Stress and the Bully

Sometimes everything feels like it’s piling up on top of you and you can’t breathe. Too many things to do, too little time, too many demands, too much stuff… and no time at all to even think.

Our lives can become so busy that we completely lose sight of what we actually want in our frantic busy-ness.

In today’s long blog post, I want to write a little bit about stress. It will be a theme that I come back to as it’s the theme of my latest book… as yet unfinished and untitled, as I’m sifting through all my research :).

We feel stressed for a number of reasons, but I want to focus on CONTROL. We know that we feel most stressed when we feel that we are not in control of a situation. We feel afraid and unable to do anything. In the workplace, this can be seen in a style of management that I’ve experienced much too often. That manager who is always breathing down your neck. Always asking what you’re doing. Always checking up on you. To the point of bullying. The manager who puts you down in front of colleagues, and who questions your judgement. The one who makes you feel ridiculous, pathetic and useless.

This makes me so angry! And I am a very gentle person really 🙂

A little story:

I was teaching in a city secondary school (a long time ago). I was experienced and my students were successful. Being a creative (I was an art teacher after all!), I wanted to teach in innovative ways, introducing the students to exciting techniques and new ways of thinking. And I didn’t care for rules that made no sense. (Some might say that I didn’t care for rules at all, which isn’t quite true :)). We were instructed to complete a particular form after each lesson… yay, another form… I asked what it was for and who was going to read the form after I completed it. I asked how the data gathered was going to improve the learning experience of my students, and whether there was evidence that completing the form would benefit anyone? Hey, was I popular? I refused to complete the form until I had answers. I never received any answer. None whatsoever. Not even a token answer. So I never completed the form. Fellow teachers completed the form religiously after each lesson, taking precious time away from important stuff. They got stressed about the form, they got angry about the form. One new teacher actually became tearful because she forgot to complete the form and worried that she would be in trouble. Fortunately, she came into the art room and I made her a cup of tea, and I told her not to bother with the form. She looked at me shocked. I told her my philosophy of doing anything unless it benefited the students in some way, but she couldn’t bring herself to rebel, and she went away and did the forms in her own time.

After about a term I was questioned about my lack of form filling… yes, a whole term… I was approached in the corridor between classes.

“What are you doing with the data?”, I asked.

“Perhaps you could come along to my office after school?”, she smiled.

I went to her office. The conversation went a bit like this:

Her: You haven’t completed the forms

Me: No, I haven’t.

Her: I understand your thoughts but we really need the forms.

Me: Why exactly? The data on the form is already available on form A, which we complete already.

Her: Yes, but it’s in a different format and there’s other information we need

Me: Who needs it and why exactly? And what are you doing with the data you’ve already collected?

Her: We are analysing it for the governors

Me: Analysing what exactly?

Her: Cate, you really are being very argumentative, and unhelpful. The governors have asked for this data and we need to give it to them.

Me: Can I speak to the governors and ask them?

Her (horrified): Well no, I mean, well, I…. that really is not necessary. I think we need to talk about your compliance…

Me (smiling sweetly): Are you trying to intimidate me?

Her: What? No, of course not… look… let’s talk about this another time

Me: Good idea. See you later..

And I left. And we never spoke of it again. Ever.

The form was dropped and is festering somewhere. I am a strong person, and a bit of a rebel. But my point in telling this story is that so many teachers spent hours and hours doing something that was utterly soul destroying and stressful. This is WRONG.

So, my message to teachers or anyone asked to do something they feel is a waste of time is this:

Ask the question why? Ask it politely and with curiosity, after all, there might be a really valid reason that you didn’t realise.. we don’t all have the big picture.

And my message to those in authority:

Why are you asking your staff to do this? Have you given them a real reason and purpose? Have you considered the time it will take and have you considered the consequences? If you yourself have been given the task of telling the staff to do the task… have you asked the question why??

We feel stress when we feel out of control. We can gain some control back when we can ask questions.

And with the time saved from filling in pointless forms, we can get back to the knitting and crochet (or whatever).

Have a wonderful, calm week ahead.

Love Cate

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