Stress, Real Life, and Professionalism

Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and it’s all you can do to not strike out. And sometimes that curve ball shows up in the middle of a deadline, when you’re in the home stretch of editing your book, when everything is so close yet so far and your capacity for higher-order thinking skills are being put to the test. At this point, you have two options: you can push through and get that deadline handled despite the chaos, or you can set aside the work to handle life.

I’ve always been the kind of person to take the first option. In college, dealing with personal crisis, I pushed through my courses as hard as I could, eventually driving myself into a five-month case of bronchitis that to this day will flare up whenever I get stressed or exhausted.

Since then, however, I’ve slowly been learning that sometimes you don’t push through. You just don’t.

Recently, a part of my life that was once-stable has flipped, and a lot of changes have happened in the past week. It’s been emotionally and physically draining, and the lack-of-sick I’ve blessedly had all winter long has started to waver, and there’s a constant press in my chest and a nagging cough. All little signs that are saying “Hey, we might be pushing things a bit here.”

I made a tough personal call to let people know that I would not be meeting certain deadlines I’d set, because of this nonsense. Really hard conversations to initiate, really hard emails to write. I take it as a point of personal pride that I make deadlines when I say I will. But sometimes, it’s just not possible. And sometimes when it is possible, it’s just not responsible.

I’ve been really surprised, to the point of tears, the kindness that people have shown me in dealing with my professional life, both in writing and in my dayjob as an engineer. I’ve always believed the world to be fairly unforgiving of failure and of personal problems, but not everybody is like that, and it’s comforting to work with such wonderful people.

And let’s be real, folks: when your head is somewhere else entirely, you’re just not going to be able to put together a good book. So if you’re dealing with personal crisis, take your time, handle your shit, and come back to the work when you’re able to make it the best. If you’re a perfectionist like me who has to push through everything to meet your deadlines, take a step back and give yourself space. You might be surprised by how understanding people are.