How a telescope changed my perspective on stress and work

Stress. It’s that word that has become so pervasive in the working world — especially that of contemporary Western society. It’s that perspective that work never stops, the hustle never stops. That feeling that success is found in money, in fulfillment, in effort, in blood/sweat/tears. Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to do something significant with your life, it’s the thought that success should be the whole purpose of your life that does it. And, with so many things, the devil is in the details.

I was recently chatting with an old friend of mine. He’s very successful in the contemporary sense, meaning he has two children, a million dollar home and a stable job. There’s no reason this man should feel unfulfilled since he’s checked off all the boxes of what should make us happy. Yet, in our discussion he brought up the fact that he’s drowning in his own success, that in order to maintain this level of achievement he must always be working harder than the next guy. You see, as is similar with many other white-collar jobs, in order to stay in your job you must always be achieving more. You have to be using a microscope to view your life, carefully balancing each facet of your day-to-day, scheduling everything out to the minute and squeezing more productivity out of our every second. He’s miserable, and that’s not because of a lack of achievement, but it’s the endless chase of more achievement.

We call our working life all sorts of things. The grind. The struggle. The hustle. The rat race. All of these words have a negative connotation, that it’s not supposed to be easy, that it must be hard and be sacrificial in nature. The odd psychological effect of this is that we get more motivated because it’s supposed to be hard. This is especially true for the alpha male type, you know the type, the guys that post things on Facebook about “getting back to the grind”, and “hustling every day of my life”, these people are seen as successful or in the very least hungry for success. They are the ones that we look to for motivation.

A telescope, not a microscope

In my own struggle against this stress, I’ve seen myself look at every part of my life and meticulously want to control every movement. This desire for control over our lives is something that’s been drilled into us. But, at the core of it, that desire belies a deeper fear — simply put, it’s the fear of not being good enough. Yes, it sounds extremely cliché, and it is. I’m betting you that in reading that, you had an immediate gut reaction of turning your nose to that phrase. It’s too soft, it’s too emotional, it sounds too much like whining. Yet, it’s true and the mere fact that you had that gut reaction tells you that the culture we live in, the culture we perpetuate to those around us, is one that brushes emotions/feelings aside when it comes to work.

This fear permeates through every facet of our lives. Let’s think about our goals here. Typically, our goals are for financial success, such as buying a house or getting that better job, or relational.

We use the microscope of our minds to break down everything in our lives, to squeeze out every bit of energy and productivity. We are obsessed with the minutiae of our lives. We plan, we worry, we try to rein in every little bit of our lives, greedily gathering up control and telling ourselves that we have a handle on it. Yet, rarely, do we see our lives as a whole, that every part touches the other parts. Seeing our lives through a telescope to be able to grasp the whole of it will help us to really see what’s important beyond our arbitrary goals.

Only as good as our weakest part

There’s an old cliché that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It’s so much more true in our lives, the thing we don’t notice is that when something is not going our way in one area of our lives, everything else suffers. Think about the last time something went wrong at work or school, now think about how that made you feel and how everything seemed to go wrong that day.

As our view of our lives becomes more and more holistic, we become increasingly resistant to these episodes. We have a good understanding that each area of our lives is interlinked and therefore, we are more apt to deal with the daily grind of our lives without fear of a sudden and shocking moment where we are thrown off. The added benefit of living our lives through a telescope is that we are detached from the little worries and concerns that plague our day-to-day activities. From sending the wrong email, to realizing that you’ve missed an important meeting, these issues threaten to destabilize our whole psyche.

Seeking a holistic view of our lives ultimately lets us see which area needs work and gets us to focus on that area. It might seem like putting our fires left, right and centre, but it’s for our own good.

A microscope helps us zero-in on the details, but a telescopic view lets us put those details together for real, lasting change.

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