I’m sitting at the kitchen table this morning, watching yellow October leaves float down from the big cottonwood in the front yard and pondering my relationship with stress.
I have always liked having a lot on my plate. I don’t know why that is but I thrive on the feeling of being “up to something”. When I was in college, I double-majored in math and computer science, was president of my sorority, played three varsity sports (swimming, diving, softball), and worked part-time teaching french to kids at the local elementary school. When I think back, I still remember having fun with friends and enjoying typical campus life so I don’t remember feeling like I missed out on anything. But juggling all that comes with a fair amount of stress.
My life today feels very similar. Between start-up life, races, parenting, serving on several boards, and volunteering, my world has not changed much. Same pace, different scenery.
I got back from California late last night after visiting my brother Andy, who just had surgery. He has 12 weeks of recovery in front of him and I went to help out while his wife was on a business trip. I cooked, helped out around the house, and shuttled my niece to school and various activities. If you’ve ever helped the elderly, a new mom with a baby, or anyone recovering from a hospital stay, they have one thing in common. The world stops spinning and everything slows down. Little things like tying shoes, showering, or taking a walk are major activities that take focus, time, and deliberate attention to detail. I found myself caught between two worlds. I was still working and had lots of emails to return and conference calls to join. I’d spend a few hours on calls with employees, customers, and vendors in the downstairs office and then step away to check on Andy. Downstairs was a nonstop buzz of intense conversations, negotiations, and problem-solving. Upstairs was a quiet, sunny, bubble of convalescing slow motion. Guess which one was harder for me?
On my last morning there, the conversation turned to stress. Andy commented on how stressed my life seemed and how I never slow down. I said “its just temporary – there’s a lot going on right now”, to which he replied “its not temporary, you’ve been this way your whole life”. I got to thinking and realized he was right. Not in the cathartic-revelation-OMG-I-have-to-change-my-life way. Just a quiet acknowledgement of the truth. I’ve chosen a life that comes with a fair amount of stress.
There are certain stresses that come with the territory of running a start-up and you don’t get the luxury of picking and choosing which ones you tackle – you have to deal with all of them. If we’re going to take millions of dollars from investors, get enterprise companies to buy (and keep) our product, and hire employees who’s livelihoods depend on their salaries, then we’re also making a commitment to face the problems and stresses that come with it. You can’t turn them off, run away, hope that someone else will solve them, or pretend they don’t exist. Same applies to other forms of stress – financial crisis, a death, sickness, or natural disaster (albeit these are not ones we choose).
So I figure I have a choice. If I can’t reduce certain stresses in my life, then I can at least take care of my body and mind so I can handle it while still thriving. For me, I rely on four things to help me cope – sleep, exercise, eating healthy, and friends/family. When I don’t get enough of even just one, stress gets the upper hand. As I write this, I can tell that I need to double-down on my attention to them because I can sense things getting a bit out of balance.
While I like to think I take pretty good care of myself overall, I’m also realizing that my standard “maintenance mode” might not be enough when the heat gets turned up. During times of increased stress, it will be even more important to carve out time for self-care. And the irony is that the more you think you don’t have time for exercise, meditation, or the consciousness to choose a salad over fries, the more you actually need it.
So while my list of things to do today tells me I have no time for it, I’m off to swim laps, buy kale, and have some fun with people I love