Lighten Up!

So many of us are caught up not only in trying to find out who made us stressed and miserable but also in storing the information and cataloging it for future us. I call this “baggage handling” because after a while, we have so much past misery that we need suitcases to put it in. We may even need to hire a Sherpa to carry them if we have a whole set.

My grandmother Francesca was so good at recalling past history (mostly negative) that she could have been a curator for the Smithsonian. As a child, I would always ask her why she looked so unhappy. Her answer was always the same: “ Because I suffer.” She’d go no further, but her face would become even sadder and her hands would go up in the air as she recited one of her many invocations for God to help her in her hour of need.

There was always an aura of mystery around my grandmother’s suffering, as if it were so unspeakable that it could only be alluded to in veiled words.

Every once in a while she would add a teaser: My mother abandoned me!” This was all said in Italian, which adds incredible drama. If she had said, “My bra is killing me” in Italian, it would have sounded like a death knell.

I kept asking my mother to explain it to me, but she would slough it off with “It’s and old story, and you wouldn’t understand.” Years later one of my uncles gave me the whole scoop. It was indeed a good candidate for a made-for-TV movie. It seems Francesca’s father died when she was eleven, and after a year her mother married a man twenty years younger. This was virtually unheard of in Italy at that time, because of the discrepancy in age and the fact that my grandmother who lived with her mother was about to embark on her teen years. Her aunts deemed that it would bring disgrace upon the family if my grandmother lived with her mother and her young husband. And so Francesca was sent to live with her aunts, who lived next door.

Even after my grandmother married and moved to the United States, bringing her mother and stepfather with her, she continued her litany of despair and treated her mother like she was the black plague.

The abandonment issue became the centerpiece for her quilt of suffering. it never occurred to her that she could let it go and move on.

There are many individuals who spend their lives carrying the torch of misery from the past. We need to learn and grow from the past, but do not allow it to take the joy out of the present.





Play at Work

How many of us are counting the minutes until the end of every working week?

“Thank God it’s Friday!” is echoed the world over by millions of individuals. It’s a sigh of relief that the pressure is off and now we can play. And play we do! On Friday afternoons, bars are filled with people who begin relaxing by having a few drinks. Often the weekend is jammed with activities that we haven’t been able to fit into an overcrowded schedule. Some people play so hard that they’re exhausted by the time they go back to work on Monday.

The attitude that work and play are separate entities and that they shouldn’t commingle is one of the primary causes of stress on the job. We need to cultivate an attitude of relaxation and play toward our work if we are to survive our many years in the workforce. This doesn’t mean that we must become passive, never trying to get ahead or improve our efficiency. It does, however, mean that we should begin to check out our underlying attitudes about combining work, play and relaxation.

Expectations are common tension producers. We expect to get all our work done in a certain amount of time, with the complete cooperation of other people. This creates permanent tension because we are always waiting for the work to get done. Let’s face it–all the work never gets done.

How many times have you heard someone say she’s going to relax when all her work is finished? This type of individual usually is guilt-ridden when she finally does relax, and an inner voice constantly reminds her she didn’t totally complete the work. When we focus all our energy on the final result, we never enjoy the process.

Another area of tension comes from identifying ourselves too closely with what we do. Who are you? “I’m a student.” But we need to remember that we are not what we do. What we do is merely an expression of our energy. We have many different energies, and they can and should change throughout life. I continue to ask myself what I want to do when I grow up, and I hope you do too. More importantly, I hope I never grow up.

The notion of growing up seems to have the connotation that fun is a distant memory. If we could somehow keep a lighthearted outlook we might all stop waiting to have fun. Embracing fun is not a frivolous concept. It is also does not have to be a planned activity. We can be the fun we’re seeking by how we approach our work, our-co-workers, our loved ones and ourselves.