Think Being Stressed-Out is the Price of Meeting Big Goals? My Hypothesis: Hell, No

It’s been a tough week for me since when I wrote to you last.  Not bad, just challenging.  Mainly because, as I mentioned last week, I’ve been stepping out courageously to meet some challenges worth meeting.


Like, for starters, I held my first ever free call which scared the shit out of me for unknown reasons given that I’m used to teaching, and I coach people by phone all the time and one would think that this combo of the two would be no big deal, but for me it was. 


The call was for stressed college students who want to finish strong this semester.  And because if you’re reading this you all are in my tribe already, I’ll send you the recording if you request it, even if you weren’t on the call.  It’s chock full of the strategies I’ve found effective for me and my clients in managing stress and meeting the challenges of the end of the semester. Just shoot me an email at if you want it.


I’ve also done 2 days of interviews for a big, complicated job.  I’ll tell you more about it if it happens, but just the interviews were challenging in terms of time and emotion—fun and exciting in many ways, but challenging for sure.  In fact, just considering doing this big job while growing my business and expanding my writing requires courage for me – and calming down my inner, “Are you crazy? this is too much!” voice.


And maybe it is crazy.  But maybe it isn’t.  Because you see, this week, so far, I’m doing it.  And so far, all I’ve had to do is this week.  Not next week, not even tomorrow. 


And that’s all you ever have to do too—this. Right now. The next step. 


Two things helped me to meet these challenges with more calm and confidence than I’ve ever had before in the face of A-LOT-ALL-AT-ONCE.  I’m going to share them with you and then I’m going share some of the amazing encouraging things that showed up for me this morning in the form of O Magazine.  Cuz I find that’s often what happens when we show up with courage and compassion to do our work in the world – the Universe shows up with support – sometimes just tiny winks of support (like I got today) and sometimes BIG MAGIC, but it does show up (though admittedly not always on our time schedule.)


So, on to Thing 1 and Thing 2 (Thank you, Dr. Seuss!)


Thing 1:  Throughout this week I kept remembering what Kelly McGonigal said about the damaging effects of stress – that it’s actually not the STRESS that’s the problem for our bodies.  It’s what we BELIEVE about stress that does damage to our health.


When the stress response kicks up our beliefs actually change how our BODY reacts to the physical changes like the increased heartbeat that you feel when you’re getting stressed. She also said that doing meaningful work has a greater positive impact on our health than whether or not there’s some stress involved in doing it.  These findings changed her view of stress – and mine too!


So, this week when I felt the impact of stress in my body—the faster heartbeat, the butterflies in my stomach—I chose to believe that it was helping to prepare me for a challenge by sending oxygen to my brain and preparing me for action. This thought replaced my more common reaction of, “This is too much for me, oh my gosh I’m so stressed!  I shouldn’t be doing all this!” It helped.  A lot.


This change in my thinking is pretty close to what I recommended to students in the call last night too.  I suggested that as the pressure mounts, they choose to think, “This is hard, AND I’m strong enough to handle it,” which is way more energizing and empowering than thinking, “This is too hard for me! I’m not going to make it!”


It’s important to note that McGonigal also said that getting help is crucial to our health when we are feeling stress.  The self-made independent American Success Story myth IS damaging.  But that’s a discussion for another time.


So, we can do big work (even us sensitive, soulful types) but not alone.


***Caveat – I will still ALWAYS be an advocate for taking time off, playing, and leaving situations that are, in fact, making you unhappy and unhealthy.  But what I’m starting to see now is that it’s not either/or and not the same for everyone.  Challenging, demanding work is not necessarily unhealthy, working part-time or having a less demanding job is not necessarily better for your health, emotional or physical, or for your parenting.  If you’re not sure what your personal way forward is, I suggest that you work with a life coach.  Seriously!  It doesn’t have to be me, but I swear it HELPS!  So much!  My wallet will testify to the authenticity of my belief in getting this kind of help!  I don’t regret a single dime I’ve invested in getting life coaching for me or for my sons.***


Okay, onward to…


Thing 2:  I prioritized self-care and avoided my tendency to do big work by working more and working harder. 


This is a huge new scary experiment for me.  Because so far, in my life, I’ve mostly swung from big accomplishments and poor emotional/physical/spiritual health on one side to checking out of big work and diving deep on self-care and growth, on the other side.  I’ve rarely effectively integrated the two.


In my 20s, I mostly ate sugary baked goods to manage the stress of living and working in challenging educational environments, then quit a meaningful job to stay home with my first child (which as I mentioned in this post, was not necessarily less stressful!)  In my 30s, I took on the leadership challenge of becoming a director of a childcare center, but never could figure out how to do it while caring well for myself and my family, so I quit to save my sanity.  In my 40s, I got my PhD by pulling all-nighters and worked 11-12 hour days to get a tenure-track job, which damaged my health pretty badly and wasn’t particularly helpful to my parenting or my marriage.  But when I left it last year, the reason was a little different than before.  I sensed that somehow getting tenure wasn’t a BIG ENOUGH goal for me.  There was something more.


It was during my professor phase that I also started getting some life coaching and learning to care for my spirit, soul and body in new ways.  Thus, began the shifts that led to a new life in a new city: working from home, writing, building my coaching business.  All challenging, but also really fun and healing. 


I’ll admit, I’m a bit scared to leave this life I’ve loved for the past 9 months or so.  


But I feel called to something new.  And looking at doing a big new job, while building my business, and caring for my son (who isn’t loving our new city,) and investing in my marriage and myself, and trying to do it all without always pushing harder and longer—now that’s putting my life coaching money on the line.


It’s scary for me to really try it out in this new way. Because it’s still not the way our culture tells us that big stuff gets done.  But this week was step one on the journey as I test my new hypothesis:


We can do big work AND take big care of ourselves.  In fact, we must.


And here’s the “wink” I got from the Universe this morning. 


The newest issue of O magazine, from Oprah the queen of self-care and positive thinking, has a feature article titled, “Let’s Talk About Race: It’s the elephant; it’s in the room, and it’s time.”  It’s not a usual topic for a magazine that generally sticks to positive encouraging topics pretty closely.  And it’s one of the things I said when I was interviewing on Monday – we have to create a culture in which we can talk out loud about race (and class and other differences) if we want to build communities of trust.  Oh my gosh, please buy the magazine, read the article and let’s talk!  For real. 


THEN, as I flipped through the magazine while eating breakfast, I saw a tiny column about an AMAZING app that helps college students find scholarships.  It’s called Scholly and you can find it here.  It was created by an African American guy and Drexel grad (Go Philly!) who was able to go to college only because he pieced together a whole bunch of scholarships.  He wanted to make it easier for others to do the same.  LOVE IT!

For me, these two little items in a magazine said, "Yes, self-care and world-changing work can fit together in a million different ways."  Okay, so I’m excited now.  Are you? 


What are you excited about?  What’s tugging at you?  Asking you to be just a little braver, to live just a little bigger? 


What’s calling you to stop, and play, or rest, to be a bit braver in how you care for yourself?


Listen, my amazing ones.  Just listen.  Goodness is talking.  It’s in and around you all day every day.  We’re gonna keep finding it together!  Then we’re going to change the world for the better.  Let’s go!


Here’s to thriving!