Character

What a soldier on a plane taught me about perspective.

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I fly a lot during the spring and fall as I travel to speaking events.

I often try to talk to the people sitting next to me unless they are enveloped in a cone of silence, AKA headphones.

On one flight I was sitting next to a network engineer who helped run the IT department at a large company.

As we talked about his job, I asked him if it was stressful. He was in charge of a huge network, the technology was changing constantly and it seemed like he had a lot of demands on him.

He laughed for a second and then said, “I’ve been shot at. In Afghanistan there were people trying to kill me. The worst IT issue I have to deal with doesn’t really touch the stress of that. When things fall apart on some project at work, I’m able to keep perspective. No one is shooting at me. We’ll figure it out.”

The problems I had seemed pretty small in that moment. I might feel pressure about growing a platform or telling people about my book Do Over, but no one is shooting at me. No one is trying to kill me. I do some stressful things sometimes but no one’s life hangs in the balance in my job.

In my most stressful situations, I’m going to be alright.

And chances are, so will you.

If you ever feel stressed about some dream you’re chasing, find a soldier. Thank him or her for serving and then ask about his or her day.

Your perspective will never be the same.

Question:
How do you deal with stress?

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

56 Comments

  1. Reading ‘Unbroken’ is a good way to gain perspective especially when work is crazy. Am I being tortured in a POW camp?? No? Then I can manage to get through work.
    How I manage stress- at work it’s a piece of dark chocolate or taking a quick walk outside-fresh air and sunshine are so important! After work it’s going to the gym. If I don’t exercise that stress will camp out in my body and become physical pain.

  2. Youth work can be difficult…and yes I have had people shoot at me. Many times you put your life on the line for students. 3 Weeks ago I tried to rescue an 11 year old boy from a burning boat, it was to hot and we were to late. Most youth workers and parents don’t go through that kind of stress, we have a website that helps them through the stress and answers in life. http://theyouthculturereport.com/

  3. My brother comes home in about 40 days. It’s his third time there.

  4. My mantra for life at work is simple. People this is not a hospital, we are not saving lives.
    It is no that I don’t take the work of my day seriously, it is simply perspective, and managing expectations.
    For those that are working in hospitals, trauma units, the front lines, YES, YES, YES.

    All my love, respect, and wishes for a safe day.

  5. I often say, “its dollars and cents, not hearts and lungs” – so important to keep that perspective when things are “on fire” ( but not a real fire) around you. It’s so easy to lose that perspective, thanks for the reminder, Jon! Keep up the great work, really looking forward to reading your book!

  6. It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

    Right now I’m in the midst of what may be one of the most challenging events of my family’s life. I’m 22 weeks pregnant with baby #7, and my water broke a week ago. I am on strict bed rest and facing the possibility of delivering a desperately fragile micro-preemie, recuperating from a C-section (my other babies came naturally), months in the NICU, the challenge of bringing a premature infant with health problems home… and that’s BEST CASE scenario.

    When I get on the other side of this, I doubt anything will ever look the same again.

    • Angie

      Oh Carrie, I’m so sorry! Will be praying baby can hold on and God gives you and your family supernatural strength to deal with whatever the aftermath is.

    • SarahN

      Carrie, I wanted to encourage you! My mom’s water broke with my brother at 22 weeks, also. She carried him to 28 weeks, when he was born at 4 lbs, 5 oz. That was in 1988. (We’ve come a long way in prenatal and NICU care in 26 years.) Today, my brother is a healthy man who has to occasionally make use of an inhaler.

      My prayers are with you and your family.

  7. It’s an EXCELLENT point! I also come from the IT world where everything needs to be done “yesterday” and when something doesn’t work, it’s the end of the world for some people.
    This guy has it right. If you’re not getting shot at, you’ll be alright.

    This is the type of mentality that needs more attention and should be instilled in the younger generation so they don’t grow up thinking their whole world will be perfect and if their game console doesn’t work, their life is in shambles. Let’s not take stuff for granted, be appreciative and grateful for what we do have, & be nice!

  8. I needed to hear this BIG TIME today…Thank you for sharing, Jon.

  9. Dave

    I love what you say and what you do.
    I get caught in the details so I apologize in advance, here it is…

    ….a dream you’re chasing…

    Sorry about that. Please don’t vote me off the island or evict me or whatnot. Yes, the new Weird Al song “Word Crimes” could be my theme song.

