Job stress determined by a handful of factors

In my work role as an employment specialist, I help many different kinds of people find work. There are as many motives for as there are people wanting employment. I help sort out those kinds of issues, while at the same time help them overcome what I term “employability issues.”

What are employability issues? Personal qualities and circumstances that have the potential to disqualify a person from employment. They range from career-limiting criminal convictions, to offensive tattoos, to lack of transportation and much more. The sky’s the limit when it comes to employment-limiting factors.

Many people have more than one issue that could knock them out of the running to answer opportunity’s knock. For instance, the woman who had “F.U.” spelled out in a tattoo across her lower lips. Not exactly what employers are looking for in someone representing their companies, regardless of her

What about the person who lost his/her driver’s license to a drinking problem from which he/she is now recovering? That person may need to rely on an overworked rural transportation to get to work, thereby throwing in an unreliability factor on work arrival time. Legitimate employer concern. Transportation problems may also rule out working certain shifts, as the safety net of family and friends can only stretch so far and is often fraught with holes.

Then there are people with injuries, illnesses and other medical conditions, waving red flags large enough to cover up the true worth of otherwise highly-qualified and dedicated employees. Potential liabilities loom large in the eyes of the hiring beholders.

Particularly during times of economic downturn, work turns into a country club into which it’s difficult to gain membership and its associated privileges. Add to that the emotional frailty of being out of the employment game and knowing you are trying to move a huge rock up a giant hill (within your physician-ordered lifting restrictions) and it’s dauntin

One person I was working with dared utter the universal unspoken fear of those who have been involuntarily job-sidelined, “I know I need to get back to work, but don’t know if I can handle all the pressure. What I need is a low-stress job to gradually get me back on board.” Tall order in a world that expects everyone to hit the ground running.

In an attempt to meet his needs, however futile it might seem, I did an online search for the lowest-stress jobs. According to’s 2015 list of lowest-stress jobs, my client was going to need to switch his line of work from tool and die trade to cosmetology, as hairstylist was deemed the least stressful occupation according to criteria I won’t outline here. Wow. Hairstylists, particularly at franchised hair service places, work their butts off serving a never-ending line of walk-ins.

Because you’re wondering, the rest of the top 10 included audiologist, tenured university professor, medical records technician, jeweler, medical lab technician, seamstress, dietician, librarian and forklift operator. Unlikely low-stress companions, eh? listed the following professions as most stressful: firefighter, enlisted military personnel, military general, airline pilot, police officer, actor, broadcaster, event coordinator, photojournalist and newspaper reporter.

Those in charge of the safety and security of large numbers of people seem to be under the most stress at work. The others work within very limited windows of time. But actors? Well, too darned bad! I struggle to empathize with their high-stress issues.

What makes a job high-stress? According to, which referenced the work of Sir Michael Marmot, author of The Status Syndrome, it’s the following: 1. Little or no control over what you do, when you do it and how you are evaluated; 2. Little or no correspondence between your work efforts and work rewards; 3. Random environments in which things happen over which you have no control; and 4. Not having adequate social support (training, encouragement, caring management, helpful co-workers) in the work environment.

What does this mean to job seekers? Target not just certain jobs, but look for employers that allow for employee input and autonomy, encourage personal investment in work, care about employee needs, lend support to efforts and reward performance. It’s the needle worth finding in the haystack.

Unconventional life ends with beautiful death

Earlier this month a couple dozen freight cars that derailed from a Michigan train made the news. During that same week, our family lost an important connecting piece of the social convoy that has seen us through life. While our relative derailment didn’t make the news, it was a much greater loss.

My aunt Bonnie Smith (aka “Beautiful Bonnie”), age 88, died on March 10th after succumbing to her fourth invasion of cancer. As bladder, kidney and colon cancers hadn’t been enough to do the job, it took a fourth to do her in: stealthy multiple myeloma. The derailed grain cars had been empty, but Aunt Bonnie’s life was full and connected to many others’ lives in our community.

