This grativibe is a story I am happy to share. It’s a story about how some help I got to deal with my stress at work has evolved into a way to live a more peaceful, positive life every day! I hope this story helps many people. I urge you not to hesitate if you feel this might help you, too.
I’m easily stressed. It doesn’t matter how I got this way, but everyone who really knows me knows it’s true. I don’t like it at all, but I’m programmed that way. I am also a very optimistic, friendly, loving guy! My awesome mother-in-law says so, too, so it must be true, right!? Those aspects of my personality are also part of my programming, luckily!
One of my home-made marketing training phrases is "People are machines," – meaning that they will behave the same way and make the same choices when put in the same situation. There is a ton of decades-old science that verifies this train of thought, such as Myers-Briggs assessments. I also used to say, "Even if someone tries with lots of sincere effort, nobody can change themselves more than 5%." I based that thought on my observations of people, but also on my own efforts at change. I was innately aware of programming some time ago but didn’t know how to manage my own.
My outlook was that I had faults caused by stress, and I felt like I could never really improve them. From all the above, it’s implicit that I didn’t like my programming, and I felt futility as a person who wants to be a better person; the myth of Sysephus comes to mind. Hard to be optimistic about the situation, right? This feeling, buried down deep, pervaded work and home life.
My youngest brother has had some of the same feelings; he and I have discussed different chapters of the nature-nurture theory for years now. He is a lawyer - apparently a VERY stressful profession! So stressful that his 600-lawyer firm hired a professional to help their employees deal with the stress. His name is Don Joseph Goewey. My brother recommended I spend some time with Don, and I ended up getting eight or so weeks of personal coaching from him that – no kidding – has changed my life. I now know that that 5% change ceiling I made up is 100% false; I am more hopeful and optimistic at 58 than I have ever been.
Don wrote a book called “The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain”. His coaching was a mix of discussion, reading a few chapters of his book, and helping me learn and experience some of the exercises and tools he has developed. I started out skeptical because I had been trying so long with no progress, and I am an engineer who likes facts and science. There is so much ‘new age’ stuff out there that is conveyed in terms and approaches that most people can’t really relate to. I actually started with Don once, broke off after 4 or 5 weeks because I thought ‘I’m good from here, I can handle it, thanks!’ Then, since my habits and outlook really hadn’t changed, I came back around a second time, under more stressful circumstances, which was what it finally took.
The research that Don writes about explains the damage that stress does to our health, to our ability to think objectively, to relate to others, and to be productive and creative. At one point in the book he points out that stress itself may even be addictive. That's scary to hear! He also demonstrates that if we can eliminate stress, our mind is freed up to achieve amazing levels of joy and creativity. One of the biggest factors that caused me to really buy in, though, is when he revealed to me that a Mayo clinic study showed that 3 out of 4 employees are stressed by at least one thing at work every week, and a third of them are stressed to the extreme. All of a sudden I was not alone in struggling with my stress patterns at work - I was ‘normal’. Don also showed me a YouTube video by Brene’ Brown (at the time it had only 7M views) about vulnerability research. Not only was I ‘normal’, I had some empathy and supportive training at my disposal all of sudden! The other reason I found out I was not alone was because Don shared his own personal experience with stress habits. But – you’ll have to buy the book or look into his website to hear that one!
The beginning of Don’s process is to build awareness by walking us through the science of stress, which opened me up a little. Through the combination of presented science, discussion about what was going on in my life, and my experiences during meditation, the first thing I came to understand was that a person can control one’s self more than you may have experienced throughout your life to date. The key was separating myself from the thoughts I was having and seeing what my mind was thinking with objectivity. That took practice, but when it clicked for the first time, I became invested.
Don continued by running me through different awareness pre-work and mediation practices that tackled different aspects of self-management:
- dealing with stress in the moment
- starting the day in quiet gratitude
- understanding that stress is almost ALL internal, and thereby controllable
- how to envision myself having days as my best self
- how to sort through what we are really afraid of
- how to ‘mark a moment’, and build a bank of those moments that becomes an ever-present positive outlook
- and how to prepare for days that I knew would cause me extreme stress and ‘win’ those days.
