When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I suppose, given the nature of frustration, it is hard to believe that anything positive could come from it. The definition of frustration has no negative aspects, at least on the surface. Frustration is an emotion we feel when a goal (need, want, desire, etc.) is blocked by something or someone. Internal frustration comes from our own doing--lack of skill, poor choices, etc. External frustration comes from something outside of our realm of control. Nonsocial frustration stems from an inanimate object that is not directly linked to a person, such as a dead battery or lousy weather. Social frustration occurs when the actions or presence of another person seems to be blocking us from achieving our goals--too many people in line, someone driving too slowly, the person who bought the last copy of the game you wanted right before you could snag it yourself.

I find that when my stress level begins to skyrocket I experience much more frustration than usual. Maybe it just gets to me more when I am more mentally vulnerable. At the moment, I am experiencing all 3 forms of frustration. Social frustration is coming from people parking in my designated spot at work and someone walking off with one of my textbooks from my office. I am also finding social frustration in the form of demands (pressure, really) from work--end-of-year paperwork and grading coming around because students are turning in work and people are requesting administrative paperwork all at the same time. It's just the nature of the job, I know. But my goals--finish all my work so I can take a mental break--are pushed back further every time someone else makes a demand/request for something from me. A more recent source of social frustration, which blends with a nonsocial, technology related source, is the lack of printing abilities at my office at the moment. It appears that someone has managed to monkey with the settings on the office PC and the printer is no longer responding. In other words, I cannot print anything for my classes at the moment.

My nonsocial frustration sources are time (my second archenemy; gravity is my main nemesis), uncooperative electronics, and a misbehaving car. There never seems to be enough time. I know most of this is because of my choices--see internal frustrations below. It doesn't help, though, that time is finite and deadlines don't move. In the realm of uncooperative electronics, my phone has developed a tendency to randomly "click" (it's a stupid "smart" phone with a touch screen) on things or to refuse to let me select things in the middle of the screen. It also has a nasty habit of draining its battery 10 seconds after I turn it on after my classes (I turn it off during class to try to set a good example for my students, or at least not be a hypocrite in front of them). My car functions all right, once it does start. The problem is it refuses to communicate with the key fob. The car is designed for key-less entry and ignition, so long as the key is within a certain distance. It sometimes takes me a few minutes, combined with creative language and facial contortions, to get the buttons on either the car or the key fob to respond. I'm beginning to wonder if I have an electromagnetic pulse running through my blood that is interfering with both the car's electronics and my cell phone.

Internal frustration is probably the biggest culprit at the moment, mostly because I have no one to blame. Only I can shoulder the responsibility of the decisions I make. I feel as if I haven't been planning things well enough so that I could handle the work load. I should (an irrational word, to be sure!) know better. After all, I've been in the particular position for the past 5 years. I've had the same work-cycle for enough time that it ought (another irrational command word!) to be easy for me to plan far ahead so all my little ducks are in a row and my stress level becomes more manageable. I could find many excuses to deflect some of the responsibility away from myself. There have been significant changes to class schedules and such made this year, many of them this semester. However, if I had been prepared for a normal year, then it is possible I should have been able to tackle the new stress with little extra effort. Yeah, that didn't quite work out so far. Yes, I am disappointed with my apparent inability to juggle my workload, my duties as a mother, my housekeeping responsibilities, and my requirements as an adult in a committed relationship. I'm a work in progress, to be sure; very slow progress.

So, where's the silver lining? That's the point of this blog, isn't it? Well, here it is. Frustration often provides an opportunity for creativity and expanding my view of the world. When I am blocked from a goal, such as the printing situation mentioned above, it forces (encourages, really) me to find an alternative route to accomplish what I need to accomplish. This also helps me appreciate more the resources I have at my disposal that I do not always use. For example, I don't usually print anything in my classroom because I typically make many copies for my students of most of the things I print. However, when all I need are a couple of pages, such as the sign-in sheets so I can take daily roll, I am ever so grateful to have the printer in my classroom. In the case of the missing textbook, I found I was ever so thankful that I happened to have a copy at home. True, I now have to lug it around with me to get work done in the office, but at least I can still work. Internal frustration often leads to my reexamining my attitudes. Often when I find myself becoming angry with my poor choices, realizing that only I am responsible for them, I also realize that I can change them. That's a very empowering, albeit sometimes frightening, thought. I have the choice to get angry at myself or to do things differently. I also start to realize that not all of my internal frustration has to be solved by myself. I do have a social support network that I can call upon to help me when I have too much on my plate. I sometimes swallow my pride and delegate (sometimes I actually ask) some of my tasks to others (usually my husband and my daughter, usually household-related tasks) so that I can concentrate on those tasks that only I can do. For example, I can ask my husband to wash the dishes or make dinner tonight so that I can have more time to finish my lecture notes. I also have a loving daughter whose hugs help much of my stress and frustration melt away.

Frustration, especially when I feel overwhelmed beyond my mere mortal capacity to handle any more and the universe continues to shovel it my way, can sometimes lead to a shut-down. I don't mean I'm headed for a mental breakdown. I certainly hope not, though the cold that is tickling at the back of my throat may promise to slow me down. I mean it's probably time for me to reboot my thinking and time management. This is usually the time in my stress cycle that I whip out the 4-mile long to-do list, extend its length my a factor of 5, and start slowly and methodically chopping it down. It will be a while before I make my way through the mire of the frustration and resulting stress that I am in the midst of at the moment, but I WILL start to methodically climb my way out of this muck and find my sanity once again.

I have faith that my freedom is just around the corner and the "clear skies" will last at least long enough for me to optimistically plan for my next cycle of workload/work-life stress--summer classes!

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