My earliest memories of Aunt Bonnie identified her as some kind of exotic creature: ruby lips and nails; cigarette in one hand, soda in the other; lying in the sun on hot summer days; staying up reading late into the night, then sleeping in; golfing in a league; wearing flashy clothing and jewelry; and driving a cool convertible.

I didn’t know anyone else who had traveled to more than one other continent, or who had a pet monkey in a cage by her stairway. And when the dance music started, Aunt Bonnie didn’t just cut a rug with Uncle Elmer, she shredded it!

This was hardly the behavior of the other neighborhood farm wives. I can’t recall ever seeing Aunt Bonnie in barn boots, bathing a 4-H project animal or baking cookies for the open exhibition class at the county fair. I can’t remember her going to work at a regular job like my mom. But she was a sought-after card and dance partner. Even my compliment-sparing father said so.

Bonnie never aspired to be the kind of woman most other women thought they should be. She did what best fit her personality and didn’t feel pressured to be Susie Homemaker. As her daughter, Micki, eulogized, people were Bonnie’s drug of choice.

Clad in a wardrobe that rivaled Liberace’s, Aunt Bonnie outwardly could be dismissed as shallow. But privately, I knew better. We had some deep life conversations where the outwardly confident “Beautiful Bonnie” expressed self-doubt and wondered if she had done enough for others and where she stood with God.

Had Bonnie had the mother she’d lost at the age of three serving as her foundation in life, she might not have developed the carefree demeanor that attracted so many people to her. She might have grown into a more conventional adulthood with a more typical orientation. But her life path and attachments were different. The impact of being a fun-loving person and gregarious conversationalist are harder to measure than the family contributions of a nurturer or breadwinner.

Uncle Elmer, her hard-working, task-oriented husband of 60 years, struggled with that. One of his favorite pastimes was grousing about Aunt Bonnie to anyone who would listen. After he had passed, Aunt Bonnie told of the day he sputtered a little too much about her not cooking enough, travelling too much, unnecessarily spending money, etc. The typically good-natured Aunt Bonnie finally snapped.

“You want to know what people are saying, Elmer Smith?” she demanded. “They aren’t talking about what a lazy spendthrift I am, they are talking about what a fool you are to have stayed married so long to such a worthless woman.” After that, Uncle Elmer cut back on the criticism.

Aunt Bonnie tried not to hurt anyone’s feelings. She was intuitive and didn’t just read books but read people. If you wanted the low-down on a person or situation, she’d accurately fill you in without mincing words. Sometimes the job of mediating between warring parties fell to her, like the times she and Elmer went on trips with their siblings and friends. When people came close to blows, Bonnie adroitly used her humor to defuse the situation.

That all was laid to rest last week. The only kin left from my dad and his six siblings’ shrinking generation are my mom and Aunt Sharon. As the remaining witnesses to that chapter of Smith family history, they agree Aunt Bonnie’s unique beauty will live on in laughter and memory.


OMG, I missed March 9 – National Panic Day!

As hard as I try to pay attention to my Chase’s calendar to keep up on special designation days, they sometimes pass by me with alarming speed. I can’t keep up with the constant assault of unnecessary information continually coming my way. Occasionally, I have to get off Facebook, Instagram and the Internet in general to take care of non-digital (aka “real”) life in all its non-dramatic splendor. That must be when National Panic Day sneaked past.

My first reaction to having missed it? A sharp intake of breath, followed by a shrill shriek of “OMG, I missed National Panic Day.” My heart beat like crazy, I broke out in a sweat and felt all shaky and nauseous. I was overcome with a sense of dread. My panties bunched up on their own. I couldn’t shake the fear I had lost all control and something really bad was going to happen. In other words, I experienced extreme panic (is there any other kind!?) at missing National Panic Day.

Although I suspected some kind of underground conspiracy at play, I had to acknowledge part of this might have been due to my inability to locate my “Keep Calm and Drink Coffee” insulated travel mug. Granted, the concept is an oxymoron, as caffeine is one of the first things complainers of anxiety are instructed to remove from their diets, but at least the “keep calm” sentiment showed positive expectancy.

