There was a noticeable pause, and then a deep breathe of sorts. They then moved as if a part of one syncopated herd, all at once, as if pulled by some invisible force towards the large written sign taped to the wall “100% My Story”. When the movement stopped, the gravity of the group’s response to the statement hung in the room. The room laden with the silence.
According to the American Psychological Association, millennials experience higher levels of stress than Baby boomers and Gen X’ers but are less likely to be able to manage that stress in their daily lives. When I asked the thirty or so millennials attending my workshop on stress management in the workplace about their current stress levels, each and every one of them expressed that anxiety and stress keep them from being able to live their best, most authentic lives or to be their most mentally and physically well self at school or work.
The young people (18-25) at the workshop listed the following as their top five stressors:
- Impostor Syndrome
- Student Loans
- Work/ School Competition
- Ambition Addiction
- Unspoken competition with current and past peer groups
I’m sure that all of us can relate to one or more of these top five stressors. The Five stressors that the young people listed have one thing in common: FEAR!
“Fear serves as blinders to what may be just a few steps down the road for you.”
– Soledad O’Brien
I for one have always struggled with the intrinsic fear that I would not “measure up”. I worried that I would not be as successful as my brilliant peers at my predominantly white, upper-class girls’ high school or to my world-changing MPH classmates at Johns Hopkins. For years, I swore I would never return to my high school reunions until I had established a recognizable name for myself in society. I was extremely skillful at ruminating on my stressors in private:
- Would I ever fit the societal bill of success?
- Would I ever pay off my student loans?
I never spoke about my anxieties with friends or family members because I did not want to sully the image that I had built for myself. I have always been categorized as the “strong” girl, the “sassy-great come-back” Femme , the “No Bullshit” woman. Needless to say, all that worrying and stressing did not fit the put-together mask that I so proudly and loudly wore. At work I feared, that if I expressed being overwhelmed, that my truth would discredit me to my superiors and with my peers. Most shamefully, I would look weak, less than able. I stressed myself so much about all of it, that I made myself sick for months.
The artist Jackson Pollock’s words ministered to me in my darkest moments. He said:
“I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”
I did just that. I broke the mask. I started to obsessively read, authors like Carol Dweck to adjust my fixed mindset to one of growth. I started to share my stories and be honest about my shortcomings and insecurities. The most life-changing step that I took was seeking out other “successful” professionals and listening to their stories. I met people like Jordan Axani, What’s Your Big Lie, and Nicole Kenney, It Starts With Me and practiced empathic listening and guess what?
I learned that I was not alone!
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Stress culture is a product of fear and Yoda wisely warns us that fear is the path to the darkside. We do not have to succumb to the darkside in order to be successful in today’s workforce.
The activity was a spectrum exercise. I would read a statement and the young people would move along the human spectrum based on the anonymous written answers of a peer in the room. On one wall
was 100% My Story, On the other read, 0% my story, on the floor was taped 25% and 50% My story. The statement I read was:
Within the last year, I contemplated self harm because I was overwhelmed with some aspect of my life that I felt was out of my control.