FEATURE — Nationally, things are pretty hard. We’re only two weeks into January and we’ve had a storming of the United States Capitol, a second Presidential impeachment, spikes of COVID-19 deaths and infections, and worry over the upcoming Presidential inauguration.
Closer to home, things are pretty hard, too. My 35-year-old brother-in-law, who lost his job in July because of the pandemic and then suffered a stroke in October, was driving the family car Tuesday night when a woman ran a red light, crashing into their front right end and totaling their car.
The driver is fighting fault in spite of the police citations, the three witness accounts and the intersection camera footage.
And my sister and brother-in-law have to pay $800 out of pocket for a rental car until it all gets sorted out.
Did I mention he’s been out of work since July? And did I mention that he put himself through college by working 5 a.m., and weekend shifts at FedEx while my sister did hair out of their kitchen all to get the degree everyone told them he needed to be “employable?”
So, yeah, things are hard. So hard, my 6-foot-3 brother-in-law seemed a little shrunken the next day. And so hard, my sister might have gotten a little feisty with the recycle bin while wheeling it back into the garage.
Although, to be fully transparent, my two-and-a-half-year-old nephew, who was also in the car when it got plowed into, absolutely disagrees that it was anything but awesome. His reasoning? There were three police cars at the scene of the accident!
He was still talking excitedly about it – and counting one, two, three on his pudgy fingers – the next day when I came to help his parents pick up the rental car.
That’s the luxury of being three: all lights-and-sirens joy and no insurance worry.
But that all fades quickly enough.
My oldest son is in the throes of applying to college, including a couple of U.S. military academies, which are a whole new level of application rigor. He isn’t feeling those three-year-old feels anymore.
He recently summed up his assessment of the whole college application process as he sat slumped over his computer late one night: “You spend years working your tail off and then what are you rewarded with? More work!”
I think my sister and her husband would agree with him. To be honest, even though I’ve been accused (by him) of being annoyingly optimistic, I must admit that I see truth in his assessments.
But I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.
Work. Effort. Struggle. They are a reality of life. They are also the point. ‘
Because work, effort and struggle are what get us experience, learning and growth. We aren’t meant to stay comfortable, to stay the same.
2020 proved that. If nothing else.
So, if the work is unavoidable, even when we’ve already been working our tails off, how do we carry on? How do we meet the challenge without shrinking into ourselves?
While preparing for one of his college interviews, the “all you get with work is more work” son and I watched a TED talk by Harvard social scientist Amy Cuddy that might help.
Cuddy shared evidence that our body language may actually affect the hormones – stress hormones (cortisol) and power hormones – our bodies produce.
Her research shows that when her test subjects adopted high-power positions, think Wonder Woman and alpha primate with his arms locked out front, their testosterone increased and their cortisol decreased.
Contrastingly, when they adopted low-power positions, think anything small and diminutive, they produced less testosterone and more cortisol.
My son used Cuddy’s technique before a big college interview this week. He was surprised (after initially feeling annoyed at me for making him do it) that it actually did help. The interview was still work, of course. But he felt a bit more equal to the challenge.
Not that Wonder Woman or primate poses will fix what’s happening in politics or with the coronavirus. And they probably won’t fix my sister’s car or help her husband find work.
But maybe it will help her in her next battle with the recycle bin. Or at least get through tomorrow a little better. That would still be a win.
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