I Stress, Eustress, We All Stress!
By Lisa Regula Meyer
So, honest to whatever-god-you-believe-in-or-don’t, I’m graduating soon, and then I’ll be Dr. Lisa Regula Meyer. The dissertation is in the home stretch of edits and comments, and even though it’s going slowly getting the edits and comments to address, I’m doing what I can as quickly as I can. All the while I’m also being a mom, being a spouse, being a homeowner, searching for a full time job (with some restrictions, if I’m going to stay in Kent with my family), being active in the community, being a writer, being a photographer, and being just plain as awesome as I am. (Note to self: still need to modulate that whole self-image thing; it can go too far in either direction.) In the midst of all this craziness and big-changiness, I’ve been asking myself some serious questions.
Asking questions isn’t foreign to me (I know, you’re shocked), but it’s never easy when the life-purpose-goals questions come up, as they often do at major changes of circumstance. We humans -with brains so big that we have to be born in an altrical state just to fit out of our mothers- we think big thoughts. We philosophize, theorize, hypothesize, and verbize until we’re blue in the face at times, and we defend those thoughts. My goodness, do we defend those thoughts! Wars over religion, economic systems, borders, and more abstract ideas have pervaded human history like sex pervades Bonobo history (look it up, very randy and interesting species of ape). The good thing is that since we share a specie, I know you can empathize with the constant thinking and questioning and, let’s face it, worrying.
I’ve talked about the idea of “having it all” here before, and here I am, apparently on the cusp of having all that I wanted, and wondering if this is really what I want. I never chose motherhood, but I’ve (mostly) enjoyed it, I know that it’s changed me, and I think that change was (again, mostly) for the better. My preferred focus was on my profession and career, and now that I’m about to finish my professional training and start my career, I’m asking myself if this is what I want to do. Have I lost my ever-loving mind?! My husband thinks so. The thing is, that even when we want them, life-changes are huge stressors. Remember back to Psychology 101 and the discussion of stress? There were two kinds- distress and eustress. Distress is bad; it’s trying to figure out how to make ends meet, how to survive on less, how to do without. There is no decision that makes distress better, and usually it highlights our lack of control. Eustress, on the other hand, is mostly good, although it can be stressful and have the problems that go along with stress if it continues for too long. Eustress is choosing which career path you want to take, picking between two job offers, deciding wedding plans, and tends to have a positive outcome that revolves around one’s mastery, progress, and growth. Distress helps us survive, eustress helps us grow.
I’m glad to have this eustress of figuring out what to do with myself, let me be clear. The fact that I get to now choose whether to continue down the path and become Professor Doctor Lisa Regula Meyer, or take a job in another industry and remain Dr. Regula Meyer, is an option that I never would have dreamed of when I was young. I’m a first generation college student (or at least first in a really long time, and that in only one lineage), and through the years that I have taught undergraduates, I’ve had to struggle with the feeling of being an imposter. Was I really the person these young people were looking up to? Was I really the expert in the room? What would happen when they realized that I was a sham, the daughter of high school graduates? At the same time, those years have shown me exactly how hard it is to be a part of the Ivory Tower. There is no doubt that it has its perks, and there are a lot of them, but there are also extremely long hours, high competition, high stress, high demands, high expectations, difficult co-workers, and difficult bosses.
The Ivory Tower is great, but at the end of the day, it’s still a grueling job, just in a different way than a steel worker or an auto mechanic. Thanks to that little self-image issue I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, taking the jump to do what I’ve trained to become takes a pretty big leap of faith, and sometimes staying on this side of the fence is easier than mustering the strength to make that leap. It’s one of my (many) flaws that I’m consciously working on, and that I’m trying ever so hard not to cultivate in my son. That lack of faith in self is also one of the many privileges that comes with being not lower class, so remember that privilege occurs on many levels, and the responsibility that balances that privilege is the responsibility to be aware of in what ways you have been privileged.
So I have my feelers out, and I work on sending out daily application packets (yes, packets, because even part time jobs in academia require a minimum of 10 pages of materials to look competitive), and I look at other options, too. Communications manager for a non-profit, non-profit executive director, coordinator for a field station, contract research, consultant, and more are all positions for which I’ve thrown in my hat. Now if only I could figure out which hat I want to wear when I grow up…