A few weeks before Christmas I took a Stress Survival Workshop hosted by the Human Resources division of my employer. They gave us a lot of good information including the usual cautionary advice – eat properly, drink lots of water, get enough sleep. They gave us the seasonal advice – avoid the fatty appetizers, moderate your alcohol intake, and understand your stress factors. The speaker, in talking about sources of stress, made one comment that resonated with me in a very powerful way. She said, “If you are trying to be someone that you are not – whether it be at work, at home, with friends, in any part of your life – then you are creating a stressful situation for yourself.” This sentence revolved through my brain for the next few hours, provoking many and varied responses from my psyche.
We all know that in many of our daily environments there are certain “games” we play or “personas” we adapt based upon where we are and with whom we are dealing. We do not behave the same with business professionals as we do with our closest friends. Our children see a different side of us than does our parents. The types of behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs that our speaker referred to were ones that reside at the core of our personal being, that some of us sacrifice – a little or a lot – in order to be accepted. Are you one of those people who make these types of sacrifices?
I work in a business school. Business is not about emotions or abstract concepts. It is about cold, hard truths that equate to bottom line number achieved through standard formulas. There is more awareness emerging in the business world for the role of behavior and belief systems on the outcomes of business decision-making, but overall, it is a solid, predictable world. My academic achievements and research efforts revolve around creative writing and cultural anthropology. I research stories and story-telling as a method of communication and historical record-keeping throughout time and involving varying cultures. My office is full of business-related texts, files, records, cases, and other “stuff” that I need to do my job. But I made room for one shelf that contains texts I use in my own research, artifacts found during research, favorite authors I study, and I have several cultural artifacts that hang on my walls or sit on my desk that are important to me. My colleagues are aware that my world does not revolve around business and these items that are indicative of “who I am” bring be comfort and peace when I am feeling particularly stressed from dealing with strictly business information.
On the other hand, I am prone to explore alternative health avenues in addition to traditional medical avenues when dealing with health issues. This is not usually accepted in my extended family. As a result, I have realized that offering advice based upon my findings and/or discussing my experiences with alternative health treatments results in heated debates and a general attitude that I am “nuts”. Thus, I try to keep my thoughts to myself as much as possible. Now, it would seem that staying quiet would reduce my stress, yes? That is certainly my intention! However, I find that “biting my tongue” in order to keep the peace comes with a price. As the discussion progresses and I work to keep my opinions to myself, tension builds in my neck, my back, and eventually I find my mind drifting off to other places and I am ignoring the conversation in order to preserve my sanity. This is not productive for myself nor for those with whom I am supposed to be conversing. So what is the answer?
According to the speaker at the Stress Survival Workshop, we owe it to ourselves to be ourselves. In other words, I should express my thoughts and ideas – even though I know they will be met with skepticism – and let others believe whatever they want to believe. Ultimately, it is best if all parties involved can come to the consensus to “agree to disagree”, which leads to a certain amount of acceptance for differing opinions. But we all know that this is not always a possible outcome. I find, personally, that I must weigh the situation and decide if more stress is caused by “being myself” or by “hiding myself”.
With the situation regarding alternative health treatments, the most that can happen is that my family thinks I am “nuts” and/or I have a disagreement with another family member. But some people hide their true self when it comes to issues much greater than this. Consider hiding your religious beliefs, your ideas about child-raising, or your significant other. These would be highly stressful situations! I cannot imagine feeling as if I had to hide who I am in relation to such significant aspects of myself.
As parents, we set the example for our children. As parents, we tell our children, “Just be yourself. If they don’t like you, it is their loss.” (How many times have you said it? Do you live by it yourself?) This being said, my challenge to each of you is to identify one aspect of yourself that you “hide” from others and claim it. Use it as a learning tool to help your children see how important it really is to be yourself. Some of you won’t have any trouble with this challenge and others will struggle. At the very least, we will have a better understanding of the challenges that our children face.
Head out to BellaOnline’s Single Parents forum and share your experience with this little experiment. I will be opening a thread this evening for the resulting discussion and I hope to hear from you!
Happy New Year!