  10. Rachel

    Your story is more touching but it reminds me of Henry. While I was pregnant and on bed rest, Henry applied for the ‘most stressful’ job at the plant, production manager. If the line stops cause you planned and ordered supplies poorly, heads roll. Of course he got the job. A few months later, his boss asked how he was handling the stress at work, was it going ok? Henry laughed. He said, ” I have four newborn babies at home. I look forward to Mondays. This job is less stressful than taking care of the babies.” I

  11. Jon, I literally sat at my kitchen table and cried after reading this. I am married to an incredible soldier, who has been to Afghanistan twice and has been shot at, who knows what it’s like to have bullets whizzing by his head, to have RPGs exploding a couple feet from him, to roll down a mountainside in a vehicle thinking “this is it, this is how I’m gonna die.” And how many times have I forgotten these things in the midst of my stress: a school exam coming up, a work project due, or just “too many things on my to-do list, holy craaaaaap!!!” I am ashamed to admit that I forget sometimes and get wrapped up in my own petty affairs. It really is about perspective – thank you for reminding me about that today.

  12. amber

    so what if it is hearts and lungs? what if your work is saving lives, literally (I’m an ICU nurse)? people are entrusting their lives to you. and unfortunately nurses do get shot at or have their lives threatened quite frequently. just curious what the perspective would be? ultimately we all just have to do the best we can…pray for wisdom and discernment…and TRUST. that even if we do get shot at we are accomplishing His purpose for out lives. Right?

  13. Denise Moore

    How do I deal with stress? I walk… a lot. I talk to God… continually. I talk with my boyfriend about the things that are driving me mad… and he reminds me that it’ll all work out, that together we can handle anything. I keep things in perspective by taking a drive through the military cemetery and remembering what my daughter and son-in-law are doing everyday for us in the Navy.

  14. Angie R

    Thank you for this post. It means a lot. (Even the military wives need a reminder now and then.)

  15. Matt

    There are two sides to this. My time in Fallujah convinced me that if no one is dying, then the problem is not worth getting bent out of shape about, and if no one is shooting at us, then we have plenty of time to solve it.

    On the other side, whatever the problem is, might actually be the most stressful kind of thing my coworkers encounter on any given day, and it can be easy for me to come off as discounting their feelings, or failing to take a problem seriously.

    A little grace from both sides certainly helps.

  16. I’ve been doing a lot of running and walking.

  17. Heather

    *you’re LOL

    Great point. I really needed to hear this right now. Thank you!!

  18. As a Soldier who has been deployed I understand completely. It does tend to make you put things in perspective and understand what’s really important and worth getting stressed out over. I think the key take away is that perspective won’t stop you from getting stressed in the moment, but it can help you overcome the stress quicker and with more grace.

    Great article, Jon.

  19. I try and keep similar perspective. My first job out of school was on the south side of Chicago. One day I was caught in the middle of a gang shootout while walking to get a hot dog during my lunch break and had to dodge behind a set of brick stairs to not get hit. I went out to that spot the next day and found a few 9mm shells and bullets lying in the grass. I always kept one of those on my desk at my new job(s) so if I ever had a bad or stressful day, I knew things could always be worse.

    That may sound morbid but it raises my level of gratitude every day.

  20. Chris

    I date a veteran. One time we got drinks at a drive-thru and I got mine no ice, since we were taking it home anyway. He said he couldn’t bear to get it without ice, because in Iraq most of the time they didn’t have any ice, and he is just so GRATEFUL for ice.

    That was one of those moments that just shook me. I think about that sometimes, when I am using my magic refrigerator that MAKES ICE and DISPENSES IT INTO MY GLASS without me even HAVING TO OPEN THE DOOR.

    There is just so much to be grateful for. You don’t even have to look very far.

  21. What perspective! I love this and thanks for the reminder!

  22. Holly

    I think that one can build up a tolerance to stress. I have been a nurse practitioner in the newborn ICU for 14 years, which puts me starting at a mere 25. I didn’t know what to be afraid of, back then. Now I do, if I have a bad day at work or can’t solve the problem placed before me, someone’s baby dies. There are times that I’m the only one in the building that can save that baby. Stressful? Most people would say yes. But this is where I hit my stride. Concentrating on the task at hand and leading a team of nurses, RTs and other staff to get the job done is where I do my best work. My point is, stress is in the eye of the beholder!

  23. I needed to be reminded today that I am in fact not being shot at. Thank you.

  24. Andy

    As a combat veteran I totally understand. We American’s, in general, are soft. We get freaked out by bad drivers, getting the wrong frappa-fofo-latte, late planes, and on and on. Try living somewhere where people are actively trying to kill you and all the angst and headaches of living in USA go away.

