Saturday, October 03, 2015

Stress at work? Perspective.

I always declare in planning, in job interviews, when discussing with others, that I like/love change.  I hate stagnancy.  I hate boredom.  I don't use the 'H' word lightly. I want to help manage change, think of great changes, implement change, and never do the same thing twice.  But I have reached a level of change to the hundredth power at work that is (no longer) bordering on chaos, and is no longer feeding my desire for variety or challenge.  It feels more like I'm in a blender with dull blades, and somebody is pushing down the 'chop' button every morning. And then again every five minutes.

For 20 years in IT, I've marveled at the accuracy of the Dilbert cartoon.  I mean we have good days and we have bad days, but a lot lot lot of days resemble this now classic cartoon.  You are telling someone why they need to care about something.  Because if not, the company might fail or a person could suffer, and you are wondering for the ten thousandth time, why you are always the one trying to get everyone to act responsible.  Why are you expending twice the effort trying once again not to do their job for them? But I only feel this way when I am self-centered, which is only 'most' of the time, thanks be to God.

I know I sound jaded, and in actuality, I am 100% positive and 100% cynical and 100% creative and 100% bored, it just all depends on the day at work.  Most days I see no reason to be negative.  Who wins there?  Who benefits?  Even I don't win, so why do it?  Counteracting that is my sarcasm level,  set somewhere around sophomore year of high school to a 96 out of 100.  I don't know where it came from, but when that personality takes over, you are going to laugh.  There are so many jokes out there about how lucky I am that I amuse myself, and I do feel lucky.  So many times, in an elevator or walking to my car I will just start laughing out loud, because of a thought in my head.  I amuse myself.  I try not to share things that tear a person down, but I don't always win that battle.  But I ask for forgiveness and move on to the second hour of my day :)

So, if 39-year-old women are dying of cancer this week, and houses are burning, and college kids are getting shot, and other people are laid off work, why am I complaining about stress at my job?  I mean, I'm lucky to be alive, have a house, have healthy kids and have a job. 

Telling myself this helps, it does.  For a while. For some problems.  But it doesn't fix anything broken.  It just helps you get through it.  No matter how positive and strong and capable you feel going in in the morning, if you spend the day in a blender,  you are going to come out rumpled, disoriented, and feeling pissed off at yourself for letting any of it get to you.  We work to live, we don't live to work, right?  Yet work causes such impact on sanity and spirit.

The only answer I have is quantity. We spend so much of our lives at work.  Anyone working full-time is spending say 50 hours a week if you count lunch and breaks and overtime.  Plus at least an hour per day gearing up for work (i.e. putting on mascara) and gearing down from work, so that's 55 hrs.  I happen to be on-call and travel at times and work from home here and there.  With 32 waking hours on the weekends plus 25 waking hours through the week, that equals 57 hours of non-work vs 55 hours of work.  So a minimum of 50% of my waking hours are spent at work. 

Now you might have a friendship, a marriage, a church-life, a child, all things that fit into that 57 hours.  You might read the bible, or watch TED talks, or do yoga at sunrise, but it ALL fits into that 57 hours.  Each thing is a piece of the puzzle.  WORK is work.  It is one big chunk compared to the littles.  It is like the wedding cake next to the cupcakes.  There is no hiding that wedding cake behind a cupcake--it is not just easy to see, it is impossible to miss.   Imagine, if you spent 55 hours per week...hmmm...I don't know....sitting in your car.  Your car is your life 55 hours per week.  You clean it, you polish it, you buff it, you organize it, you find the best radio station and then you do it all over again the next week, and the next, until years pass.  Imagine telling yourself not to allow that car-time to affect the rest of your life.  To put it aside the minute you get home and not dwell on it,  not think about it, not dread it or look forward to it, but to compartmentalize and leave it behind. 

OK, let's say that is a dumb example, how about 55 hours per week shopping?  You are a professional shopper and you are told to visit every retail establishment in a 20 mile radius, and shop.  You might take on the challenge, you might enjoy it, you might have strategies and like me, look for beauty in the parking lot or the historical quotes on the wall or the view from below.  You might be given adorable shopping bags for your birthday and end up with every credit card ever seen, but eventually, no matter how professionally you take this role, no matter how much you like shopping, 55 hours a week is going to get old.  And after five weeks or five months, you are going to hate it at the worst, and lose your perspective at the very least.  What can you do not to hate doing the same thing every day?  Working the same place?

Well, for one you can not work the same place forever.  Most IT people move about ever 24 months to a new company to learn something new or try a different role. 

Or, you can stop working, go on welfare, and never have any money to spend. 

Or you can make friends at work, goof off, and party all the time the boss isn't around (even 55 hours per week of fun gets old I'm sure).

Which leaves, figure out someway to stay sane amid sameness, steady stress, personality conflicts, bickering over mouse pads or locked doors or wet floors.  Stay sane, make a difference, not lose your sense-of-humor.  Try to contribute towards something in case you die long before retirement.  Try to make a difference.  It doesn't work for me, to say 'its just a job it will be over in 8 hours' because I can not swallow spending 8 hours per day not making a difference.  If I'm not making a difference, I want to be creative, if I'm not being creative, I want to be learning or problem-solving or laughing.  These four itsy-bitsy things are all I need from my career:  purpose, creativity, learning and laughing.  Is that too much to ask?  I know, you want money too.  On a good week, I make sure those four things happen.  I mean, I laugh every day, period.  The other three are goals.  But even so, I am stressed at work.

Here are my coping mechanisms for stress, not recommended by any sane therapist or wise person, in no particular order:
1. chocolate--fast and cheap and it works every time for a few minutes.
2. books--far, far away within minutes of picking one up.
3. nature--easier to forget about IP addresses and Medicare rulings when looking at leaves, rocks, and water.
4. pinterest--this really is my current therapist. I know, you're embarrassed for me.  I search for funny quotes.  Or I search for cottages by water.  Or I search for my next hair color.  It is escapism like a women's magazine custom-designed for me, by me.  Free, can last 90 seconds or 90 minutes.
5. fellowship-- this is not my first thought, I'm an introvert, but whenever I do step out and force myself to 'people', I always come home glad I went.  I hear a story or a bit of gossip, or a sliver of news that enriches my life and makes me gain perspective.
6. volunteering -- any time you can forget about your own perfectly imperfect life and concentrate on another-- run, don't walk.  It works every single time.

All of these basically are ways to escape.  Once I escape, I gain perspective.  Perspective allows me to remember all the truth. It allows me to forget my ego which is obsessed with the work day, and then I can actually participate in something else.  Whether it be read the bible, scrub the kitchen sink, or be a car-pooling mom again, it is perspective that allows me to see clearly.

p.s. here is a picture from an interesting perspective I took last weekend.


  1. That's very nicely said. There's a lot in that post to chew on. I expect I'll be reading that at least a few more times. I appreciate what you've shared.

  2. Thanks Andrew. Appreciate the read!

  3. Great article and very timely. I work in a very similar world and want the same things from my 55 hours a week. You should consider submitting that to a magazine. I always enjoy your blogs. Nicely written, humorous and with an authentic voice that I can relate to.

  4. Mountain Dog is Lori Hutchinson, btw. Not sure why that ancient blog title came up.