The original “keep calm and carry on” phrase spoofed by the mug was uttered by that 20th Century king of calm, Winston Churchill, who remained unflinching before his country and the world during the extreme adversity experienced during WWII. If calm was good enough for Churchill, it should suit me fine.

Overall, I’m not a reactionary person, especially in the workplace, where I know no good will come of flying off the handle or into a tizzy. I’ve kept my cool through personnel casualties, program failures, budget shortfalls, resource droughts and logistical nightmares; however, I’m much more likely to be reactive when I am at home and it’s my personal property or finances on the line. For instance, when someone recently left on an iron upstairs and it melted through a hard plastic file box and would have caused a fire had I not accidentally discovered it. Churchill might have melted down along with me on that one.

If that were classified as panicking, I certainly chose the right day. It happened March 9: National Panic Day. The folks at foresaw my right to panic:

“Imagine a whole day devoted to what most of us do every morning, at least Monday to Friday. With deadlines looming, alarm clocks failing and traffic jamming, panic comes naturally, yet we’re expected to quell out natural urges, take a deep breath and carry on regardless. No more! Panic Day is the day to let rip and succumb to the terror, giving free reign to this much suppressed emotion. Flap your arms and scream, run around in circles if it helps, or just stay in bed quivering with your head under the pillow.”

It’s tempting, isn’t it, to either hide or totally lose your head to circumstances. As we approach the one-year anniversary of my then 13-year-old daughter’s devasting heart infection, stroke and related medical fallout, I can recall the ongoing temptation to drown in swirling adversity.

What’s the difference between adversity and plain, old crappy circumstances? It’s when we allow fear to infiltrate an unfortunate situation. In the words of the late New York writer Christian Nevell Bovee (1820-1904), “Panic is a sudden desertion of us, and a going over to the enemy of our imagination,” Bovee was considered an epigrammatic writer, someone who observed interesting truths with sarcasm or wit.

Like the dead guy said, there’s no greater enemy than what our thoughts can generate. However, just when I most want to kill or somehow exorcise my imagination, I realize another option: Psalm 55:22 (NIV), “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you: he will never let the righteous be shaken.”

Now “all” I’ve got to do is work on the righteous part. I’ll get right on that. Heaven, help me.

Fair brings out people’s interesting backsides

Last week I got to engage in some of the best people-watching this side of the Mississippi. There’s nothing like the county fair for a slice of American pie that’s likely to go straight to the hips. And by the looks of many of the people I saw at the Branch County Fair, that process had already been in place for some time.

A LOT GOING ON – This Branch County fairgoer couldn’t decide which she wanted to showcase the most: Her flesh, her tattoos, her bra straps or that nifty black lace wife- beater. So she fell back on the redneck adage, “When in doubt, let it all hang out!”

I’m not singling out Branch County. To be fair, you see the same at every fair. It’s one thing to read about Americans becoming fatter, but it’s much more graphic to witness it up close and personal. Large scale (double pun intended). Unbound. Literally.

What happens when Midway rides go by the wayside because the cars are too small to accommodate the average American backside: Too much bumper to fit into our bumper cars? Has anyone given that serious thought? While not on par with global warming, global waist expansion does no one any favors.

I could hardly choke down my three-dollar cup of French fries while staring at the hind quarters of the woman overflowing from the stool at the nearby Democrats’ eat stand. She was sadly in need of, under her pair of stretched-to-the-max pants, a pair of the wedgie-free underwear I recently wrote about. I thought about doing an underwear intervention, but hadn’t carried with me a spare pair for evangelizing, Gideon-Bible style, fashion salvation through cellulite containment.

So I had to settle for entertainment. Value, that is. I started snapping photos. For later study. That’s what I do when I’m having trouble believing what’s before my eyes. It’s also how I prove to family and friends that I actually saw some of the things I actually saw! The same cynical thought always comes to mind when I encounter 10 pounds of person stuffed into a five-pound outfit: Doesn’t that person own a mirror?!