  25. Gaylene Carpenter

    My husband talks (rarely) about walking right on top of a bomb (he was career enlisted AF). My son-in-law (currently serving in the Army) has been to Iraq twice. Both have helped me keep (well, I try to keep) the right perspective.

  26. Dan

    GASP! A grammatical error with the word your? I never would have expected it from you. 🙂 Love your blog, books and writing keep it up and I could care less if you were in a hurry and used the wrong your. 🙂

  27. Thank you for the reminder, Jon. We often get sucked into the belief that the days tasks are too overwhelming to even move forward while forgetting that there are far worse things in this world. When I get stressed I try to ask myself if this is self-induced? Or am I doing what God has asked me to do. Usually it’s self-induced and I’m trying to get things to work in my own way or time. Taking a deep breath and asking God to keep me on track helps.

    Or a glass of wine 😉

  28. Elmira Loftin

    Getting a massage, exercising or doing something creative help me relieve stress.

  29. Kara

    Love this!!! Love, love , love all our military that have served. They must think we are so crazy for stressing over stupid things!!!! Best blog ever!! Thanks.

  30. A missionary who is now travelling across the US gave.me the same perspective. He said no matter what happens he says “we’ll, there’s no chance anyone is going to eat me right now, so it’ll be fine”

  31. Many have asked me what was it like being a firefighter…

    I tell them, “Think of it as being in an oven.”

    Many say, “An oven?”

    Then I tell them I was a firefighter in the Navy on ship.

    Thank you Jon for this GREAT post! I know you appreciate all of the service members and there wives.

  32. Shauna

    I used to get SO stressed out over work. The best advice a colleague ever gave me was “Shauna, it’s just a job.” It didn’t stop me from working hard, it stopped me from bringing work home with me. My job wasn’t my passion, but it took over my life in a bad way. And I have to say, being a Pastor’s Wife in a military town for 5 years sure gave me a new perspective on many things. I’ve never respected our military and their families more than I do after getting to know some of them. Great word, Jon!

  33. Becky

    A friend was killed in action yesterday in Afghanistan…the day you wrote this post. So I totally get where you are coming from on this. Thank you so much for posting.

  34. Thank you for sharing this Jon. The perspective is great, but also your example of investing in others even when it might be easier to catch up on reading or work is challenging to me.

  35. Beth

    A counselor I used to see helped me put things in perspective by asking myself one question. He said to just stop and ask myself, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” In most situations I get stressed about, the worst thing that could happen really isn’t that bad. So, that one little question calms me down a lot.

  36. I deal with stress by either playing lots of bejeweled blitz, or going for a walk. Both of these actions get me to calm down, breathe, and play out how I want to respond in my head. These activities help me to reason. Crazy enough, it totally works for me.

  37. Kristy

    Great post. I used to work for a company that shipped a “kool” kids drink . Sometimes the trucks were unable to deliver as scheduled because of weather, an accident or something else. It was crazy how angry some of the stores would get because of a late delivery. My supervisor would put it into perspective and tell me , “it’s not like we are shipping body parts and someones waiting on a kidney ” . Another co-worker in a different job used to say, “why stress about things you can’t control?”

  38. Gary Parnaby

    Great article on perspective Jon!

    Thank you for the reminder. Have a great day!

  39. This has been my life after cancer diagnosis. I tell people, “I didn’t just receive news that I have a life threatening illness. I think things will be alright.”

  40. perspective is so great! that is how I feel after having cancer…people tell me I am so calm, and want to know how and I just say nothing is problem after going through chemo and radiation and coming to terms with what cancer can mean for a 28 year old…

  41. I spent almost 2 weeks in a hospital (with pneumonia) after my child was born. I was in pain every second from a chest tube. On my worst days, I say, “Well, at least I’m not in the hospital!” It instantly increases my thankfulness.

    Great post, thank you for the reminder!

  42. Tim Harris

    Always an individual with a clear and to the point answer! Bless him!!

  43. Great observation. Great post. I served in the infantry for seven years – four of those as a paratrooper. Spent (invested) six months in Somalia. Joined when I was 19, out at 26. I’m 45 now.

    Nothing that I’ve experienced in civilian life has ever trumped the stress I experienced in Somalia except one… watching my 8 day old son go from sick to cardiac arrest in just four hours followed by open heart surgery to fix an obstructed artery. He is a healthy five year old today!

    A proper perspective keeps me from taking life too seriously.

  44. I like to run to relieve stress. It feels great to just get out the door, listen to some music and put some miles behind me.