Category Archives: stress

Open Letter to Andy Jones

Dear Andy,

Before I knew Kevin as a spouse, or a boyfriend, or even a friend, I knew him as a co-worker. He is the best kind of co-worker: helpful, smart, fun. You can trust him to have your back and to work at his highest ability. He is the type of person who cannot cut corners, or pretend to work for the sake of appearances. He’s just not wired that way. So as a battle buddy in the field with him, I could lean on him for customer issues, technical questions or honest advice.

I imagine that any of his bosses in the automotive industry for the past 3 decades would say that in addition to being the best kind of co-worker, he is also the best kind of employee. If he is at the job, he is working. Period. Because Kevin is never one to shy away from tedious or arduous tasks, the boss knows that giving him a project is the best way to be certain that it will be completed. Kevin is always willing to make sacrifices for the company, work through lunch, show up on time and stay past the required shift. Kevin’s integrity guarantees freedom from concerns about unethical behavior. Granted, his honesty sometimes hurts if he disagrees with your opinion, as he is never one to play to the political or ego-based side of an issue, but that seems a small price to pay for an employee who genuinely wants to do well. Kevin is who he is, no more and no less. He is never someone different depending on the audience.

I suspect that as his boss, you had some of these feelings about Kevin, inspiring you to make grand gestures of support during his tenure with your company. I was a beneficiary of the generosity you extended. (See my past blog about your kindness early in the relationship: Kevin Superstar ). You allowed him to take time off when he needed surgery. All seemed to be going smoothly. The job was certainly stressful for Kevin, as he put in 70+ hours a week to manage a 60-person department, but profits and customer retention were good, so the ship stayed on a straight path to success.

Then something shifted in the relationship. Stress for both of you increased exponentially. Kevin was not allowed to replace needed employees and became severely short-staffed. Your stress seemed to spike during the time when another dealership was added to the auto group. Suddenly the mutual pressure manifested into a final break. Kevin was asked to step down from his role as Service Manager, with little explanation and few options. In the weeks since this has occurred, I have experienced a wide range of feelings. I have now reached a point where it is important to me that you know that I do not blame you for this inevitable ending, which was sad and confusing while it was taking place, but is now proving to be a blessing.

Kevin would never have left this leadership role on his own. I think you know that, based on a particularly striking moment when he was provoked to do so and held his cool. I know of no one else who could endure that. No matter how much he suffers, he just does not back down from a challenge and has a suprisingly high tolerance for discomfort. So it was up to you to make the difficult decision for him. The good news is that Kevin is suddenly healthy again. His blood pressure is normal for the first time in years, he is more emotionally accessible, he eats and sleeps better. While the future is extremely uncertain and I know it causes him great consternation, there is a peace in the assurance that the trials of his recent past are behind him.

At one point, near the end, you took Kevin out to lunch to figure out how to fix it. I wasn’t there, but I can imagine the conversation as if I were the proverbial fly on the wall. You chatted quickly, trying to get him to open up. Kevin was recalcitrant and withdrawn. When he told me about the lunch, I told him that I felt sorry for you because I know what it is like to try to bring him out of his shell after he crawls in it. It is hard to reach out and try to communicate with someone who has shut down. I get that. The difficulty is that the lunch was probably a year too late. By that time, there had been too little support, too little thanks, too little honest conversation on both sides. From a business management perspective, it was the perfect storm.

Suffice it to say, it is a sad outcome anytime someone who has worked hard for so many years is asked to step down. I know it could not have been an easy decision for you and I do not hold any grudges. In fact, if I leave you with anything, it is my sincere appreciation. I thank you for giving him the opportunity to manage such a large operation, and for the gestures you extended during that time to let him know you appreciated how much he grew the business. I thank you for all that you do in the community, and for supporting other employees who have dedicated their careers to your organization. Mostly, though, I have to thank you for letting Kevin go. I cannot fully articulate how happy I am to have him back, and I will do all I can to ensure that whatever is in the cards for his next adventure, that he does not give so much of himself that he loses his way or gives up the fun balance in his life.

