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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

AUG 03, Sec. II

Main Essay:  II

The second and closing segment of this "Resilience and Rejection" series provides five more strategic steps, focusing on:  a) a self-directed, four-step prevention or recovery plan, b) balancing and channeling feedback, and c) finding outside sources of support.  Are you ready to discover "The Secret of Wisdom?"

Resilience and the Art of Rejecting Rejection:  Part II
Final Five of the Stress Doc's "Top Ten" Rejection Busters

The first segment of this two-part series on "Resilience and Rejection" highlighted five key strategies:  1) Embracing the Journey, 2) Distinguishing Rejection Regression from Burnout Blues, 3) Diversifying Efforts, Results, and Revenue Streams, 4) Getting Out of the Be All and End All Box, and 5) Coming to Grips with Commercial Virtuality and Cyber Reality.  The Bright Side ™ http://www.the-bright-side.org/ and the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) requested the series for their publication, The Score.  Many SCL members are freelancers who are frequently confronted by rejection on proposals and projects.  Let's forge ahead with the second-half blueprint for experiencing, integrating, and rebounding from rejection -- The Healing Art of Rejecting Rejection:  VI-X:

6.  The Four "R"s of Rejection Recovery:  Running, Reading, Retreating, and Writing. 
After seriously burning out and being encouraged to leave permanently a doctoral program -- talk about big time rejection -- through trial and error, I evolved a four-step program for recovery.  This program commenced after a couple of months of grieving and licking my mind-body and ego wounds.  (See Part I for more information on grief and recovery.)  Here are those "Four 'R's":
a) Running.  After regaining my energy and balance, I started a regimen of daily jogging.  First, thirty-forty minutes of nonstop large muscle movement (jogging, brisk walking, cycling, swimming, etc.) will get those disposition-enhancing endorphins pumping.  The chemical influx helps slow a racing mind and helps lift a sluggish mood.  Also, running or jogging is great for grounding you when feeling vulnerable or when life feels uncertain and up in the air.  There's a beginning and end point, with a tangible sense of control and accomplishment.  This routine can readily evolve into a success ritual, a vital tool in the prevention and recovery from "R & B" -- "Rejection & the Blues."  (And other "R"s, such as "reading" and "writing" can also be used as noncompetitive success rituals.)

b) Reading.  In some of my darkest hours I turn to humorous novels to add some absurdity, if not levity to my perspective.  I also call on humor for those endorphins.  (Hearty laughter has been likened to a psychic vibrator, giving vital organs a brief but vigorous internal massage.)  Two selections were critical during my post-dissertation meltdown, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, and Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth.  As the erosive effects of burnout had spiraled, my laughter, energy, and humorous mindset had withered.  How wonderful it was to laugh again.  These books also helped me chuckle at the irrationality of my own outrageous egoal quest.  Self-accepting laughter is a great antidote to shame.  What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master...or a doctoral student.  And my academic Waterloo gradually became okay.

c) Retreating.  Common associations of the word "retreat," especially in a military or competitive context, are not so positive.  However, the word can also mean finding a refuge or sanctum.  This quiet, safe haven mutes the psychic static; you can tend to wounds and reflect on your current situational and existential upheavals.  Now listen for inner voices affirming the essence of who you are.  Here one discovers or, at least, realizes the need for a higher power -- a spiritual and communal connection with nature, humanity or, perhaps, a kindred spirit, as well as with the great transcendent mystery.

After my academic meltdown, I needed time to reflect on this ego- and identity-shattering process.  I realized my essential nature was not well suited to academia.  The key existential biggies:  Who was I?  What were my skills, gifts, and talents?  What were my emotional, knowledge, and learning gaps?  What direction(s) and what enterprises really felt like me?  The blank canvas is scary.  There's no absolute way or preexisting structure.  The blank canvas is exciting.  There's no absolute truth or preexisting limits.  To paraphrase Walt Whitman:  Follow the open road and discover or recover your soul.

d) Writing.  Reflective writing can be a source of rejection recovery -- a tool for healing, understanding, and action, as well as a medium for keeping the faith.  Journaling through angst and loss is a time-honored tradition.  And contemporary research indicates that taking the time to express and analyze emotions through writing provides a stress-relieving anchor in a stormy, troubled sea.

