Underwhelmed to Overwhelmed and Back Again

late-clock.gifI am frustrated because a project I am working on at work is behind schedule.  The causes of the “behind-ness” are many, which is part of the frustration, but not part of my topic.  Maybe it’s an old-guy thing, but I am learning to take the opportunity when I feel strong emotions to observe myself.  It is almost like having an out-of-body experience. I’m going through a circumstance and feel a strong feeling.  I’m still in the circumstance, I still feel the feeling, but at the same time, I am asking myself all kinds of questions about what’s going on.  I understand that my emotions are about what’s inside of me and not so much what’s happening around me or to me.  In an attempt to understand me better, I ask myself what is going on.  What emotion do I feel?  What are the circumstances?  What do I believe or what story do I tell myself that causes me to feel this?

It is not unusual at times to feel overwhelmed with the tasks I have to do and then at other times, I find myself waiting on others with nothing that I have to do.  With only a few tasks to keep up with, I can multitask and juggle the tasks in my memory just fine, but when I have way too many tasks, I need a list to manage things or I start to forget them. This list can be on paper or computer.  It can be many different formats like a checklist or a mindmap.  Anything will work as long as I am not depending on my pea brain to manage the list alone.

The other day, it occured to me that when I have just a few things to do, keeping a list is cumbersome.  Since I don’t really need a list, creating and managing one feels like a waste of time and a little like a crutch.jpgcrutch.  On the other hand, when I feel paralized with all I have to do, I need a list and I need it now!  It doesn’t matter if it is a crutch, just give it to me so I can start walking.

The thing that just occured to me is that the passing from the state of underwhelmed to overwhelmed is stressful!  When the number of to-do’s passes a threshold from a few to too much, I feel a different kind of stress than just having too much to do.  I need a list and it doesn’t exist, or if it does, it is only as current as the last time I needed a list.  It is like someone reaching for the crutch they need to walk now, only to find that is unassembled.  On the other hand, when the new tasks slow down and I begin to catch up on the list, I fall back into the I-do-not-need-a-list mode.  I still have the list I needed, but I feel like I can get along without it.  It is then that I find myself in a different kind of struggle.  Part of me wants to keep the list current, but that part of me always loses in this phase. It is too much work for something I can do in my head, so it fades from my awareness and gets stale again.

Understanding that the movement from one state to the other is stressful helps me because I can recognize it in the moment.  An uncontrolable feeling becomes a recognizable pattern.  When I first begin to feel overwhelmed, I can recognize the pattern and ask myself what’s going on inside, take a deep breath and then make choices that help me handle that to do list.  Not to say that it is easy, but it is possible.

Us&Them Community

Facebook
fblogo.pngI remember the day I joined Facebook.  In the beginning, FB was for students only.  The only way you could get an account was to have an email address that was in a .edu domain.  On September 26, 2006, I woke up to NPR telling me that that restriction had been lifted effective that day.  So I joined.  Although I didn’t do anything with it for a long time, I just have to try out all the new stuff.

One of the FB features that I find myself getting into are the Status Updates.  This is a one liner that is ostensibly there to tell people what you are doing or how you feel at that moment.  FB gives you a page where you get a running list of the statuses of all of your “FB friends”. It can be quite fun to just read through them and add your comments.  I find it fun and fascinating to “keep up” with details about people I know.

Another unexpected feature for me is the ability to connect with old friends.  I have many FB friends who I knew in Boone back in the early 80’s. Other FB friends are from our time when we were in Charleston.  Watching their statuses tells me about what’s going on in their lives in a way that was never possible before.  Think about it.  Before internet social networking tools like FB, the only way to “catch up” with a friend was to write them, call on the phone or visit.  All of these take a fair amount of effort.  I could never keep up with what hundreds of my friends think is important or what they are feeling at any given time.  I suppose we could use public access TV or a newspaper to publish what is going on in our lives, but that would be weird. My friend, Mark would say the transaction cost is way too high.

Enter FB.  Now by virtue of the ease with which I can post my status and knowing that my friends can see it instantly, I put things up like, “Jim Anderson is sad” or “Jim Anderson is writing a blog about FB statuses”.  In fact these are my latest statuses.  A dear FB friend asks, “why sad, Jim?” I’ll tell you…

The Election
election-2008.gifWatching the posts and statuses of my friends as the election approached, I was struck by the polarity of it all.  I have some friends who were nuts about Obama and others who were fearful of Obama.  I may be wrong, but I did not see many posts that were pro McCain… just anti-Obama.  I recently wrote about how I chose to be much more involved in the political process than ever before.  To a political junkie, it was nothing, but compared to years past, I was way more engaged and informed.

Now that the election is over, my overall feeling is sadness.  Some of you will automatically assume I am sad about the outcome of the presidential race.  You would be wrong.  I am sad because of the lack of personal awareness that I see in people and the lack of respect that people show for others who disagree with them.  I am sick because of an “us” and “them” (us&them) mentality.

One of the greatest things about our nation is the freedom that we have to express ourselves and our ability to vote for whomever we want to for whatever reason we want to.  We don’t need to hide our feelings or express them. That is a wonderful privelege.  Although it is one of the most natural behaviors in the human race, I detest the polarization of us and them.  It happens so quickly and easily.  We gather together and find our commonalities over time and others who share that join us.  Before you know it we are an “us”, which automatically means there is a “them”.  Politics is fertile ground for us&them.  I am sure it always was, but I did not realize it as much as I do now.  Add to the politics the us&thems of religion and race as in this election and it’s like freshly composted manure to grow a “healthy” crop of us&themism!

As I sorted out my own feelings about the issues and attempted to process who was the candidate that I aligned best with, I realized it was a study in futility.  Neither of these guys represented my ideals.  Some of the issues I feel strongly about were a complete wash.  It did not matter who I voted for.  As I tend to do, I used the opportunity for self examination.  What was the process showing me about myself?  Here are a few items that I feel very strongly about and which guided my vote for the highest offices (President, Governer and Senate).

  • I hate lies and inuendo.  I received so many scary messages about Barak Obama that I was almost ready to totally unsubscribe from email. They did help me come to a decision, although probably not the way that was intended.
  • Looking across the landscape of my FB friends, I was reminded that the assumption that Christians vote Republican is alive and well.  From what I have read recently and my own experience with the Emerging Church, I think that more Xians have recently abandoned that paradigm.  News flash! Many committed Xians hold liberal political views and vice-versa.  While politics can certainly be influenced by our faith, it doesn’t alway add up to the same thing in every person.
  • Fear is alive and well.  At each of the debates, I saw the candidates on both sides deflecting the questions.  Rather than telling us what they would do if elected, they told us how bad it would be if the other guy got in.  This clinched it for me.  I decided that I would not vote out of fear.

There were a few other factors that guided my decision in a positive way, but I am sleepy and the post is too long already.

Let me close with a paraphrase of the words of Jesus.  When asked what was most important, he replied, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”.  My hope and prayer is that we can all move to a place where we respect and value the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of those who disagree with us.  Who knows, it might be the beginning of something big.