Two Simple Questions That Will Relieve Stress

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“I’m so stressed about this coming weekend!” I said to my daughter yesterday.

I’m the president of the Ohio chapter of the National Speakers Association, and we have our first chapter meeting this coming weekend. The idea of steering the meeting for our 40+ members and guests was overwhelming to me.

My daughter said, “Why are you so stressed?”

I replied, “I hope we have enough attendees so we don’t lose money on the event. And I hope the agenda goes smoothly. And I hope that our guest speaker gets here ok because he’s flying in on the day of the big Ohio State-Oklahoma game. And I hope that everyone has a good time, and that I don’t screw up as the chapter president.”

She replied, “Do you know these people at the meeting?”

I said “Well, yeah. I know all of my chapter members. And the guest speaker is Mike Rayburn, a good friend of mine.”

She asked another question, “Do you know where the meeting is?”

Odd question, but I answered, “Yes, we meet at the same site every month.”

She said, “Then you have nothing to stress over. When I get stressed, it’s usually because I’m afraid I won’t know anyone, or that I’ll get lost and not be where I need to be. If I get those two things figured out, I’m ok. You’ll be fine, mom.”

I was stunned. She spoke powerful words of simple truth. Ridiculously simple. I said, “Hmmm…you are right. These are my people, and this is my space.” Instantly, I felt stronger.

If you’ve felt an overwhelming “fear” that grips you as you head into a new assignment, ask yourself the simple questions my daughter asked. “Who are the people?” and “What is the space?”

For the people question, know that most times, people want you to succeed. They want to connect with you. They want you to like them, just as you want them to like you. Yes, there are curmudgeons who want you to fail, or enjoy nitpicking everything you (and all others) do.  That’s their junk, not yours. You cannot please everyone. But you can’t irritate everyone either. Find your cheerleaders.impostor syndrome

The space issue is different. It’s not just about the room or building. Consider this: An unfamiliar space can stress you out if you need to be somewhere but don’t how to get there. Or maybe there are barriers to entry (a locked door, a complicated security process, a broken elevator). Maybe it’s cold or hot, or has distracting and irritating noises. You’re stressed. It’s a great metaphor for another stressor, which is feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re not in your “happy place” of competence. The phrase “that’s my wheelhouse” or “I’m an expert in that space” means you have credibility and expertise in a certain topic. If you’re outside that comfort zone, that space, you stress. When my daughter asked me about the space, I knew she meant the building, but I thought to myself “I can do this. I’m well prepared. My board of directors has done the work to plan the meeting. I’m good in front of a crowd, I know what the agenda will look like, and I’ve seen it done a zillion times before. This is my space. I’ll be fine.”

Her advice was brilliant and simple. The next time you’re stressed, ask yourself “Are these my people? Is this my space?” Overcome the emotion with your intellect. Focus on finding the supporters. Rely on their kindliness and generous spirit toward you.  Evaluate your effort to this point, and rest in the confidence that if you did the work, you are in your right space. Relax. Enjoy the challenge. And watch most of the stress be replaced with strength.

Maureen Zappala
Maureen Zappala
Maureen is the founder of High Altitude Strategies. She’s an ex-NASA propulsion engineer, turned professional speaker and author. She’s a semi-regular contributor to the monthly Toastmaster magazine. And paradoxically, is co-writing a book about Ohio State Football history, (despite being a graduate of U of Notre Dame). Go Bucks. Go Irish. Go figure.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy says:

    Great advice! I’ll have to think about it the next time I get stressed. Your daughter sounds like a wise girl!

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