What are you chasing?

August 26, 2014 | Life in My 50s

Time for a little honesty. I woke up this morning feeling beyond down in the dumps. Actually I’ve been waking up that way a lot lately, save for a few days on vacation when I was able to deny reality. But now, with summer winding down and reality breathing down my neck, it’s hard to plaster a smile on my face and pretend it’s all great, even if it sounds great on paper. I mean, we’ve got our health, we’ve got a big trip to Italy in the offing, I’ve got one book project halfway done and another ready to go as soon as the first is complete. What could possibly be dragging me down? All of it.

Every one of those things I just mentioned comes with a mega-load of stress. The Italy trip alone is a major stress inducer — leaving our kids for 13 days (Dennis is joining me), burdening my dad and stepmom with child care for all that time, ensuring that the 37 people who paid to go on my pilgrimage have a good time. It’s stressful. And I have to admit that having Italy-related stress brings me down. Italy is my dream; I don’t want it to become my nightmare.

So every morning I wake up and mentally rattle off all the stuff in my life that is giving me stress, and then I sigh and wish I could pull the covers over my head and hide for the rest of the day. Or year.

But this morning, when I signed onto Facebook and saw a TED talk about stress posted by one of my friends (an awesome life coach who also happens to be signed up for my Italy pilgrimage), I stopped what I was doing and started watching.

The talk was about the way stress can hurt or help us. That’s right: Stress can actually help us. It all depends on how you view it. It was an interesting talk, but the money quote came at the very end when the speaker answered a question about whether someone should take a stressful job or a non-stressful job if they had a choice between two. And this is what psychologist Kelly McGonigal said:

“One thing we know for certain is that chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort. So I would say that’s really the best way to make decisions: Go after what creates meaning in your life, and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.”

Amen. Up until now, that’s always been how I’ve looked at life. I’ve taken on ridiculous projects I had no business accepting, but I would say “yes” and figure the rest out along the way. For some reason, however, I’ve been slipping more toward the “avoid discomfort” camp in recent months, and what I’ve found is that rather than make me feel better, it’s made me more stressed and less happy. So….time to remember why I’ve always taken on jobs and projects when other people have told me I was crazy to do so: because I like to chase meaning.

Chase meaning, rather than avoid discomfort.

Words to live by. And words to remember every morning when hiding from the world seems like the much more comfortable option.
Here’s the entire talk, if you want to check it out:


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