A lesson in stress management

Struggles are the fertilizer for spiritual growth. -Joyce Rupp, from her excellent memoir, Walk in a Relaxed Manner: life lessons from the Camino

After suddenly throwing up at the shop this morning–my 3-month anniversary at work–I decided to go home and take my first day off (unpaid, since I’m less than 6 months on the job and apparently 90 days isn’t enough to warrant paid sick leave).

Since the middle of the first week of training, I’ve also been experiencing a moderate psoriatic response that is now growing in severity and taking over my eyebrows and entire scalp. It’s embarrassing. But stress has serious health consequences, some more visible (and itchy) than others. As the rash dominates my hairline and undermines my confidence, I’m forced to confront my (in)ability to manage chronic stress.

Work presented the kind of frustrating issues this week that would normally inspire me to quit, the recent popular solution for many of my colleagues, and my personal favorite First World solution to all of life’s difficult problems. But 2018 Ash doesn’t quit that easily. 2018 Ash calms down, doubles down on her resolve, and stays the course. 2018 Ash does not react. She responds.

And we have exceptionally expensive Bay Area rent to pay. I can’t afford to quit.

So I am forced to reconcile my differences with the way things are done at work and accept them. We are in the Bay Area another 1.5 years and I refuse to spend it in misery, which is something I’d otherwise be really good at doing.

More specifically, I choose not to get sucked into the stress of achieving unrealistic, misleading, and ultimately uncontrollable bureaucratic metrics. I choose not to let the inherently fast-paced nature of my job compromise the quality of my work or the equanimity of my mind. Rather, I will do what I always do and steadily do my best each day, expecting nothing more and nothing less of myself. If there is a learning opportunity, I’ll take it. If there is room to improve, I will improve. But I will not push myself more than I need to. I am enough.

If each day I give my best effort, then regardless of what the metrics say, I will continue to perform at the same level, improving only as I naturally evolve and grow in the position with time. Historically, my best is adequate. But if the metrics reflect that my best is not good enough, that’s a company problem, not a personal problem.

It is my nature to do my best, to find the most efficient way to work, and likewise, to take all my breaks and arrive and leave work on time. But it is also my nature to needlessly stress, which is why I am hereby opting out of that part of the job. There is no need to stress about that which I ultimately cannot control. There is also no need to skip breaks and take work home in order to meet management goals, a common solution employed by many of my more ambitious co-workers.

One reason I started working a full-time job this year was to detach from my work, reclaim my time, and redefine myself outside of what I do for money. That means not bringing work home or becoming overly attached to my performance or title. It means not letting the natural stresses of work invade other areas of my life. Right now, it means getting really clear on how I manage stress.

I’m on a yoga streak and that streak is starting to feel more vital to my mental health. I revised my goal of practicing for X amount of time each day to the more flexible and realistic goal to just get on my mat every day, no matter how long or short I stay there. Yesterday I flowed to pump up music for 30 minutes, enjoying the beat and losing myself in the fluid motion. Other days I will take a more regimented Ashtanga class, aligning breath and movement for a full 60 or 90 minutes, working my body through the set sequence. And some days I just sit and breathe, thankful to have a practice as forgiving and accessible as yoga. Today might be one of those days.

The day before the final drop date, a few weeks ago I quietly dropped my MBA class. I am not convinced that pursuing an MBA is what I need right now. I can always re-enroll, but the choice to drop the course drastically reduced my stress level and helped me consider my tendency to strive for the sake of striving. When I first started my MBA, the intention was to pad my resume to help land a job. But now I have a job. And while my position encourages continuing business education in order to climb the corporate ladder, it recently hit me that climbing a corporate ladder is not an inspiring goal.

Famous psychologist Abraham Maslow would agree that climbing a bureaucratic ladder offers material gains that do not necessarily translate into personal or spiritual growth, two things I value more than material gains because my material needs are basically met. Besides higher pay, what, exactly, will I have as a supervisor or manager that I do not currently have? Will a greater sense of personal satisfaction comes from increased responsibility? Will the higher pay result in a higher standard of living, and therefore an increased sense of security? Doubtful. Those things come from adopting a mindset of contentment, not from excess striving.

Supervisors and managers in my company work 12+ hour days, are paid salary and feel more pressure to meet metrics and perform than those in my position. In return, they get company cars and another (pre-tax) thousand dollars or so a month. In other words, they’re stressed AF and probably paid less per hour when you do the math. I don’t really want to be a part of that world.

The last MBA course I took was a course in marketing management, and it was right around the middle of that course that I realized that my personality is not suited for the stressful world of management. If I wanted to work that hard for that many hours, I’d go back into business for myself and make enough money to justify the effort. But if I am trading my time for money for someone else’s company, which I’d prefer to do, I expect a certain degree of freedom to detach, relax, and refocus my remaining energy on personal goals and projects. Right now, my mission is to learn to do just that.

Happy Friday, fellow bloggers and readers! I hope my little lesson resonates with you. If your body responds to stress in a similar way, I’d love to hear how you best manage it. Thanks! 🙂


2 thoughts on “A lesson in stress management

  1. There’s no need to rush into it, but I think you’d be a good manager. And don’t assume that all managers are overworked the way they are in your position. Of course, I’ve never been a manager, but I think the management role can significantly reduce stress for some types of people. Agreed on the “grinding up the corporate ladder” sentiment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ben! We’ll see… I like your idea of just slowing down and playing it by ear. No need to rush. I will definitely stick with it until it either becomes totally unbearable or I decide to move into management. Who knows, with me…lol. But it’s funny how just having a good enough (paying) job tempers my desire to reach for much more. I think I’m getting less ambitious–in the westernized sense–with every passing day. Ha! Not a bad thing.


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