3 Ways that I Thrive Through Stress
by Ms. Scott
There is an old adage that states, ‘nothing worth having comes easy.’ And my favorite lyrical genius, Tupac Amaru Shakur, once made it perfectly clear that he “don’t want it if it’s that easy”. Now, we all know what Tupac meant in his classic track, “I get around”. But let’s imagine, for a moment, that both of those statements referred to reaching some level of success. By doing so, we could reframe the expressions to acknowledge that it will require a ton of effort to reach most of our goals. And also, that we should possess pride in our efforts to achieve greatness. The issues arise as those efforts transition from not easy to very challenging and eventually produce unwanted stress.
Now to me, stress and anxiety are kinfolk. And I’m talking baby sister kin. Not that seventh cousin on my great great great granddaddy side of the family, kind of kin. I make that comparison to highlight that if I do not handle stress properly, it will quickly get the best of me because I am not my best self, when I’m anxious. It is worth noting that stress is actually defined as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ While we don’t normally associate the aforementioned success with an adverse situation, we can all agree that we oftentimes find ourselves in demanding circumstances on our way to…and after we arrive at…success.
Over the course of a very demanding career – approaching nearly twenty years in duration – I’ve discovered the following three ways that help me to not just function in stress, but to actually thrive through it.
1) Achieve and Practice Balance – Unapologetically
I’ve come to believe that all work and no play equals self-induced isolation at best and a heart attack at worst. And it might be a blasphemous thing for me to say, yet there is absolutely nothing on my massive, never ending ‘to do’ list that is worth me reaching either outcome. To put things in perspective, my career is a blessing and to say that I love what I get to do is far from your average cliché. It is fact. However, there were seasons in my life, when I let the demands of my career consume me. Did I excel professionally during those seasons? Sure. Did I thrive personally during those seasons? Absolutely not.
My inability to achieve balance between my professional aspirations and personal well-being ultimately led to serious considerations of retirement. Surprise, surprise but success was not – is not – enough. I deserve to thrive. That is why I made a commitment to myself to not only achieve balance, but to actively practice it, unapologetically. By doing so, I could erase the thoughts in my head that began to paint success as the enemy to my happiness. By doing so, I’ve become the very best version of myself. A version that also continues to excel. A version that still encounters stress but is determined to thrive through it, not get lost in it.
2) Release the Obsession with Perfection
One thing’s for certain, two things for sure, I could not achieve balance while I remained obsessed with perfection. I had to release that urge, that pressure, that expectation to do everything, perfectly, all the time. I released the fear of judgement when anyone, everyone, realized that I made mistakes. You know, like all humans. I disrobed myself of the responsibility to be the poster child for all African American women in my field. I became okay, with simply being Octavia Rochell Scott, a very talented woman, but absent of any and all superhero powers.
However, it was important for me to first validate the source of that obsession before I released it from my being. People that look like me are in fact underrepresented in my profession. It is indeed important that I reach certain milestones and blaze trails so that others know, first, that it’s possible, and secondly, develop confidence that they can do the same…and better. And it’s also true that every time that I fail, you better believe the masses will know – because they’re watching, wondering, waiting. After all, there’s a reason that there are so few that look like me…right?
But a constant quest for perfection equals stress. And as already stated, ain’t nobody got time for that. Instead, I’ve perfected the art of managing expectations, first my own but then also those of others. And I’ve embraced the fact that while I will always strive to deliver my best, sometimes, it will not be enough. Or more likely than not, I won’t have enough time to package it up. Will I continue to set a high bar for myself? Absolutely. After all, my work is my legacy to this world, and I take pride in everything that I do. However, will I apologize when that bar only reaches the top of the Eifel Tower and not the peak of Mount Everest? Absolutely not. Not anymore. After all, let’s not get it confused, getting to the top of the Eifel Tower is still very much a flex.
3) Stop and Start Over
Let me be clear, not all stress is bad stress. In fact, some stress is a sign that you have the courage and confidence to set an impressive goal and that you believe in yourself enough to put in the work, the demanding work, to get there. So, I do not avoid stress. Not by any means. I just don’t wallow in it. When the anxiety becomes debilitating or I begin to feel frustration, with myself or with others, I know that it’s time for me to stop. And start over if needed. Since clearly what I’m doing isn’t working if it becomes counterproductive to my ultimate desire to achieve and thrive, at the same time. However, between the ceasefire and the next call to action, I make it a point to take time and reflect. I take note not only of the things that didn’t work out during that last attempt, but also on the things that did. Whether learned through success or from failure, the lessons will ultimately make me better. The very best gift that I can give myself is a promise to not define Octavia by her successes, or her failures, but by her willingness to always show up and keep trying.
I’ll leave you with these three reminders. First, never feel guilty for putting just as much effort into fulfilling yourself as you do into fulfilling the tasks levied upon you, from internal and external sources. Second, get comfortable with managing expectations to a point where you can still take pride in the things that bear your name but not let your standards equate to pressure to be perfect. And finally, there is nothing wrong with realizing that what you’re doing isn’t working as long as you’re also willing to regroup, step back, and come back better than ever.
I learned how to Thrive Through Stress. And guess what, so can you.