Busted Halo
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March 19th, 2003

A Duck for Lent

And Other Workplace Self-Improvement Projects

 
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Every year I give up chocolate for Lent�it’s a no-brainer for me. But this year I decided to raise the bar a little and get to the heart of something that’s been chipping away at me for some time: Work was becoming a negative influence in my life. I’d begun allowing myself to be overcome with frustration because of various stresses, ranging from long work hours to conflicts with coworkers. It was time to change my attitude about the place I spend such a large portion of my day.

Become a duck
Everyone reacts to stress differently. It was clear that everything and anything was getting under my skin. So I decided to become a duck . How? Well, rather than absorb every offhanded comment someone would make or every setback involved with the production of the magazine I work for, I was going to try and let it all roll off me like water on a duck’s back. The duck of course is among the most adaptable of animals with its ability to gracefully fly, walk, and swim.

Like a mantra, I began quietly repeating, “I’m a duck,” whenever I felt the stress start to sink in. A few times co-workers overheard me, and it was actually funny to watch them silently contemplate my possible insanity.

Throw it up – just not on everyone
Next on the agenda was to try and tone down all the complaining I was doing. On the one hand, venting about your stress to a sympathetic listener is a positive way of getting it out of your system. However, for me it was becoming more like a poison to my outside relationships. I found myself constantly complaining to friends and family about what was going on at work. I was emotionally taking work home with me, and recirculating it like canned air in a transatlantic flight. And though they of course want to be there for me, I realized that it was a strain on our relationship to always be laying stuff on them they didn’t fully understand.

So instead, I started sharing those niggling irritations with a close friend I’d made at work. She and I both have many of the same day-to-day experiences, and we understand where each other is coming from. Yet at the same time we know when to tell each other, “Enough is enough. Stop talking about it and let it go.”

Go to Starbucks
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t necessarily have to be Starbucks. But when work begins bringing you down to the point where you lose your perspective, it might be time to take a walk around the block. In some countries everyone leaves work midday for a siesta. Just think of how returning from a quick trip outside might make you a bit better prepared to take on whatever is waiting for you back at the office (or if you’re like me, that little cubicle).

Quack all the way to the finish line
So, Holy Week finally arrived and I stopped to ask myself if I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do. But more than that, would I be able to carry it with me beyond these 40 days? I think I did okay. I still find it surprisingly hard to be a duck. But I’m getting out of the office more often and am much better about leaving the stress at the job. Spiritually, I discovered that when I wasn’t so consumed with being angry about work issues, I was opening myself up to little kindnesses that I’d normally let pass unnoticed. And of course, I never had to miss my chocolate.

 
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The Author : Lori Yacovone
Lori Yacovone writes from New York City.
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