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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Choe

Growth Opportunity Fatigue

In a recent conversation with my dear friend Laura, we were bravely trying to re-frame the challenges we were experiencing both personally and professionally as “growth opportunities,” when we suddenly realized we had “growth opportunity fatigue.” Trying to navigate the confusing labyrinth of conflicting opinions and perspectives on how to best re-engage with a re-opening economy while maintaining health and safety for ourselves and our loved ones before a vaccine is developed and becomes readily available without falling into false optimism or equally false despair, in the absence of clear guidelines or proven outcomes, can feel both discouraging and exhausting.

Growth happens when we experience just the right amount of stress to feel the need for change. Interestingly, the word “stress” is actually an abbreviation of two different words: eustress, and distress. Eustress is the amount of pressure that leads us to take a step of progress forward, when we are challenged to the next level of development physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually by a situation or experience that teaches us to problem solve, with support from meaningful relationships (think: learning to tie your shoes, ride a bicycle, take responsibility for breaking something, transition from elementary to middle to high school to college). Distress is TOO much pressure; when we become overwhelmed by a challenge that is beyond our capacity developmentally or due to lack of support (think: becoming a surrogate parent or spouse as a child due to the loss of the actual parent or spouse, or being expected to take on a job responsibility without adequate education or training, or experiencing a traumatic event at any age – LIKE RIGHT NOW WITH THE PANDEMIC).

My father told me that towards the end of World War II, the Germans had run out of resources to care for their own people, much less all of the prisoners of war they had amassed over the years. Despite the propaganda, he knew the war was not going in their favor by the demeanor of the guards, and the limited supplies available in the labor camps. Rumors swirling in the camp suggested that the Russians were advancing from the east and the Canadians were advancing from the west to liberate them (he said they were all hoping the Canadian soldiers reached them first, but that he wasn’t prepared to be “picky” about who arrived first!) yet there was no infrastructure to even begin to help them find their way home (he listed a staggering number of different nationalities represented in his particular camp). Still, his main focus was on the fact that he would be free to go home, even if he didn’t know how he would get there.

The reality is, we need to feel like we have options. When we feel trapped, we descend into the survival region of our brains, the brainstem, with the limited options of flight, fight, freeze, or fawn (think: Stockholm syndrome). When we have options, even if they are not the ones we would prefer to have, we can have agency and autonomy over our choices and can remain integrated and present in our body and brain.

What are your options right now? Even if you don’t especially like the ones available to you, remember you always have them. Choose the ones that support your values, and are congruent with your identity and goals. You matter, always. Don’t forget.

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