the week I was impressed by his leadership. But on that day, I was his rock. I was what made him feel safe.

And it didn't weird me out. My friends know how touchy-feely I am. I'm a protector. During the final debrief on that day, I explained to the group that I volunteered to go first because I had to verify that it was safe. And I wanted to have the experience so that I could guide the rest of them through the challenges. Even though I was acting very Northish, my South nature still had me nurturing and taking care of these people. Of course, it was also fun for me.

So how does this all tie into training? I've heard a lot of triathletes talk about their fear in open water. And yet they all conquer that fear. Waves, cramps, inhaling water, sea monsters, whatever it is.... They deal with it. And after that day on the climbing course, I realized how brave these people are.

And all training is scary. At the risk of sounding machismo, the women were more apprehensive of the rope challenges than the men. And yet most of them pushed themselves to try (don't worry; they had the option to opt out). I've read countless articles of how much harder it is for women to go on a run than for a man. They get catcalled, they get groped, they get attacked. It's much riskier for a woman to go running. And she'll do it anyway. I'll never be able to really appreciate that, and it's impressive as heck.

Each of us bada$$ in our own ways.

I've been guilty of comparing myself to others. What I learned from this past week isn't that we're just different. It's that we're really different. We all handle stress very very differently. For some of us it's not a big deal. For some of us it's a huge deal. And different people get stressed by different things. For some, the actual workout is intimidating. For some, the anticipation of it is the worst. For others, they need to have every detail of their schedule ironed out, so fitting in training, and then handling surprises or delays can be difficult. My training is loose and spontaneous. While some of my friends hate it if they have to change or miss a planned workout.

This is all a long-winded way of saying this: Know who you are. Use your strengths to their max. Be aware of your weaknesses, but don't beat yourself up over them. Do what it takes to conquer them. And realize that just because something seems easy to someone else doesn't mean they're better than you. They're just different. Some of my workouts are crazy. Ridiculous even. But I could never be a parent. That's just not me. And those who juggle training with work and a family life: Those people are better than me. I make up for it by being a volunteer karate instructor. I contribute to our childrens' futures by helping them be confident and proud of themselves. That's how I deal with that weakness of mine.

You all amaze me. When I did the DoubleMussel last weekend, it wasn't because I'm awesome. It was because I'm lucky. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to do that, and to spend time with some truly incredible people. I didn't do as well as I'd hoped, but I was OK with that. Really truly OK. My friends did better than I did, and yet a couple of them beat themselves up more over it. The South in me wants them to know that they still blow my mind, and I love them. The North in me will make sure to kick a$$ at the next race!

Be different. Different is awesome. Your uniqueness is your power. It's your gift to the world. Your strengths, your weaknesses, and every weird thing about you is beautiful.

Maybe just more weird than beautiful...


  1. Love it! I'm definitely an East type. For the longest time I saw my jack of all trades, ephemeral and floating ambitions and follow through as a big horrible weakness. It doesn't help that this society makes me feel like I'm really only good enough if I've busted my Azz for ten years studying and suffering in order to gain a successful, uni-focused career. Over time I've learned about my own visionary nature and have learned to embrace the benefits and beauty that can only come from being the way that I be. I probably wouldn't climb that tower (unless a big scary panther was chasing me) but I would sing you a heck of a song and make you a delicious, healthy dinner afterwards. I'm cool with that :) I am still compelled to push myself to grow and overcome my fears, but I've found that it is so, so important to love, appreciate and be kind and patient with yourself too.
    Thanks for another great blog!

  2. You and I are a lot alike! Jack of all trades, master of never actually sticking to anything ;) And I think you would've surprised yourself on that ropes course. Thanks for the comment! Hearts.

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