The year 2005 was the most challenging of my adult life.
In March we moved into a larger home to accommodate our growing family. In July we welcomed our third child, and two short weeks later I started a new job that would put me on the path I continue to walk today.
About a week into that job my boss told me I was being arrogant, which really pissed me off. I went home and fumed.
The next day we talked about it in what was one of the most crucial conversations of my life. It was as pure a moment of self-awareness as I can recall. The onion was finally getting peeled.
I wasn’t being arrogant because I was a jerk (at least I don’t think so) but because it was my default mechanism for expressing anxiety, fear and a growing sense of fraudulence. I was anxious about being the sole provider for my family, afraid I had taken on too much, and certain that I would be found out as a fraud who wasn’t up for the job as soon as someone decided to look just a little bit closer!
In the course of a few short months I had experienced three of life’s most stressful events. Fear, anxiety and insecurity make a lot of sense in those circumstances. But I just thought I was supposed to handle it; that I was supposed to summon my good friend “competence” and fake it ’til I made it.
It didn’t work and I got called out. Which meant, because I couldn’t “unsee” what was going on, that I could begin to learn better ways to navigate the stress of transition and the real difficulties of change.
Since life’s changes, big and small, keep rolling in with the tide, the lessons learned in 2005 continue to pay dividends. And I have no doubt that will continue to be the case.
I know in a very personal way how challenging it is to see things accurately, to understand oneself clearly and honestly, in the midst of so much change. And so to prescribe that kind of self-awareness – as if you can just a flip a switch – isn’t helpful.
What I can suggest is that you familiarize yourself with the life events that are most responsible for spikes in stress. You might also do a sort of preemptory “life audit,” a review of your behavior under stress in the past so that you know what to look for. Finally, and most importantly, is to cultivate relationships of kind candor, the ones where people will see through your efforts at “competence” and remind you that you don’t have to go it alone.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.