For the past 8 years, when people would ask me about Kevin, I would always offer some variation of a reply indicating that he was working too much, as ever. From now on, my reply will be that Kevin is finding his life again, and is truly happy. Kevin takes ownership of his parting from your management team, knowing the responsibility to tell you what was failing rested on him. Trust was lost on both sides, and let it be a lesson to us all; we can ill afford to take any relationship for granted. We need to nurture it with more “What can I do for you?” -type questions and more “I appreciate you” -type statements.

 

My best regards to you and your organization for ongoing success. If I can ever be a blessing to you in the future, I hope you will not hesitate to contact me directly.

Sincerely,

Angela

Angela Maskey

P.S. I also need to thank you for asking me to take your Guest Relations Manager to lunch when she started her job, to give her advice. It was during that meeting I came up with the title “Happiness Manager”, a nomenclature I have since embraced officially at my job, with tremendous results. I don’t know that the lunch helped her much, but it was transformative for me. For that as well, I am forever grateful.

Minimalist Wannabe

Like most Americans, I tend to shop or eat when I am blue. I realize that I have too many blessings to give in to melancholy-based habits with any regularity, but I confess that I have indulged enough to proclaim the unoriginal and ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions: lose weight and spend less. I would like to add two more resolutions which are extremely compatible with these goals: own less and simplify.

These last two objectives surfaced after watching a Netflix documentary about the Minimalists. Minimalist documentary Seeing this film about Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus at the start of a new year is fortuitous, because they offer such a compelling message about how our addiction to possessions creates more stress than happiness. Thus my newfound and overwhelming need to participate in some major purging. Keep life simple, baby, I say to myself, and appreciate each moment instead of trying to fill your sadness with a swiss cake roll and a new piece of art.

bt

BT supports my decision, as long as I don’t force her to donate any cat toys

 

I neither want nor expect to reach the level of extreme extrication that Joshua and Ryan accomplished. I read somewhere that Joshua sliced 90% of his material possessions over 8 months. Seeing Joshua’s lone folding chair in an empty living room takes care of most of that temptation. Hearing that he only owns one pair of jeans kills the rest. (Those poor jeans will surely wear out from being washed every night?) Overall, however, the concept resonates with me, because I get a small high from donating superfluous items in my life, and I understand the Feng Shui behind less clutter. So that amazing feeling, augmented with the knowledge gained from the documentary, and I’m a madwoman on a different kind of binge-purge.

spartan-closet

One of my newly stripped closets. Don’t be too impressed, however. There are 6 closets in my house.

 

A couple of things will keep me in check, most of them centered around the fact that I am married to someone who is a keeper in more ways than one. Not only do I want to keep him, he wants to keep his stuff, and he has a lot of it. His reluctance to let go of material possessions is not an issue for our marraige, because we are 2 people in a 2,100 square foot house. The house itself is quite tidy, and as proof, I offer this question posed by Kevin’s home health nurse after his hip-replacement: “So, who’s the neat freak?” As someone who lived single and sloppy for most of her adult life,  this inquiry made me extremely happy.

So Kevin’s stuff is safe from my new proclivity (mostly!) and I have been happily filling bags and boxes to donate. Items which seem too nice to take to Goodwill get shipped to my sister Lisa in Colorado, who has a little Ebay business. I’m on my second box of unwanted goodies for her consideration. She is instructed to keep or sell or donate at her discretion, and she sends me a report of how much she earns from my life’s leftovers, which is fun to read. She keeps the profits (since she does all the work) and I get the joy of knowing that someone in another country is really enjoying my 10 year old silk scarf. Other popular items, many of which ironically are sold to people back here in Augusta, Georgia, include books I know I will not read more than once, and dress up jewelry from last year’s Christmas party.

