I’ve been giving some thought to stress lately*, and that has led me to think about the differing sorts of stress that I’ve dealt with in my different careers. I’ve worked in grocery, in department stores, as a student, and as a teacher/GT specialist. It’s a moderately varied sample of jobs.
As a grocery worker/buyer:
In both of these positions, I was working mostly with things. The required competencies were all about choosing things, handling things, accounting for things. I was a buyer for a couple of department store chains, and that job was mostly about logistics and money concerning the things I purchased. In grocery, I was a jack of all trades–backup scan-coordinator, assistant bookkeeper, assistant receiving clerk, manager of specialty foods (bulk, oriental, health, dietetic, gourmet). In each I was dealing with either things or money.
There was a lot of stress in these jobs, a lot of pressure to do well and get everything done, but they were always things.
As a teacher/GT Specialist:
I stepped up to a different level of stress, stress that was all about the future of my students. My principals put a lot of guilt into that equation, pulling the, “If you don’t do this (in your own time and without pay) then our students will be bereft.” This is one of the things rampant in teaching, the dreaded Extra Duties as Assigned.
This became a really stressful situation as they loaded more and more on the teachers. We became the guidance counselors and personal advisors to students. Parents would often hold us responsible for their kids. I had one grandmother who took me to task when she discovered that her grandson might not graduate, even though she’d never once attended a meeting I’d requested in four years regarding her grandson’s schedule. When I asked her if she hadn’t noticed how many classes he’d failed, she told me that he didn’t show her his report cards. That if it was important, he would have shown her. Yet somehow it was MY fault that he might not graduate. (FWIW, I later set up two interviews for him to get him into programs that would allow him to graduate. He didn’t bother to show up for either.)
There’s a lot of this in teaching, being given responsibility for others is a very different sort of stress than being given responsibility for things.
As a writer:
One would think that being a writer is a no stress job. But it’s not.
Because we’re it.
Yes, we have help in the form of editors and publicists and bloggers who kindly pimp our work, but in the end the creation of our art is all on us. We create and then have no idea whether people will like it…let alone buy it. I produced my novella Iron Shoes, all the time thinking “No one will buy this. It’s too long, and weirdly interstitial.”
We make so many decisions, yet the right decision–like where to publish, promote, or appear, what to spend our precious time on–seems to be elusive, and ine the end, much is out of our control.
[I read a blog post yesterday by a far-more published writer than myself–C. S. Harris–a writer I admire greatly (I’m waiting for her next St. Cyr novel with ‘bated breath!) and was surprised to find her pondering, much as I have been lately, the secret of what publicity actually works. I just wish I had the answer!]
So a lot of the stress of the author job is not that we’re under pressure that deals with things or people, but that like a farmer or small business owner, the next decision can be the one that makes us successful…or causes us to go bust.
This is the stress of uncertainty.
My publisher holds me up and acts as a safety net (yay!), but nothing will mitigate my writing good words or bad ones, making the best of opportunity X or not, or being in the right place at the right time. We can control our actions, but we can’t control the outside world. And because we live on the desire of readers, all we can do is keep working on our end and hope all the pieces fall into place.
It’s the best job in the world, but not without its own version of stress ;o)
*especially in terms of my situation with hormonal changes I’m having that are acting as stressors. I’ll see my doctor on Monday, and this will be one of the topics of discussion. (TMI, I know….)