Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Perceptions of Stress

I have had more than a few people comment to me over the last semester that I don't seem very stressed, given all that I have been trying to accomplish (classes, research, thesis, quals studying, applying for RA positions, various other extracurriculars). In particular, I have had a couple people just this last week tell me that I seem to be very calm for someone who has quals coming up in two weeks.

Well gees, how is one supposed to look?

The last person who said this to me really irritated me, and here's why I think this bothers me. Are you implying I'm not taking this seriously enough? Because believe me, I am. Or do you think I can't possibly be working hard enough if I am not stressed out? Because to me, this seems counterproductive. I think I actually work better if I'm NOT stressed, thank you very much. Do you think that because I seem calm to you, that must be how I am feeling? Not everybody has huge emotional swings, you know.

So I think it comes down to different perceptions of stress. First, I don't get stressed easily. I have always looked to my dad for inspiration for this. My dad worked from home while I was growing up, so I had the unique opportunity to watch how he interacted and handled events in life. My dad runs multiple businesses, and there were inevitable periods where issues came up, clients were unhappy, or equipment malfunctioned. But he never complained, never made a huge deal about it - he just worked as long as he needed to make things right.

I remember working with him one day at a client's office, fixing bugs in newly installed equipment. It was supposed to be a short job, but it ended up taking most of the day. When we finally left for the day at nearly midnight, he yawned on the way to the car and I asked him if he was tired from the day. "Well," he said, "I've been up since 2 am last night." Turns out that he knew he was going to have to fix bugs during the day, so he got up at 2am to take care of office work first. Talk about humbling.

Another time equipment malfunctioned in a big way at a plant on New Year's Eve. Nobody was working that day, of course, but he just loaded up the car and headed out to go fix the problem. I was home on Christmas break, so I went with him. And even thought the process of fixing this equipment was messy and nasty and frustrating, I didn't hear any complaints.

I've also heard him get off of a phone call with a very irritated client, somebody who was quite unreasonable and insulting and aggressive, and then immediately take a phone call from someone else. No trace of the verbal abuse he just took came through to the next client - he completely handled the situation without unloading the stress onto anybody else. Or another time, when we were sitting in a meeting that was running long because of a long-winded speaker. I knew we were already late to be somewhere else, and I was getting fidgety and frantically hoping we'd be able to make it to the next stop. But my dad didn't show a trace, he waited until the speaker finished, graciously said goodbye, and then ran with me to make it to the next place.

In addition, even though there were always things to be done (as is the lot for owners of their own businesses), I was always free to come down to the office and ask questions on my schoolwork. It's been my goal to be able to be like this - completely unfazed by the curveballs life throws at you, yet making time for the real priorities in life.

Second, even when I am stressed I don't show it. I have always been quite talented at distancing (decoupling, if you permit me a technical reference...) what I am feeling from what I am actually doing. This is quite helpful to me, because it keeps me on an even keel most of the time. I'd devolve into a puddle of tears if I thought that would help, but experience tells me I am much better off eating a chocolate chip cookie and working instead. So please, keep your comments on how I should act to yourself.

So the moral of the story is - I don't LOOK it, people, but YES I am stressed. Are you HAPPY now?

1 comment:

  1. Your dad sounds like an amazing person.
    Best of luck with quals!