I often get carried away with whatever my current hobby might be, so there is no telling how far I will travel down the Minimalist road. My last wild hair was a Pinterest-inspired obsession with gift-wrapping, a creative outlet I enjoyed over the holiday. Since I have an entire room filled with gift-wrap supplies, this new hobby is a bit at odds with the minimalist lifestyle. Not sure how that will work out, but I’m not worried about it.

giftwrap1

example of super cute gift wrap supplies I feel compelled to keep

 

If I stay on my current minimizing trajectory the same way I embraced the gift wrap project, Kevin will be sitting in his lonely Lazyboy chair in a spartan room with nothing on the walls. Fear not, my friends, for I assure you that I do possess the ability to ascertain which items have appropriate sentimental value and which ones were just bad purchase decisions. The other saving grace, of course, is my short attention span. I suspect that I will see a new documentary about the joy of baking on Netflix sometime in March, and will be traipsing off to William Sonoma in search of the best pie pans. (I hope not!) In the meantime, I am very happy with my new path of simpler living and am feeling like I can embrace it as a lifestyle change. Wish me luck!

A Happy Choice

 

My stress-filled life had been burgeoning into a borderline melancholy when I agreed to attend the documentary “Happy”at the Imperial Theater with my friend Bethlehem. I was unsure of the details of the story but knew that the film was centered around the artist known for his smiling paintings, Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman.

Image-1

 

Like most Augustans, I had seen the Happy Robot signs plastered all around town, and had worn the stickers myself when they were thrust upon me by the ever-delightful and enthusiastic Tricia Hughes. Also like most Augustans, I was fuzzy about the motivation behind Zimmerman’s colorful and upbeat imagery, but curious to hear more about it, and possibly pick up some pointers.

 

As I am fascinated by stories of personal journeys, I was immediately drawn to the film, which recounts the life of the artist from childhood, through losing his great love, to finding redemption through his craft. I enjoyed watching him at work, fixated on painting while wearing headphones, head bouncing to the music. He would zone in close to the canvas, carefully outlining an image of a smiling bear, then suddenly burst into laughter. I wondered how his mind moved from the music to the paint to the thought which entertained him so much, a little envious of someone so completely in the moment and filled with the capacity for pure joy.

The documentary, created by Michael Patrick McKinley, shows the joyful painter’s lifelong passion for his art, which seems simple in content but is actual replete with symbolism and precise technical skill. As Metro Spirit contributor Molly Swift explains, McKinley has been able to convey that “in the midst of all the noise, the HAPPY campaign stands out both due to its origin and its simplicity. The point is to help people choose happiness. That is all.”

Which brings me back to me, and my current obsession with joy in the midst of stress, simplicity in the midst of chaos. Life has become so complex and overwhelming, that I find myself turning to stories like Zimmerman’s, which demonstrate that elation is a flower on the side of the road, obscured by the weeds and concrete artifacts, waiting for us to just notice it and pluck it for our own. At some point in his arduous journey of loss, Zimmerman realizes that he can either dwell on his pain or discover an outlet for expressing his emotions in a constructive way.

I realize that is naive to think that happiness is as easy as picking the flower out of the weeds; it’s one thing to choose happiness and another altogether to feel true joy in the face of life’s pressures. Viscerally, though, I believe we all make it harder than it has to be. Seeing how other people have overcome these pressures to discover their bliss brings us one step closer. McKinley’s movie inspired me to contemplate the healing powers of the creative process and the helpful power of a bright, simple smile.

Managing the Stress of First-World Problems

When I first heard the term “first world problems”, I immediately related to the message behind it: proper perspective. As a professional apologizer, I often hear the complaints of people who respond to first-world problems in a wide range of ways. When I started working at the Lexus dealership 12 years ago, I was shocked at the fluctuations in different people’s perspectives. I would listen to an upset customer while thinking, “how blessed you must be in your life, that this small scratch on your car is the only reason you can find to get ruffled.” I was astounded at the level of passion over truly mundane issues, and hypothesized that the customer was filling the void left from a lack of more serious problems. Over the past decade, I have been the recipient of rants ranging from incorrect leasing paperwork to wrinkled leather seats to sub-par free car washes. I have listened patiently to scoldings because someone didn’t get invited to a Lexus party, or they had to stop at a gas station to put fuel in their free Lexus loaner.

While I certainly understand that a courtesy vehicle with a low fuel light is a great inconvenience, my confusion stems from the intensity of emotion which accompanies these grievances. The question which bubbles around in my brain as I listen to a harsh protest regarding a minor infraction is invariably, “Is this reaction appropriate for the significance of the problem?”

