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The Best Answer to Stress Management

I’m in the back at orchestra rehearsal. A dozen other instrumentalists open their music and begin to tune. I turn to the first page. It is practically black from all the inked and there’s the knot of stress taking root in my stomach. I know I can’t play all these notes, I know I’ll make a hundred mistakes. I do a quick mental count of how many pages are left until we get to the end and brace myself for my stumbling through this practice. The keyboardist next to me leans over “the good news here is that it isn’t about me.” I echo this sentiment with an amen and we begin playing.

 

We make it through the rehearsal and I head home for a bowl of cold cereal and an episode on Netflix but I can’t get her words out my head. It isn’t about me. I’ve heard this stated a hundred times. I tell myself it often. I remind the kids I nanny about this. But to have it framed as good news, to here it as a positive truth and not a negative scolding – this changes everything. Suddenly there’s a freedom that washes across my body and wipes the stress away. It won’t be a big deal if I mess up, if I play a wrong note or come in late. It won’t even be a big deal if I stop playing entirely. It’s not about me, and this is good news.

Why is that we think we need to carry the weight of the world? Why do we do this to ourselves? We think we’re some sort of superstars or goddesses, responsible for the outcomes of everything happening around us, in charge of making sure the earth keeps spinning and the sun keeps rising. But we’re not. We’re not that important. We aren’t holding the fate of humanity in our hands, we aren’t even keeping the entire orchestra afloat. We are mere instrumentalists, sitting in the back of the room, playing our few notes and chords where they go. We aren’t a solo act, we are not in the spotlight, it is not about us.

I wonder what it would look like to embrace this truth in my daily life? I wonder what it would mean to take myself out of under this self-imposed weight and let myself be the mere human that I am? My actions are important, my input is valuable, but the world will keep spinning and the stars will still come out and the sun will still rise and set without me. What would it be like to remember that God is actually God, and I am – as it turns out – not. What would it be like to live like it wasn’t about me?

I know you’re stressed too. I hear you, the ones whose identities are busy, the ones who can’t say no even when they are exhausted, the ones who wake up tired and go to bed tired and spend the whole day tired. I see you hustling from one task to the next, running from project to project. I’m right there with you. But what if you and I both took this good news to heart? Isn’t the release from pressure what we’re all asking for? Couldn’t we all use a wash in freedom?

My fingers are moving much lighter now. Skipping over the keys, hitting wrong ones on the way but less timid, less afraid. The stress knot is gone, in its place is a determination to do my best but a willingness to accept the imperfections and moments of failure. Because it’s not about me. And that is good news.

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