How to Thrive During Times of Enormous Stress

This article was originally published at Positively Positive and written June of 2015.

***Update 6 months later at the end.

Six months ago, my wife and I become the foster parents of two beautiful children — siblings ages three and five. Our initial confidence was smashed into humility and exhaustion.

We are both graduate students. Life is busy. But we’ve wanted to grow our family for almost three years. We have felt ready for parenthood and given our situation, foster care felt like the right move.

Trying to juggle multiple projects at school was challenging enough. But the weight of my school work paled in comparison to seeing my wife’s tired and answerless face when I walked through the front door into a colossal mess.

The hardest part was that these kids had never experienced any form of structure in their entire lives. No rules, schedule or routine. Just chaos. Which is all they’ve ever known and what they’ve grown to love.

Their response to our desired structure was complete rejection. Endless tantrums. A gaping relational void screaming in all of our souls — you’re not my parents. This is not my home. This is not how I live my life.

My wife and I were both shocked by the challenge our lives had become. I reached an all-time low. I felt like I couldn’t handle the mounting pressure in my life. Homework assignment after homework assignment. Trying to moonlight my dream of becoming a writer. Not knowing if I would pass my classes. Having no answers and feeling like a failure in life.

Feeling no joy at school and no love when I came home. One night I couldn’t sleep. While lying awake next to my sleeping wife the thoughts echoed through the chambers of my conscious:

I hope she’s doing alright.
I haven’t been able to support her the way she needs.
I can’t give up on her.
We are in this together.
She deserves my best.
I need to show up more powerfully for her and these kids.

Everything In Your Life Can Change Immediately

Although I didn’t sleep much that night — I determined all of our lives would be different. Our home would be a happy and loving place. I would support my wife like she deserves. School wouldn’t be hell.

I worked hard at school that next day. On my way home I bought flowers for my wife and our little girl. Rather than being overwhelmed, I engaged with the kids. We went to the backyard and played on the swing-set so my wife could have a breather.

I gave my wife an hour long massage that night and told her how much I appreciated her, and how much I wanted her life to be amazing.

It didn’t take long — only a few days or a week — and the complete energy of our home was different. We felt like a family.

When you change how you show up to life, everything changes.

That’s the powerful part. You not only have the power to change your world, but other people’s worlds as well. You have the power to change the entire world.The future is not set in stone, it’s in your hands.

So much power.

The Truth about David and Goliath

In his book, David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell explains that often, the underdog actually has the advantage. Like children with dyslexia learning skills that equip them to become world-class entrepreneurs, David had an unanticipated advantage the entire time. Goliath was a foot-soldier and was not equipped to fight a slinger. He had no chance against David.

Taking on these kids has not been a disadvantage to my goals. On the contrary, it’s been a huge advantage. It’s caused me to focus. I used to spend loads of time distracted from my goals. Now, I don’t have time. I need to wake up early and hustle so I can get home and be present with my family.

Having three people depend on me makes me look differently at how I spend each day. Can I really afford going running for three hours tonight? Can I really justify watching YouTube videos for an hour here and there?

The answer to these questions is: Yes. I can “afford” it. However, my new situation has raised my own sights for what I can achieve and how I can live my life. I no longer have a desire to waste my time and energy. I want to provide the best life I can for my wife and kids. I want to be an amazing example and to make them proud.

Hustling and being focused is the least I can do for the beautiful people who trust and depend on me.

Getting Out of Survival Mode

When you have enormous responsibility and pressure heaved upon you, it’s easy to fall into survival mode — feeling mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually incapable of doing what you need to do.

The truth is, you can’t do everything. Sacrifices will need to be made. Your life can’t remain the same when something big changes. You must change and purposefully adapt.

Anything is possible but not everything thing is possible.

Taking on the right responsibilities allows you to clearly discern your highest values and priorities in life. The transition can feel like survival mode. However, you can quickly get out of that mode by removing lower priorities which no longer make sense in your new context.

By honing your life in, and spending your days on things you truly value, you move rapidly toward your highest ideals. You become the person you always wanted to become. You stop delaying your dreams for that illusive tomorrow which never comes. You thrive, even during times of enormous stress.

***Update January 4, 2016.

I wrote this article during very difficult times. I was living on raw motivation and hope in a chaotic and troubled environment.

It was at this point, in June of 2015, that I was just getting serious about writing online.

When this article was written, I was completely incongruent about being a foster parent. The challenges seemed too difficult to manage. I felt like I was being stressed beyond my capacity. I felt like my energy and emotions were being torn from my control.

How could I possibly have the time, motivation, and inspiration to write when I’m emotionally and relationally broken? When my life feels like a complete mess?

Messiness, it turns out, isn’t such a bad thing. It’s actually the best thing you can have. Life isn’t meant to be perfect. Life is messy! Relationships are messy. Striving for your goals is messy.

Human beings are powerful. We can adapt to anything — no matter how difficult. Actually, the more difficult and grueling, the better.

When you’re going through extremely difficult times, keep your head up and keep moving toward your vision. Do what is right, let the consequence follow.

Keep moving.

Miracles will happen for you.

Don’t give up. You haven’t been brought this far to be left alone. Now is your time.

I kept going, and for 6 months I kept working.

Thing aren’t perfect for us. But 6 months later, they are very different. We ended up taking on a 3rd foster child, the 8 year old sibling of our children.

I’ve kept on writing. I’ve had to re-arrange my whole life to put my family first. I’ve had to remove the non-essential distractions and stick to the fundamental elements of my life. The bare essentials.

The harder the challenge, the deeper you must dig. Although it takes time, eventually you get momentum.

Just this morning, I woke up feeling happy. I loved being with my 3 kids today. They are amazing. I love them. And being with them has become my favorite part of life.

“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.” — Lucille Ball

If you have too much time on your hands, you won’t dig deep enough to create something deep.

You need just enough busyness and responsibility to create the proper constraint for your dream. You want constraints.

The constraints I’ve built into my life have allowed me to move toward my dreams.

Foster care has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I plan to take on even larger challenges in 2016.

If you believe these types of things will get “in the way” of your dreams, you’re wrong. The obstacle in the way becomes the way.

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