Category Archives: stress

What Matters Most in Life (When a Fire Alarm and a Typo Became a Messenger)

How do we identify what’s truly important in life? (And why does it matter?)

There are always the quick answers, such as: happiness, family, and health, but these are somewhat theoretically cliché and intangible, however true. It’s getting to the more tangible answers that eludes many of us until we are faced with crisis and/or tragedy.

Last week I went through two unexpected situations which resulted in my having a direct and very clear understanding of what’s important in life (for me, anyway), and I found that there was an underlying message I needed to hear.

When I sat down to write this week’s InspireBytes™ I took note of what the Universe was trying to tell me through these experiences, which turned out to be this:

  1. Know your Self and your core, let the rest fall away.
  2. Slow down, prioritize, and make time for what matters most.

Let these be your guide.

But first, let me tell you what happened.

Early in the week we had a fire alarm in the house. For those of you who have been following along in my life, you know that my father had a stroke almost 10 years ago and is disabled as a result. A fire alarm is no small thing when you are able-bodied, but when you’re disabled, it can create a sense of helplessness and panic. A few years ago I wrote about the fire alarm that went off in my apartment building, and how it clarified for me what mattered most in my life. This was the same, except that now, instead of one animal there were four, and instead of one person there were three, one of whom was incapacitated and wholly dependent on others.

Why the fire alarm went off we don’t know, because there was no fire. No smoke, no flames, no emergency. But in the few moments between the alarm and the assessment, everything became very clear. What you take with you in a crisis or emergency is a cheat sheet to what matters most in your life. For me, it was anything that was breathing (people, animals), followed by a means of escape and shelter (car keys), and communication (cell phone).

The second situation, however, was a bit different:

Later in the week I received my mammogram results. It’s an annual event that, no matter how much I rationalize it, always generates some level of concern during the waiting period. Sadly, I think we all know someone who was “perfectly healthy” who received a life-changing result after their annual exam. It’s this knowledge that creates the background soundtrack of concern or worry until the results are in.

A few years ago, I had a mini-scare that turned out to be just that (thankfully), and have a dear friend who went through that episode with me. I am aware, therefore, that the concern while waiting for results extends beyond the borders of my mind to people who care about me. Once I had the results in hand, which showed no sign of cancer, I felt relief and wanted to share that relief with my friend. In my haste to share the good news of my results, I typed too fast and had a typo.

My typo basically told my friend that the exam had detected cancer. Of course, having been emotionally blindsided, my friend called immediately. I didn’t understand why until the error was pointed out.

I felt truly awful, and though I chuckled for a moment (to relieve the strain of the heartache I had caused someone dear to me), it wasn’t funny. My friend was given an unnecessary blow, and it was all because I rushed.

In that moment, without hesitation, I realized what was most important to me: Life. Health. Friendship. Connection. And … slowing down.

The last year has been such a whirlwind with publishing my first book that I have developed a bit of a habit of either being overly rushed and pressured or somewhat detached and slow – probably to compensate for the stressful times. In fact, much of the last 10-15 years have been the same, for myriad reasons.

So, that was the message I was receiving loud and clear from the Universe: Slow down, focus on what matters, nurture that.

The week before, I had polled my friends about which blog they would prefer to read next, since I had two inside me competing to come out. The first was on Competitive Spirituality (which won), and the second was something I’m working on about Self-Promotion, which is still being finished because something felt off. I now realize what that was for me:

Trying to reconcile the rushed and detached states to arrive at balance; maintaining a sense of Self and presence while still engaging in marketing.

For me, Self-Promotion is about being who you are, not who you think you should be, and trusting in that. But in this noisy world of social media and 24/7 internet, cable and satellite channels, it becomes a gladiator-style arena of “fight to the death.” In this case, it’s the death of your voice, your brand, your presence – your Self. And it’s a shame, really, because there are amazing people out there, doing amazing things, whose voices are being drowned out by those who are louder, bolder, or have more money to put their faces everywhere.

And yet, it’s not. It’s not a shame, because it pushes and requires people like me to hold fast to who we are, the work we do, trusting that it is more than enough, that we are more than enough, and to nurture that. And if we do, if we hold true to our Self, and what matters most, I believe that at the end of our lives, we will reflect with gratitude and smile.

So, in the end, a fire alarm and a typo made me realize that what matters most to me is being true to myself, to who I am. It means being more deliberate and intentional in my relationships, my health, and my presence – especially with my Self. This connection is what drives me to keep working, creating, and helping others to re-connect to what matters most to them, to who they are. Too often we have lost touch with that knowing, but hopefully it doesn’t take a crisis to remind us.

Hopefully, we can get back to that by simply slowing down, making time, and re-focusing on that which makes us smile in gratitude and joy.

Feeling Stressed?

Stress can be like wind on the surface of water: temporary, changing, and totally outside of our control.

We often feel stressed and anxious because of circumstances in our life that we cannot control or influence. (Usually, actually, we think we can, which contributes to the level of stress we experience.)

Therefore, it’s important to know which type of stress you’re dealing with. In my experience, there are two types:

  • surface stress
  • deep stress

This week, I’m looking at surface level stress, because it’s the one we can deal with most readily, since it’s predominantly external. For that metaphor, let’s liken stress to wind blowing across the surface of a lake, causing ripples. The water deep underneath might be calm and clear, but the surface looks like a hot mess.

It’s this stress that’s truly temporary. Additionally, 9 times out of 10, the key to alleviating this stress is to remember that the vast majority of the water (what’s underneath) is calm and unaffected by the wind.

The wind can be anything from a child’s or boss’ tantrum, to a bad hair day, or traffic, or not having enough milk for your coffee in the morning, or even…

…family, friends, colleagues and social media. Basically, it can be anything external to you.

Like the wind, it’s outside of your control and often has nothing to do with you personally. The key to restoring balance is to understand and remember these three things:

  • the surface is not the story
  • the wind is temporary
  • the calm beneath is the truth

If you can keep these simple ideas in mind, it will help you navigate any stressful (windy) situation with more grace and ease. There’s comfort in knowing that, at your core, everything is okay. In fact, I would argue it’s the best way to live. 🙂