Why did I need this help so badly, and what did it do for me? I was in a corporate setting that was not filled with trust and teamwork (which is very common). It was getting dysfunctional, and I was contributing to that disfunction with stressful reactions, defensiveness, and mistrust. It got so bad that even though Don’s help allowed me to deal well with it, it had progressed too far along and my relationships with peers had frayed. I chose to leave my employer; actually, I chose to run. I ran to a different company, also with lots of mistrust and management dysfunction! Luckily, my more positive, creative outlook, helped me deal with it better. It was an even more challenging business situation, but my team and I were winning the battle, making it better, developing staff. It was rewarding…..until the whole company had financial trouble and I was let go, along with many other talented, hardworking people. NOT a great few years of my career!
Within a day of being let go, though, I realized several things:
- I – nobody else - made a bad choice to join the company
- They made a necessary choice to let me go, because they didn’t really support or fully understand the type of business I was building for them
- I now got to CHOOSE my situation, with a company that wants me and what I do, rather than run from one bad company to another.
Is it a big deal to feel like you have self-worth that you can allow to shine every day? You bet. Don has a lot of wisdom to offer on that subject as well.
I spent three months looking for a job and had many good discussions with companies large and small, but I started every morning with exercises Don had showed me. I would also go to my local mall and spend time journaling about what my search looked like, what I had learned, what my next actions should be, but most importantly that I would find a great job for me that would allow me to shine! These three months was time I needed to re-center myself and practice the techniques that are helping me be a better me. It sounds odd but am so grateful that I was let go and that I had that time to spend using the new knowledge Don imparted to me!
Today I am at a mid-size company with less responsibility than I have had historically. My position has tremendous potential for growing both personally and professionally, because the company shares my entrepreneurial spirit and generally friendly outlook. Yes, there are business challenges and yes, I can still feel stress of a sort, but I have learned to manage myself. So now when I start my day in gratitude, one of the top items on the list is how, late in life, I feel as though I am more prepared than ever to help myself as well as others deal with stress, which impacts so many aspects of professional – and personal – life. I manage people very differently now, too, and I like how the new approach is playing out; I get subtle but regular positive reinforcement and feedback.
I am also pondering how best to introduce Don's work into my industry, because I see the need every day. Why wouldn't I? Results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people have found that every key business outcome improves when people are emotionally positive. But Don’s techniques aren’t just work-focused; stress is stress, and his practices make the stress of daily life easier to deal with as well.
To get a feel for Don’s overall approach, you can listen to his free podcast series at Podbean, the world's largest mediation app. I keep this as a favorite on my phone and often will give myself a refresher on some aspects or outlooks. To see the array of information and offering, and to hear from Don in his own words, you should visit Don’s own website. You can also hear the amazing story about Don’s own life that led him to make this his life’s work – and you will come to understand that Don lives his teachings every day!
It is worth summarizing the overview of Don's work. If you objectively see that you are creating a lot of your own stress through fears that are not substantiated, you can manage it. If you do this enough, your stress can be held at bay much of the time, which releases you to be more peaceful, empathic, and creative. For me, this has created more optimism and positive focus on a daily basis than at any other time in my career. And it’s a renewable resource that you are in charge of! Don’s help and its impacts are something I just needed to share, and in the future I will share some of the books, websites, and other tools I have become aware of and used as well.
Best of luck and please let me know if this resonates with you! As Don always says: “Peace to you.”
Thank you for sharing this, Doug! COVID-19 and the effects it is having on our social and personal lives is a huge stress generator. My daughter starts on-line schooling in two short weeks, the "normal" she is used to this time of year has changed so much and I worry about her adapting, learning, and if I will be successful in supporting her. One-day-at a time...I know. Perhaps Don's book will help be manage this stress. Lord knows I could use additional stress relieving resources. Thanks again!