Balancing the Stress Account: Advice From Nassim Taleb and a Navy SEAL

“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people, and more useful in general.” ~ Mark Rippetoe. (Thanks Anna)

It’s 0300.  I just woke up and can’t get back to sleep. My shoulder hurts.  The dog is having trouble breathing.  The landlord called yesterday. He wants his apartment back. I have a full plate at work and new projects rolling in. But, that doesn’t keep the bureaucracy, in its stumbling rush toward austerity, from eliminating my position, which means a transfer is in the works. I’ve moved a lot in my life, enough to know that it’s hard work.

Contingency Accounts

I’m lying there awake and I’m a little bit pissed that I’m not taking better care of myself.  The borked shoulder and a joyless mechanical workout program already have me demotivated. TKD is temporarily moved to a less than ideal space, so making excuses for not going is easy. I’m not eating as much as I should. I just don’t have the appetite. Oh, and how is not getting enough sleep going to help?

As I’m gnawing away on this new problem, I remember reading a 2008 interview of Nassim Taleb.  At the beginning of the interview, the reporter explains that every year Taleb puts a few thousand dollars aside for contingencies – parking tickets, tea spills – and at the end of the year he gives what’s left to charity. The money is gone from day one, so unexpected losses cause no pain.

After reading this article, I created a contingency account (with my kids college funds as the charity of choice). Computer melt downs, emergency plumbing bills, unexpected car repairs, all became a lot less stressful, when the money was set aside in advance.

But, tonight I’m thinking of Taleb’s contingency account from a fitness standpoint. I  paid a lot into my fitness account over the last year.  I can’t get the sweat back, it’s already been spent building up reserves of strength.  One reason to build up those reserves is so they are there to pull from when you are sick, recovering from a traumatic injury, or pushing through an unusually stressful period in your life.  This thought reassures me in two ways.  First, I realize that I have the physical strength to get through this. Second, I know that missing the gym while my shoulder heals or because I’m too tired or stressed to go is OK for now.  When my shoulder is healed and my mind is clear, getting back to the gym and rebuilding that account is a priority.

With a Little Help From My Friends

There is another contingency account out there. The friendship account.  Give your friendship freely and it will pay you back when you need it most.  It sounds corny, but it’s true.  At home, in the office, on line.  From the Azores to Austin to Albuquerque to Alaska to Asia to Australia, friends and family came to the forefront. There was a telephone conversation with Mark, an email message from my Dad, chatting with Kevin, a picture posted by Matt, facebook comments from Amber and Anna, and dark chocolate from Kira.  Whether they knew what was going on behind the scenes or not, their support was and is a great source of strength.  This is a reserve account that we tend to forget about and may even neglect, but friendship really makes a difference when fate throws you a hard breaking curve ball.  Early in my career, I went to a very low profile retirement ceremony for a very highly decorated SEAL Master Chief.  He told me: At the end of the day, it’s not the adventures you’ve had or the things you’ve done, it’s the friendships you’ve made that matter most.

So, How Did It Turn Out?

The shoulder’s getting better. The dog’s on Clavamox (worked last time, so fingers crossed it works again).  We’ll ask our real estate agent to start looking for a new apartment. And, after a full court press by folks higher up the food chain than me, promises have been made to fund the position for the next 2 fiscal years (through Sep 2013).  This is long enough for Alex to graduate from high school and time enough for us to plan the next adventure. After a good night’s sleep, I finished this post, and now I’m going to the gym to do squats.


10 responses to “Balancing the Stress Account: Advice From Nassim Taleb and a Navy SEAL

  1. I’m glad things are looking up. What you are saying about emotional, physical, and financial “pre-paid” accounts is so true! I can’t even say how often the comments from someone I’ve met once (or even not at all) prove to be the lift up that I need.
    While you make your plans, if you need to know anything else, just ask. My dad was military so I’ve lived a lot of different places and visited a bunch more. Sometimes getting input from others makes the difference. 🙂

  2. Mental strength learnt from physical strength carries over to every day life. At some point you just make a choice and it becomes mental.

  3. The SEAL Master-chief is right: relationships are what matter the most.

    It’s great to be friends with you, dude 🙂

    Glad to hear some of the stressors in your life are easing up a bit.

    Best wishes!

    • Thanks Kira – Great to be friends with you too.
      I find it’s best to pay attention, whenever a SEAL is talking to you.
      This particular conversation, a long time ago now, has stuck with me.

  4. I’m looking forward to hanging out in Guam. Your friendship means a lot to me. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Your Monthly Moment of Zen # 21 | The Iron Samurai

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