Man should not try to avoid stress any more than he would shun food, love or exercise.
Each of us has a genius. I am not saying each of us IS a genius. In fact BEING a genius is a distraction from what is really important: getting to know our genius and building a relationship with it so that it can guide us into and through the challenges that comprise our lives.
When my flight from San Francisco arrived at O’Hare International Airport at 3:45 several Friday’s ago it was snowing. This fact should have alerted me to shift my inner anxiety regulator from DBL mode (Don’t Be Late) to WGF mode (Who Gives a Flurry). But, no. As worrying about missing my 5pm flight to LaGuardia faded, I began to squander my psychic energy a new way, namely worrying about the possibility that I would be keeping my sister up all hours of the night wondering when I would get in. As it was she greeted me at the apartment door in New York at 1 am with a smile, and all was good. Yes, my anxiety had been a classic waste of psychic energy.
From San Francisco to Houston to Detroit to Florida, everywhere I go these days, I am more and more impressed with parental anxiety about the success and happiness of their children. I hear it not just in the conversations I have with parents before, after or during the talks I give around the country, but sitting next to parents in planes and airports.
More and more is being written about happiness, and what we parents have to do to ensure that our children will be happy and successful. In fact, happiness is now a respected discipline of study. The King of Bhutan a few years ago focused his nation on GNH (Gross National Happiness.)
In “Happiness and Its Discontents” an excellent article in The Chronicle Review Mari Ruti says:
In this picture, anxiety is somewhat of an embarrassment: a sign of existential failure. Although the rushed pace of contemporary life makes tranquility more and more difficult to come by, we are repeatedly warned against the pitfalls of anxiety, including the psychosomatic symptoms it’s supposed to spawn. So-called wellness experts deem agitation to be bad for us. Magazine articles offer tips on how to overcome stress. And New Age gurus equate enlightenment with serenity.
We parents can’t help wanting our kids to be happy and successful, but if I hear the expression “stress free” one more time in reference to the good life, or “balanced” as a word that sums up a strategy for living your life, I may… I may… I may become unbalanced!
We are deliberately blind if we don’t know that our children are in for a lifetime of disappointment, failure, conflict, mistakes, loss and death. But it’s okay. Natural selection equipped us all to handle these very things. How else could our species have gotten this far?
No brain is wired perfectly. Certainly, children come into the world with a unique combination of assets and liabilities. Then their early environment crafts these abilities and disabilities into peculiar shapes—none of them perfect. But that is not the whole story. Each of us has what the ancient Greeks understood to be a kharacter—an imprint that the gods put on our souls at birth. This character has a life of its own and a voice of its own. The Greeks called it daemon; the Romans, genius.
My years of working with children, their parents and teachers, and my own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins has taught me that the ancients had it right. Each of us has an inner guide, an inner teacher, a genius.
In other words, children have the equipment for their success and happiness built in. Life is a lifelong process of creating our character in the world, and each of us has a genius whose sole mission and purpose is to make sure this happens well. A happy and successful life, therefore, is one challenge after another. Whether it is a good life or not has little to do with stress and balance, and everything to do with welcoming challenges, taking responsibility, making decisions, failing, conflicting, being wrong, and learning from mistakes. Anxiety and stress is an inevitable by-product of this activity.
The way to make it all good is to maintain a good relationship with our genius. This a lifelong challenge.