These past couple of weeks have been excruciatingly stressful for me. It has probably been the lowest point in my entire career.
- I almost missed a deadline for a five year, one million dollar grant. The largest I’ve ever written.
- I am caught in the middle of an ongoing, and rather intense, dialogue regarding the API community’s access to, and representation in, higher education.
- One of my coworkers is about to lose her kidney. I don’t even know what a kidney does!
- I haven’t gone grocery shopping in two weeks and have been scavenging what food I can from my cupboards. I’ve been making a lot of cheese quesadillas and collecting rain water.
- I feel completely overwhelmed with the amount of finance, HR, operations and evaluation work that I have on my plate
- The power supply on one of our computers just blew out.
I wish I were two years old again. My mom can swaddle me and make everything better. Two is an appropriate age to be swaddled, right? Meh, forget it. Someone needs to swaddle me right now.
Anyways, I’ve been receiving advice and support from various colleagues and peers in order to help me navigate this challenging time. Here’s what I got.
Organize your tasks: Someone suggested that I write down everything I have on my plate and organize it using the “Urgent/Important Matrix.” You start with items that are important and urgent, and then move counterclockwise in the matrix. I thought it was a superb idea and recommended the matrix to other staff members. Unfortunately, I myself haven’t around to using it because I listed “Use Urgent/Important Matrix” in the not urgent and not important square. I should have planned that better…
|Urgent||Start here.||This is third.|
|Not Urgent||Then move here.||Do these last.|
Learn to say no and take a step back: Another piece of advice that I got was to take a step back. It has always been really hard for me to say “no” to other people. It makes me feel like I’m letting them down. As an Asian American I feel an intense pressure to always take on more and more work. As a result, I’m taking things on faster than I can clear them off of my plate. I’m learning that I need a break too. I used this strategy last weekend in fact. “No mom, I can’t come home to see you this weekend. I’m learning to take a step back and trying to figure out what kidneys do. Love you!” Whew, I felt so much better.
Assume everything is in your control: In the Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to roll a giant boulder up a hill only to watch it fall back down, and to continue this for all eternity. That’s how I was feeling–powerless and helpless. Whenever I cleared one thing from my plate, two more would get piled on. It happened over and over again. A lot of people have told me to just admit that not everything is in your control. I completely disagree. We need the opposite kind of attitude. Everything is in our control. One of the biggest challenges people face when they are stressed out is feeling helpless. But if we give into this feeling, then we surely will be. We need to start believing that we have the skills and competencies to affect change in all aspects of our lives. Just because a solution isn’t readily apparent, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Ask for support: To be clear, just because everything is in our control, doesn’t mean we need to do everything by ourselves! Everyone needs help and support. I have often felt a very competitive “go at it alone” approach within the Asian American culture. Our parents are always comparing us to other kids, and medical schools are only going to admit so many applicants. The #1 thing I love most about working at VFA is that my coworkers are always asking me “How can I support you?” Sometimes, I tell them; other times I reply “I don’t know how you can help right now, but thanks.” It is such as relief to know that other people are looking out for you. Sisyphus would have had a much easier time pushing that boulder if he had some friends to help…or if he had gone to medical school instead of working for a non-profit and can afford to hire movers to do the work for him.
Stop being the model minority: Asians have been telling the world for decades that we’re really not as perfect as everyone thinks. We’re not the so-called model minority. We’re not all good at math; not blindly obedient; we don’t all know karate (only 89% of us do); we’re not all bad kissers; and our English is pretty good. So when it comes to stress, we must also push back and show the world we’re not perfect. Awesome yes, perfect no. We must resist perfectionism and tell people how we feel. Showing frustration and emotions are ok; bottling up your stress and anger is not. It’s like shaking up a can of soda. Sooner or later that can is going to explode and create a big, sticky, sweet, delicious mess.
Take a deep breath and be nice: Yoda once said “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Stress works the same way. For example, we fear failing. If we don’t manage it safely and positively, that stress can turn into anger. Has this ever happened to you? You’re having a bad day when a coworker makes an innocent, well-intentioned joke or comment and you go off on them. You want to punch them. Maybe you do. At the very least, you start yelling at them and then they’re like “Huh? I’m was only kidding. Calm down. Geez.” This only makes you more incensed. If you ever find yourself in this situation, take a deep breath and remember to be nice. Always be nice, especially when it’s hard. Be nice, and then ask for support.
Have fun! My official moto for work is “Fun and done” (trademarked). I think there’s a lot of truth to this. Work isn’t about being miserable, but about having as much fun as possible. We should do what we love and enjoy, even when bad days are inevitable. Have fun and get your work done. That’s it.