Category Archives: Work stress

Taking the day off


Last week I was editing a book, but as I was done the first full read, I took a much-needed break and spent the day swimming and hiking at a state park with a friend. I live in Queens, he lives in upper Manhattan and the state park was in New Jersey. I picked him up in Midtown and we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel. out into the wilds of Jersey, to a park that he’d known as a child.

The park had a small man-made beach by a lake with a roped-off swimming area. Little schools of minnows swam by our feet as we entered the water. It was August and we’d had a number of hot summer days recently, so the water was just cool enough to refresh without being shocking.

Because it was Monday, a workday for most, the beach was not crowded. There were mostly moms and babies, plus a few well-behaved teens and some complete family units. If there were any other adults our age there–without kids–I didn’t see them.

My friend works in catering, so he works sporadic, odd hours. I’m still collecting unemployment, looking for work and trying to see if my freelance business takes off. We both agreed (who wouldn’t?) that working the weekend and taking Monday off was way better than working 9-5 in some crappy office dealing with petty politics and crazy bosses.

But I was tired. Being unemployed means I have been keeping weird hours. I’ve been staying up late, spending a lot of time on the computer–sometimes writing, sometimes doing legitimate research, but other times just chatting and checking FaceBook and LinkedIn and Twitter to see if anyone has said anything in response to something I said, or if there’s anything worth responding to myself. I know I need more sleep.

So after the first quick dip into the water, I lay on the beach, my body covered in sunscreen, and tried to sleep. My friend had mini-speakers for his iPod and he was playing a Rolling Stones’ album. The volume was set relatively low–but it reminded me of my childhood on the Jersey shore where someone blasting music on a boombox never seemed that big of deal. I guess hearing the Stones themselves created a nostalgic mood for me. It was “Tattoo You,” an album that came out the year I graduated high school. (Yes, holy crap…don’t tell anyone it was thirty years ago.)

I’d brought two notebooks with me, one a personal journal and the other a multi-purpose book for drafting blogs, drawing, and jotting down ideas, to-do lists and get-rich-quick schemes. I always have the notion in the back of my head that I “should” be writing. I let that go for the moment.

I dosed off and had a warm, pleasant catnap. last I’d looked my friend had been lying back in his beach chair with a hat over his face. Since he was being quiet I guess he was napping, too. No one had to be anywhere and we didn’t need to set any alarms.

Eventually we started to come back to life. My friend wandered off to inquire about boat rentals and I opened up one of the notebooks and did actually get a page or so of a potential blog written. But when he returned and proposed ice cream from the truck at the edge of the parking lot, I abandoned my notebook. We talked, ate chocolate popsicles, took another swim and later took a hike in the nearby woods.

I think having my friend there allowed me to let go and not worry about life, writing, or my job search for a while. He’s an actor when he’s not catering, and is an outgoing, very friendly type, the kind of person you’re happy to hang out with. It is hard to get upset about things around him.

I really needed the day and the company. It is hard to relax when you feel like you should be doing something every hour of every day toward getting a job. I did send some resumes out last week and I made inquiries about freelance and full-time work with a publishing house where another friend works. So far there have been no job offers, and I’m still waiting to hear about the freelance.

On the beach, I wasn’t beating myself up about not being where I was supposed to be or doing what I was supposed to be doing. I’m doing the best that I can to survive these economic times, and I will survive them. When I do start working again, I’ll be working hard, and who knows when I’ll be able to go to the beach again. I’m going to enjoy it while I can. And I did. A perfect day.

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I was thrown off the deep end when it came to public speaking. The first time I had to do it I was incredibly nervous and was sure I did not speak loudly enough–but at least I didn’t forget anything (thanks to my notes). The audience was forgiving.

Public speaking always had been one of my biggest fears. I was incredibly shy for years; did not want to draw any attention to myself at all; would cringe even when they called my name during role call in class. Over the years, especially in my position as a reporter, most of that shyness has crept away. But there was something about getting up in front of an audience that still made me nervous, sure I would make an utter fool of myself.

It wasn’t something I would choose to do, that’s for sure. And in my last job I had no choice. I suddenly found myself in front of large groups on a very regular basis, and then I was called upon to speak at several conferences, with my largest audience being several hundred people.

I also conducted writing workshops and seminars. All of these things that I “hated” to do gave me a terrific feeling afterward, especially when people would approach me and tell me they liked what I had said.

In that aspect, my fear of public speaking was like my fear of flying — I still don’t like to fly but I like getting to my destination, and by now I’ve flown enough that I no longer close my eyes automatically on the take-off and landing. Likewise, if I didn’t take this challenge and get up there and speak, I would never have known how rewarding it could be.

I also feared letting people down, as well as simply being looked poorly upon for not stepping up to the plate. Public speaking was not in my job description when I first started, but it was a tiny office and we all tended to take on different duties depending on what was needed.

My previous boss used to be the one doing all the public speaking gigs. She had a bubbly and outgoing personality all the time; she made it look easy. But eventually, I became pretty good at it, too–believe it or not, I lost a lot of my nervousness.

I always kept in mind a few key factors:

1. I was the “expert” in the audience’s eye. In reality, on certain topics the audience may have known more than I did. But I was representing an authority figure to them, and therefore, it was less likely I’d feel intimidated.

2. If I forgot something that I was supposed to say, it was not a big deal. If it were something important that an audience member needed to know, I could share it later, one-on-one with that person.

3. I didn’t have all the answers — and I didn’t have to. All I had to say was, “Let me have your email or phone number at the break, and I’ll try to find that out for you.”

4. Simply being myself went a long way. Sure, I had to force myself to speak louder and slow down (I’m from southern New Jersey, where they talk fast), but beyond that, I just spoke naturally, and told a little of my own story when it was appropriate to make a point. I like to make eye contact when I’m standing and talking to someone one-on-one, so I tried to find one or two people in the audience to make eye contact with.