Monthly Archives: January 2010

Monday Motivator: Handle Stress Wisely!

So, let’s face it. Probably no one at NSCC would like to repeat this past week. In the library, we had too few computers for too many students. The routers were down (or whatever routers are when they’re not working) so students who usually use their own laptops were also relying on the too few computers. Financial aid or Amazon.com deliveries had not yet arrived, so students did not have their textbooks and were having to make copies. I also discovered that I’d made a few crucial errors on the bookstore list over the holidays, so some books that should have been on reserve had been placed in the stacks and checked out already. On one not-to-be-repeated day, a copier went down, both printers went down, and five library staff members had to be out of the office at the same time. I was dealing with one angry customer over the phone while surrounded by six others in person. I would have loved to blame someone, but as dean, the blame all goes to me. Anyway, my poor staff has heard, ad nauseum, about blame being a poor substitute for actual problem solving.

And, besides, we’d done all we could do. We’d called our ex-officio staff member, the copier repair guy. We put in a request to the Help Desk. And I hope I’ve instituted a procedure that will mean five people won’t be away from the library at the same time again. On the plus side, one copy machine was working. We discovered that the printer in K163 might be slow but still quite operational. And three of us held down the fort until some of the others returned.

That is the way it often is with such days. Winding everything together, it seems that an insurmountable obstacle has been placed in our way. But slowly teasing apart the separate issues, it becomes clear that each issue can be solved, or at least handled. And that knowledge alone often reduces the stress of such days.

Still, I do think it is a good idea to have some strategies in reserve for stressful days, because, for too many of us, the initial response to stress is to strike out (a response I’ve asked all LRC staff to refrain from). So I took a look at my colleagues to see how they handle the worst of days:

  • One of the most effective ways is to just get away for a little while. Sometimes on really bad days we think that the office can’t do without us. But often, the office is much happier with our grumpy, stressed-out self gone for a little and replaced later with our calmer, more focused self. I like to go to the Wendy’s drive through, not so much for the Diet Coke, although the caffeine is very helpful, but for the music on my Ipod. I find Tom Petty both relaxes me and energizes me for the rest of the day ahead.
  • Another very effective way is to laugh. Mostly at ourselves. Luckily, the library gives us many opportunities for this. Like the student who came up to Emily one day and said, “If I had your job, I’d kill myself.” Or the one who said to me, “I want to see the lady who helped me this morning. She was a lady like you. But young.”
  • Perhaps the best way is to put our own problems in perspective. While we were worrying over a broken copier, people in Haiti were not able to get water, food, or medical supplies after the devastating earthquake.

So I hope that you all have ways of dealing with stressful weeks. But to be brutally honest with you, I’m also hoping that next week is a little better.

The Monday Motivator: Events Reveal, Not Determine, Character.

Novelist Amy Bloom wrote an essay for the December 2009 issue of Real Simple on some of the lessons in life she’d picked up so far. The first one was “Events reveal people’s character; they don’t determine them.”  I tore the page out of the magazine to ponder this one some more. For a week, I’ve thought about it. Some days, I agree with it whole-heartedly. Other days I disagree just as vehemently. But now I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s right.

Now this is not to say that events, both horrifying and wonderful, don’t affect us in penetrating and often painful ways. But there simply is not the clear-cut cause and effect relationship that so many of us use to pin blame on why we’re unhappy or mean or selfish, etc.   Two people may have an awful time in relationships. One may blame it on the fact her parents divorced when she was a small child. The other is just as committed to the idea that it’s because her parents stayed together unhappily. For every person who’s been cheated on and swears that he/she can never love again, there’s another one who’s bravely bandaged up the wounds and risks pain in order to have a happy relationship the second time around. Even the truly horrifying things, like disease and death of a loved one, are often transcended by those who are able to see beyond the horrible for maybe just a second one day and then two seconds the next, and so on until they are able to see how there can still be purpose.

If Amy Bloom is right, then the next time something happens to us, it is probably not in our best interest to scream against the universe, crying that we can’t help but be miserable and angry because this thing happened to us. Instead, we should look to see what our reaction to such events says about us and then see what we can change about our character. Because in the end, that really is the only thing we can change.