Conversely, I have witnessed customers with much more catastrophic concerns (engine failure, flat tire, wrecked car) who are impressively calm and reasonable given the extreme difficulty associated with the situation. These are the people who understand that there are more important things in life. They have faith that the matter will ultimately be resolved. “It’s just a car,” they muse, or “I’m sure you will fix things, no worries.”  The variance between the reactions of these two camps of clients is astounding. It makes me want to ask each group about their preferred method of stress management. Someone is clearly meditating or doing yoga. Others are possibly drinking too much espresso.

As a former student of psychology, I know that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains that we humans cannot be upset about our inner peace (or lack thereof) if our stomachs are empty or if we are homeless. Safety, hunger, water and companionship all trump the need for self-actualization, so our “first world problems” -like the incompatibility of our smartphone’s bluetooth to pair with our luxury car, for example- would never be an issue for someone struggling to feed their family of six.

Clearly, in my luxury environment, all of the problems I resolve are first-world issues. Ultimately nobody is going hungry or suffering in the cold. That being said, I can testify that not all of the clients I encounter have achieved equal levels of  the highest of Maslow’s hierarchy need, self-transcendence.  At this level, the individual reaches a state of being that allows them to cope appropriately with daily vexations. I always think of what the movie character Ace Ventura (played by Jim Carrey) called “spiritual creaminess”: the person realizes that the true inner peace comes from loving others, showing kindness, and finding a higher goal outside of one’s own personal concerns. Those who realize that they are not the epicenter of the universe are more gentle when they complain to a manager, because they have empathy for the person receiving the protest, and they understand that in an imperfect, complex world, things will go wrong.

My co-workers sometimes wonder how I am able to withstand the daily barrage of remonstrations. Sometimes it does stress me to the point of tears, as it did today. A stream of back-to-back gripe sessions can take a toll, but in truth, it wasn’t the complaints that ultimately caused that drop of salty water to trickle down my cheek. It was the the thought process that proceeded it.

At my highest level of stress, I made the grave mistake of thinking about Kevin. I entertained thoughts of self-pity, and then chastised myself after I compared them to the intense burdens that Kevin faces in his job. In that moment, I almost couldn’t bear the mental picture. I have 4 employees, he has 40. I’m in charge of one tiny department, he manages an extremely large one. I hear 5 complaints a day, he hears 25.  My heart began to swell, and I wanted to run to him and just give him a big ole hug. I desperately wished I could blink my eyes and magically make all of his pressures disappear. It was overwhelming. That’s when the moist eyes let a drop fall, a single drop, as I did everything I could to hold it together.

I always ask Kevin how he finds his spiritual creaminess, how he is able to give so much to his family when his professional burdens are so heavy. He never comes home and whines about a shitty day. I never hear him snippy or cranky after an especially grueling 15-hour ordeal. On the contrary, he seems to know when my world is taxing, and does all he can to ease my burden. Tonight he took me out for sushi date night and let me talk out all my difficult encounters. The last time I got this stressed out, he slipped an encouraging greeting card into my planner. The time before that, I got flowers at work. It should be the other way around, since his job is harder; it should be me helping with his stress. But it’s not, and it baffles me.

The only explanation I can offer, is that perhaps Kevin’s stress management actually comes from doing for others. He watches over Forrest’s progress, he checks in on my well-being, he calls his folks for an update. Conceivably, Kevin has intuitively figured out that if he focuses on other people, than it is not possible to get overly worked up about his own frustrations. Just maybe, his altruistic nature is what allows him to work 70+ -hour weeks without self-combusting. He does not allow self-pity to enter into his consciousness, knowing that if he acknowledged the out-of-whack proportions of what he does for himself compared to what he does for others, that he might possibly turn into one of those people who complain about a wrinkle in their plush leather driver’s seat.

I’m so grateful that he is not the type of person who thinks he is the epicenter of the universe, as I am grateful for all of the customers who are kind and gracious when they share their concerns. The ones who yell inappropriately are truly in the minority, and I try to feel empathy for their way of life. As the new year unfolds, I hope that I can find inspiration from all of them, carving out a path for managing my first-world problems in a way that shows some dignity and grace. The good news is, that on those days that I cannot, at least I have a Kevin in my life to take me out for sushi.