Whenever you find yourself overworked or tired out, it’s easy to get upset out of all proportion when something goes wrong.
The usual advice to avoiding stress – “Be sure you get enough sleep. Work-life balance is important.” – can be like telling runners at a track meet to run faster. It is correct but not helpful.
This month, I’ll be in Tampa, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Grand Forks, Devils Lake and Tulsa. I’m giving three papers at three conferences, meeting with a lot of people, writing an annual report, working on the bugs to get out our latest game by the end of this month, working on a Chromebook version of our two current games, expanding our resources for instructors, meeting with potential investors, visiting school beta sites. It’s exhausting just reading it, no?
I arrive in Los Angeles from Las Vegas at 10 pm and leave at 1 am for Grand Forks. I’m not at private jet level yet, so I had to catch whatever flights were available to get from Nevada to North Dakota because those selfish bastards who organized SAS Global Forum did not consult me in which days on the calendar fit in my personal schedule. I know, I’m shocked, too! The North Dakota STEM conference, same thing! No one called me and said,
“Hi, AnnMaria, we’re thinking of having a conference. What day is good for you?”
My point is that when Delta airlines doesn’t consider you in its flight routes or conferences don’t schedule around your convenience, you don’t get outraged because you don’t take it personally.
That last phrase is the major stress relief strategy that is within your control. You can’t always get enough sleep, do your yoga, only associate with positive people (or, based on some of my recent flights, people with adequate hygiene).
You can, however, try to avoid taking personally the inevitable slips in your best-laid plans. I’ll give you an example that happens to me more often than I would like – I am supposed to go to a school that has expressed an interest in using our games to teach math. Sometimes they have made an appointment for me to present our research to the staff, observe students playing in the computer lab or meet with a focus group of students and then, at the last minute cancel – sometimes, literally, as I am getting into my car to drive to meet with them.
It’s easy to get upset about this, or a hundred other things that don’t go perfectly in the average day. I was talking to The Perfect Jennifer about one of these today and she said,
You know, Mom, as much as I am always on your side, I don’t think this has anything to do with you.
And she is right. I could have said,
“What do you mean? It was ME they had agreed to meet with/ invest in/ buy games from/ have as the chief belly dancer (okay, maybe not that last one).”
The fact is, though, people change their minds, say something they didn’t mean, double-book, forget appointments or have conflicts for all kinds of reasons and a very, very small proportion of them have to do with you. They just plain forgot that Wednesday was a half-day and the students would not be there at 2 pm. THEY are overworked, too, and were called in to handle a crisis with a student who had attempted suicide or assaulted a teacher, the school is on lock-down, the superintendent dropped by to ask why their test scores were so low, their budget was cut, their last investment lost a bucket of money and they can no longer afford to invest.
So … the next time you find your stress level rising along with your desire to throttle someone, don’t count to ten, start counting all of the plausible explanations for their behavior that don’t involve you. I’m pretty sure people are not wandering around plotting to make your life stressful. In fact, once you start thinking about the potential problems other people have to deal with, your life starts looking pretty good by comparison.