Thriving Through Stress: Discovering Your Inner Genius
It was ten in the morning, and he was supposed to be at the office, but the garage door quaked open and his truck rolled in nonetheless. Soon he stood in front of me in his nicest dress shirt, the one he had chosen earlier that morning for the boss’ yearly visit to the global sales division. He dropped the briefcase from his shoulder. It fell like an anvil to our hardwoods. Company-wide cutbacks. Every place had been hit, even the minimalist legal department. The boss hadn’t even shown up to tell him face to face. Just like that, we lost the majority of our income and were thrust into the next stage of our lives.
I squeezed tight and held up the man who is normally my backbone. All kinds of worries bounced through his mind. He began to pace like a mathematician working on an impossible equation. I reminded him of the good things we’ve got going. Severance. Savings. Equity. His own business pursuits. People like my husband can simultaneously do a dozen things well—things like running our literary agency, teaching classes at the state university, ghostwriting two published books. . . oh, and working on the legal team as contracts manager for a global company. That tag-along job title has paid the majority of our bills the last seven years, but it’s the last thing I’ve thought to mention when telling someone what my husband does.
He shakes his head when I call him my Einstein. He’s much more liberal arts thinker than scientist, but he and Einstein do have some things in common, one being the way their giftedness allowed them to excel at a structured job while working at their most passionate pursuits under the table.
For my husband, the dual identity has meant working hard for his book clients, seeing a #1 New York Times Bestseller and a whole shelf of other projects to completion while combing through contracts to minimize risk for big business. For Einstein, it meant developing the beginnings of the theory of relativity while sifting through the technical details of patent applications. For each, the stable work was, as the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property puts it, "a stroke of good fortune because it was excellently paid . . . and was undemanding for his nimble intelligence,” leaving plenty of extra brainwaves and free moments for scratching out big ideas in the desk drawer.
The happy, disheveled physicist whom we all know and love seems a far cry from the way Einstein’s father once described him as he struggled to find a post in academia. In his letter to Professor Wilhelm Ostwald featured in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, we get an inside view: “I shall start by telling you that . . . he feels profoundly unhappy with his present lack of position, and his idea that he has gone off the tracks with his career and is now out of touch gets more and more entrenched each day. In addition, he is oppressed by the thought that he is a burden on us, people of modest means . . . .”
As much as Einstein’s patent clerk job fit well with his family situation and allowed some room for his intellectual pursuits, it was not the ultimate answer to the dissatisfaction he felt with his life. At some point, he would need to leave that position to make room for the fullest version of himself, eventually becoming the world’s icon of genius.
In the aftermath of my husband’s downsizing, anxiety burned in his veins. He worked himself into a cycle of terrible insomnia, sleeping just one hour per night for four nights straight. I sang hymns and read Scripture. I cancelled appointments and called friends to pray over him. I urged him to tell the truth to himself, that he has a unique, God-given skill set, his own version of genius. What feels like a crushing blow to our way of life could really be God’s green light to restructure and make room for the most authentic version of himself to emerge in full.
Alongside the job loss and resulting anxiety, there has come a sort of electricity as my husband dreams big beyond the status quo. He has his ear to the ground for innovative ways to expand our literary agency, has joined me in brainstorming ideas for mentoring writers, and has written over 50,000 words on his novel in the last few weeks. The stress has brought on increased creativity and the creativity is, in turn, soothing the stress.
Seven years of work at the patent office and wild-eyed Einstein finally took a post in academia where his mind could go full-throttle. Seven years of work at the global company and my husband is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, opening himself to that disheveled, wild-haired imagination, that invitation to work uninhibited at what he was made to do.
Thriving Through Stress
Stress is an inevitability of the 21st century, and opportunities abound for simplifying our lives and changing our circumstances. But for most of us, the better change comes from within. As we deal with the stress in our lives, are we just trying to manage all the variables, mitigate the damage, and survive? Or is there actually a way to thrive through stress? Join us for another High Calling series where we discuss how our faith in Jesus and the resilience that develops through difficulties can help us thrive even in difficult circumstances beyond our control. If you know someone who is going through a particularly stressful time, why not encourage them by emailing or sharing one of the articles in our series.
Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.