Good morning, everybody! Welcome to The Work Of Becoming podcast where I’m gonna tell you a story about the lessons I learned from the hardest summer of my life.
So, I want to tell you this story because I will be the first to admit that my life right now is not excruciatingly stressful. I’m in a double-income household. We don’t have any kids to worry about. I work from home. I’m economically stable. In general, there are just not a lot of stressors (besides the very real stress of being a CEO) that I deal with on a day-to-day basis. But it wasn’t always the case, and the majority of my grad student experience, I was juggling a lot, and I was in a very stressful situation. And so, I want to talk to you about one of those times and the lessons that I learned because I feel like it will be more relatable for some of you who are in that season of your life right now.
So, the hardest summer of my life was the summer of 2018, and here’s what I was doing in the summer of 2018. I was teaching a summer class. I was the person responsible for running a summer camp that had over 200 high school students coming to it. It was an eight-day summer camp, it costs thousands of dollars, and I was responsible for literally everything that had to do with it. I was running this summer camp. On top of that, I was trying to do research for my dissertation. So, I had a pilot study that I needed to do, and I was also on a research assistantship with my professor.
So, basically, what that accumulates to is I had hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny tasks that I was juggling at once, tasks that had very real consequences. I was commuting back and forth to campus constantly because I lived 30 minutes away, and there was just a lot going on, especially with the camp, too. There had been a really difficult situation with the previous person who had run the camp. And so, it was just a very emotionally heightened situation. There are two things that I really, really learned from that experience.
Number one is that although that situation was extremely stressful, I learned that the stress, if I interpreted it as a challenge, if I mentally thought of it the right way, could actually make it very easy to do the behaviors that I wanted to do. So, for example, I was in the middle of my PhD at this point, so I was using a lot of the behavior change concepts that I was learning while I was learning them in school. And so, for example, I was working out on a more regular basis than I had ever worked out before, and it was because I told myself if I want to get this done, I have a 30-minute window to go to the campus gym and get it done so it needs to get done now.
And so, I was guiding myself through this stress with compassion, absolutely, but also with the intent, the challenge of proving to myself that I was capable of handling this stress. It’s basically another version of I can do hard things. I tell you this because a lot of people, when they see a situation coming up in their lives that’s going to be stressful, they try to avoid that stress. Our conversations around stress are all about stress reduction, stress elimination, calming down. But what I learned that summer, and what the science and research supports is that stress can be really, really beneficial for us.
Stress is what helps us grow. Stress is what helps us change. If we did not have stress in our lives, self-improvement would be impossible. And so, it’s about reinterpreting and actually having — there’s a lot of research on this, and I will cover all of the research behind this inside of our Change Academy workshop — but there’s a lot of research that says having a growth mindset towards stress and interpreting it as a good thing, something that you can improve upon, something that can benefit you, that is actually going to have a massive impact on, not only your experience in those moments, but also your improvement afterwards.
So, when I remember that summer, I remember all of my demands, and, yes, I remember there were really hard moments. There were a lot of tears, but what I remember was that I was the most capable version of myself that I had ever been. I achieved a new level of self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, growth mindset. All of my mental skills escalated so much that summer, and it was because of the stress. Essentially, the stress gave me a bar to hit. The stress was like, “This is your life right now, and you’re either gonna hit it or you’re not, so make a decision,” and I made the decision to make that stress work for me, and it changed my life absolutely for the better.
So, I hope that helped you today. I hope it gave you some tiny indication of what you can do to change your own stress mindset, and, like I said, if you are really, really looking to understand the actual mindset science around stress, that is what we’re covering in this month’s Change Academy workshop. I’m also going to be administering a live stress intervention inside of the workshop. So, it’s gonna be a really fun one that you won’t want to miss.
That’s all I have for today. I will talk to you in the next episode!