I mean, when I get ready to go somewhere, I make sure what I am about it wear is laundered, in good repair, and somewhat fits. Some people must be far busier than I am, because they omit that crucial grooming step. Or maybe there’s not a mirror in the barn in which they live. But that’s no excuse. I have it on good authority that a full-length mirror can be had for the C-store price of a pack of cigarettes and a large energy drink. Much better use of their energy and money.

If I’m going to err, it’s on the side of too loose, versus too tight. An indicator a pair of pants is too tight is if you start to feel light-headed within five minutes of putting them on. For men, the rule of thumb is that if you can’t fit your thumb in the waistband of your pants in front or if your hand gets caught under your gut while performing the thumb test, your pants are too tight to wear in public. And if more than a thumb’s length of butt crack is showing in back even BEFORE bending over, you may want to reconsider . . . . well, a lot of things.

I haven’t addressed female cleavage yet. It will suffice to say more is less, as in lesser life forms devoid of Maidenforms. It’s amazing how many women these days seem to feel fully dressed without a bra. Bra humbug! To the unenlightened, bras and panties are known as “foundation” garments, and therefore they should be the first thing you put on when building an outfit. They should not be the first thing you take off when desiring to travel more easily through life. Although the easy part fits.

Before I leave the house, I take a last-minute self-inspect in the mirror. If too much of me showing in any of the wrong places, I change into something else. It’s one thing to wear skimpy, tan-capturing clothing while I’m riding the lawnmower in my own yard, but I need to fight the urge to take my immodesty to the street, akin to street-walking.

Second-hand smoke has long been considered a public health threat. What about the threat of exposure to visually-disturbing American body parts?  Enough said. Too much seen.

Daylight savings time means sleep bankruptcy

I am not looking forward to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, for when the clocks are advanced an hour it always spells personal setback for me. During “regular” time, I cherish my awakening naturally at 4 AM and spending quiet time reading, meditating, journaling and talking to God.

All that changes when The Mitten messes with the clock. I lose a naturally occurring hour of bliss to the mysterious authorities that control Michigan’s Daylight Savings Time participation. It yanks me straight from “Be still and know that I am God” into “weekday rat race” mode, proclaimed by the going off of an annoying alarm. Annoying doesn’t even scratch the surface.

Speaking of annoying, I can still hear Grandma Smith, who never had to commute anywhere or to punch a time clock, cheerfully announcing, “Spring forward, fall back.” Like a town crier, she mistakenly believing it was her duty to warn everyone they’d better remember to move those clock hands, or else!

Or else what? Just as there are Seventh-Day Adventist churches that celebrate the Sabbath beginning on Friday night because of a different interpretation of the Holy Bible, I wonder if there are pockets of conscientious objectors against Daylight Savings Time or “DST” – people who peacefully refuse to adjust their clocks and continue to function on regular time the entire year. That could get interesting. Somebody please try it and let me know how it goes for you.

Which time is the “real” time? What we observe during the late fall and winter months. The term “Daylight Savings Time” describes the advancing of the time one hour ahead during the summer (actually during the spring, summer and early fall) months so that the evening daylight can be experienced longer, thus allowing more business and activities to be conducted after traditional working hours.

Historically, Daylight Savings Time also reduced the duration incandescent lighting was needed in the evening, which amounted to a small cost savings, but a savings, nonetheless. And who doesn’t like a bargain?!

Even with those tangible benefits, there is a downside to Daylight Savings Time. Even with my non-scientific background, I can offer anecdotal evidence that moving around the time cramps my circadian rhythms. My body’s inability to “change with the times” leaves me feeling exhausted and short-tempered. DST springs sleep-deprivation on a lot of us.

I prefer the DST acronym, as I believe the practice of moving the clock backward and forward is a Destructively Stressful Tactic (DST). I came up with that nearly 25 years ago, when I was living in southern most Michigan, working as a waitress at an Indiana state park just over the state line. Doing business in Indiana was tough during the time of year Michigan was on a different time. There’s nothing quite as odd as leaving for work at 6:15 AM, only to arrive there at 15 minutes later, at 5:30 AM.

