Now, for many of us car owners, a trip to the service department is stress-inducing (as in: ka-ching!). But it was there that I ran into the two opposing faces of stress management: meaning and despair.
My service adviser, Victor, is one of my favorite car guys. I’ve known him for several decades, and he’s a straight-shooter who always takes good care of my car—and me. He’s warm, friendly, affirming and accessible. I feel like a member of his family.
A few years ago I was talking to him and noticed he was shifting around in his chair. I figured that his back hurt (because that’s what I do when my back hurts) but didn’t ask. I just let it go.
Fast forward to last month. When I arrived at the dealership, Victor spotted my swim bag and asked me where I worked out. I answered and told him that for me, swimming is like giving oil to the Tin Man. He was curious so I told him that I was in a car accident decades ago, and swimming helps me manage the pain.
He nodded empathetically and then told me that he takes boxing lessons.
“Boxing?” I said. He didn’t seem like the type.
Then he smiled and said, “You know I have Parkinson’s, right?”
I shook my head no; in fact, I was astonished by the thought of him having Parkinson’s.
He continued: “I do a boxing class that’s just for people with Parkinson’s. You know how a lot of boxing is about footwork? Well, I don’t shuffle my feet anymore! They’ve taught me how to walk.”
“And you know how the voice trembles with Parkinson’s?” he asked. “They’ve taught us how to stand with our backs up against the wall to straighten our bodies—and our vocal cords. Then we yell and yell and yell to strengthen our voices.”
His eyes were sparkling as he told me all of this.
“Victor! This is just fantastic!” I said and then quickly added, “Well, not fantastic that you have Parkinson’s, I don’t mean that…”
He jumped right in. “I know, right? It is fantastic! I was diagnosed in 2017 and they asked me then if I wanted a handicapped sticker. I don’t want one now! I wake up some days and forget I have Parkinson’s. You just take what you get and work with it.”
You just take what you get and work with it.
This is the spirit that embodies hardiness. How we react in stressful situations, and how we respond to unplanned and/or unexpected experiences, data, and events.
My car was finished so I got in and drove to the car wash, smiling and inspired. The interior was filled with the remains of a weekend trip—pounds of dog hair mixed with protein bar crumbles—and it was time for a thorough vacuuming.
But when I pulled up to the vacuum, I saw a man with his hand stuck all the way up into the hose, pulling gobs of trash into a white pickle barrel. Not a pleasant job for the manager (he had announced himself as such).
He kept extracting rubbish until the barrel began to overflow. Then he pulled a huge waste basket from a nearby metal container and offloaded some of the trash from the barrel.
Mission accomplished. Or so I thought. But now he couldn’t get the waste basket to fit back into the metal container. I was puzzled. As the manager, hadn’t he faced this situation a thousand times before?
He got more and more frustrated and I got more and more anxious watching him. He tried to jam the waste basket into the metal container. Then he tried to wedge it in. His face was getting redder as he gave it one more shove, which up-ended both the basket and the metal container and dumped trash all over him.
Oh God. I felt his frustration and the sense of losing control over the most idiotic and simple thing in life. Infuriating!
He looked like he wanted to punch someone, and I was very glad it was daylight and there were lots of people around. He was so enraged that he simply turned around and walked away, leaving a mess on the ground in front of me.
The contrast between him and Victor, just five minutes prior, was striking.
Granted, I don’t know the circumstances or stressors present in the manager’s life.
What I do know is that Victor personified the characteristics of hardiness. Hardiness is not about winning, or glory, or one-upmanship. It doesn’t negate oppression or all the influencing factors that severely limit us.
Instead, hardiness offers us inspiration and a path for regaining our energy in the three C’s—areas of challenge, commitment and control, as defined by Stein and Bartone, authors of Hardiness: Making Stress Work for You to Achieve Life Goals.
No, Victor didn’t view his diagnosis as a threat; the challenge appeared to energize him. And he found a way to live with his limitations—and gain a meaningful and rewarding sense of control with the ongoing obstacles of Parkinson’s.
Additionally, I suspect Victor possesses a strong sense of commitment and purpose in his life as defined by Stein and Bartone: Commitment is all about active involvement and engagement in one’s activities and the surrounding world, as well as a sense of competence and self-worth. At the opposite pole of commitment is alienation, or meaninglessness.
Commitment to your calling, whatever that may be. Commitment to pleasure and joy, and equally important, commitment to community above and beyond your immediate family. A commitment to something bigger is often the lifeline that keeps us from drowning in a spiral of despair.
Victor inspired me. Perhaps he’s inspired you. Here’s to the Victor, Victorious in all of us. Because the journey of hardiness is not straightforward, as so aptly described by Dr. Seuss in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
You’ll be quite a lot.
And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.
But on you will go
though the weather may be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies may prowl.
On you will go
through the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many a frightening creek
though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.
On and on you will hike.
And I know you’ll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.
May you pursue your passions and find meaning in your life work. May you know your purpose and share this in both your personal and professional communities.