Technically, I guess I can claim to have participated in time travel. It’s maybe the only benefit I have derived from Daylight Savings Time. Animals have it considerably better. Our cats and dogs simply adjust their napping schedules. Boo hoo! On some dairy farms, the milkers have learned to gradually introduce the time change in 10-15 minute intervals over a period of days to help the cows’ bodies adjust to the change. But we humans are just supposed to suck it up. Overnight.

At first I thought I was just imagining my negative sensations regarding Daylight Savings Time. But then I read the November 2015 issue of “Sleep Review” magazine, where editor Sree Roy wrote that Daylight Savings Time negatively affects human feelings and behavior. Her conclusion? “The time change risks outweigh any perceived rewards.”

Roy cites a study that links DST “spring forward” to heart attacks. In the same editorial, Roy shares that “fall back” studies indicate an increase in traffic accidents. I almost keeled over reading that information. Another potential casualty. Time changes also increase the incidence of sleep deprivation among our already sleep-deprived adolescents.

DST should be eliminated in Michigan, if not for my peace of mind, for our collective health. Whoever’s in charge of the system must be asleep on the job.

Wrestling with ignorance about wrestling

This was our family’s second year of having two wrestlers. We spent a lot of nights and Saturdays at wrestling events. It was easier the previous year, with both kids on the same middle school wrestling team. It was tougher this year, going in opposite directions on different school level teams.

Connor Parma Wrestling Pin

Despite two years of watching my kids wrestle, I remain largely ignorant of how the sport works. So I just yell “Go, Connor.”

Connor wrestles because it challenges him personally and is competitive, although he initially took up the sport because he doesn’t care for basketball, the other winter sport. Kate wrestles because it’s fiercely physical and she enjoys seeing the shock on people’s faces when she says she wrestles. Moreso, she likes hanging out with other wrestlers.

I like wrestling because it’s based on strength and tenacity, two qualities that will serve a wrestler well, no matter what he/she ends up wrestling with later in life. Growing up, I never considered wrestling, as I always played basketball. Although quick, I was not especially strong. I would not have been competitive at wrestling. I therefore had no interest in it.

Plus, basketball is much more straightforward. I have never been smart enough to figure out how wrestling works. You might think that after two years’ exposure, I might have gained a little knowledge about it. You’d be wrong! With the exception of bowling and golf, I do not get game rules. It takes me forever to understand the fundamentals, let alone internalize them. Anyone who has played Euchre with me can vouch for that.

“What suit is trump? Are those clubs or spades? What do you mean both bowers are trump? What’s a bower? Why do you call them bowers when they are jacks? Remind me, what suit is trump? Oh, spades? Those black, upside down hearts with stems?” Each time I play Euchre, I need the rules re-explained to me.

Bidding also baffles. I could have the ultimate hand and not know that I should opt to “go it alone,” whatever that means. Someone accused me of reneging, but quickly recognized I was just stupid. You can see why no one allows me to keep score. It’s safer if I don’t. The people who can do it using just a five-spot and another card atop it amaze me – like a magician’s trick! All this to say I come by my wrestling ignorance naturally.

If a spaceship landed outside a high school gymnasium where a wrestling meet was in progress and aliens walked inside and threatened to abduct me unless I explained wrestling to them, I would probably just surrender on the spot to save time. But if they pressed me for an answer, I would struggle to say something pathetic like this:

“There are two people from different teams, but the same weight who start out in the middle of the mat, face one another and then grab at one another and grapple around the mat until one manages to put the other on his/her back. They have three, two-minute time periods to achieve that, but even if they don’t, they can still earn points along the way for various things they do to the other person or manage to get out of, themselves. Just don’t ask me what those things are.” Clear as mud, right?! Euchre all over again.

Hopefully, the aliens could not communicate well enough to ask any follow-up questions that I could not answer, which would be just about anything beyond that. “Also, there are take-downs, escapes and reversals,” I might add, “All things that can gain a person points, by being either the aggressor or the successful escape artist. Just don’t ask me what those things are, either. But it’s worth more points if you not only escape, but come back and put your opponent into bondage.”

On a roll, I would explain that if one of the wrestlers does something illegal to his/her opponent, the other person gets a point. I would recommend the yelling of neutral, encouraging phrases, such as “Go Connor,” or “You can do it, Kate” to avoid revealing one’s ignorance of wrestling specifics or giving bad advice. Then I would shut up to honor my limitations. Let’s face it, I don’t know jack (or should I say “bower”?) about wrestling!

Out of sight beats eaten out of house, home

A childless friend stopped by while I was taking care of groceries. She asked where my kids were. I explained they were at their dad’s house, making it safe to both grocery shop and to take care of the grocery items.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, struggling to understand. “You don’t grocery shop or take care of groceries with kids present?” Exactly. I can’t afford to take them along. It’s something only a fellow parent can grasp.

As teens, my son and daughter store-tease far more aggressively than they did when they were younger. They put unsolicited items into the cart and second-guess my basic need purchases in order to appropriate more money toward their wants. The “I will die if you don’t buy Cereal X” drama of yesteryear has been replaced with nasty “Y”/whys regarding the purchases I do make.

If that’s not enough, they disappear within stores, which turn intended brief shopping trips into extended excursions that may necessitate also stopping and eating somewhere we can’t afford. Trust me, I know the drill. It’s why I avoid taking them.

While I typically don’t give in to their demands, I get tired of slapping away their mosquito-like requests that turn into vulture-type dive bombs. It’s annoying to watch their lobbying for expensive, convenience-type items and trying to convince me ice cream treats are some of God’s lesser-known Promises.

The last time I made the mistake of taking my children to a big box grocery store was in another town between two Saturday activities. They split in opposite directions while I was getting a grocery cart. There’s no stopping a dual force of teenage nature like that! I’m guessing Kate headed in the direction of electronics or makeup, while Connor went to sporting goods. All I knew for sure was odds were not good of being able to find them when it was time to leave.

But surprise, Connor showed back up only 20 minutes into my shopping, standing smiling at the end of my grocery cart. I should have immediately become suspicious, like I did as soon as he said, “Come here, I want to show you something.” Every seasoned parent knows “show you something” is code for “I expect you to buy this for me.”

I stalled by finishing in the grocery area before venturing into the store’s evil “other stuff” domain. The object of Connor’s desire was a $20 accordion-file notebook thingy that he swore up and down was the answer to all his academic problems, up to and including the executive-functioning issues that have plagued him since pre-school.

I immediately vetoed the Lexus-level organizer, but ended up purchasing something Focus-adequate for approximately one-third of the cost, which was probably his intended outcome. And so it goes, more money going out than coming in, with my son’s executive-functioning abysmally unchanged.

Mine, however, has gone out the window, nowhere evidenced more than as I return to my second opening point: the hiding of solo grocery store trip purchases from the clutches of locust-hungry teens.

Many parents of teens fear leaving them home alone, unsupervised, of concern they will have friends over with whom they will smoke, drink or have sex. I feel somewhat safe in that respect, as it would require my kids to put down their electronic devices, get off the couch and detour from their snacking, ranging from pilfering pepperoni from the freezer, chocolate chips from the baking drawer and individually-packaged lunch potato chips from the pantry, washed down with soda purposed for on-the-go occasions; hence my hiding tactics.

Recently, I bought a small case of Klondike bars (24 bars total) at Sam’s Club, an unaccustomed indulgence. But where to hide them? The last time I bought a single package of six, Connor sneakily ate three of them within 24 hours. The outdoor grill seemed ideal, for they protest having to light it. Great solution! Until the January temperatures rose to the 40’s. Uh oh! Klondikes got deep-sixed into the garbage.

“That was really stupid, Mom,” said my son. So I got more organized and hid the lunch chip stash somewhere much more crafty, somewhere he’ll never, ever look: under his bed.

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