And one of my favorite ways to prepare for serious writing is by reading.  Reading for enlightenment followed the abovementioned lighthearted variety.  After my academic meltdown, I started devouring books about burnout, and then began to write about it.  Initially, I played burnout battlefront correspondent, detailing the perspectives of a client and a friend who were doing daily battle in the legal fields.  In reality, the words were a transparent disguise of my recent blood, sweat, and tears.  But channeling post-traumatic energy into essays, and shortly later, into university teaching (a course on Crisis Intervention; been there, done that) sparked some serious career reappraisal.  Two new career components were consolidating -- professional speaking and writing.  This academic lemon would make lemonade by becoming an expert on stress and burnout...and spread the word far and wide.  (Obviously, once an egoal-driven narcissist.…;-)

7.  Embracing Feedback:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. 
As a writer and presenter, but especially as a speaker and workshop leader, evaluatory feedback seemingly becomes my contextual reality, "The Matrix," if you will, in which I live.  And, of course, I love when evals are effusive, no matter how ephemeral or illusory.  My neurotic beasts still periodically hunger for and need feeding and stroking.

Ironically, those demons are much less demanding when I'm convinced of the excellence of my oral or written work.  It's when I've put in much blood, sweat, and tears and still haven't sufficiently connected with the audience, nor won them over, despite my seemingly best efforts, that the performance angst begins.  If there's a gap between my high expectations and a not so high realization, and I stay open, then the feedback can be acutely painful.  And this gap between the ideal and actual does not have to be gaping.  Of course, reflexively, I just don't want to hear or read any negatives, especially if my heart and guts lined the performance project.

Yet, it almost always is to my advantage to engage emotionally and intellectually with the critiques and criticisms.  However, distance may be needed -- some time to withdraw from my post-performance raw and/or exhausted psychic state -- before critical emersion. 

There's a balance; too detached or callused and I blunt the needed openness and honest self-scrutiny if this feedback process is to be a growing pains experience.  So far I've devised two balancing act strategies:
1) Recognize Painful & Proud Motivation -- take in and digest the feedback other than when exhausted but when still having some ego-sensitive edginess and vulnerability.  The feedback dissonance combined with punctured (as opposed to fully blown out) pride heightens the agitation but also the determination to shake up the puzzle and my perspective, and
2) Flow with Mid-Night Madness -- now I'm ready to act and design, the stage or canvas often being my bed in the middle of the night.  I'm definitely in an altered state.  The key is to go with the restless and roiling flow.  With pad and pencil in hand (I still like to do sketching and drafting the old-fashioned way), ideas start tumbling and challenging my preexisting framework.  I'm compelled to forge more meaningful -- inherent, elegant, and newly conceived -- relationships among the key project components.  Focused midnight angst is almost always a process of transmutation:  unexpectedly occurring in the bed and then springing out of the box.

And when harnessing the critical feedback and achieving a richer synthesis, one has transcended rejection and brought to life my aforementioned poetic mantra.  While cited in Part I, it is worth repeating.  These lines are my foundation for expansion as an artist:

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire.

8.  Discriminating Feedback. 
Now it's time to counterbalance the previous section and to scrutinize the objectivity of the feedback source.  As one who appreciates contradiction and the double-edged quality of life, now let's talk about separating the feedback wheat from the chaff.  That is, when are assessments, suggestions, or decisions more a reflection of the critic's personal state or political stage than a reasonable, rational, or accurate evaluation of your contribution, product, or performance?

A recent experience comes to mind.  As a member of a hospitality association's Communications Committee, I've been producing near monthly newsletter columns.  Last month, the committee chair called:  "I would like you to take a sabbatical from column writing."  When I asked why, he replied:  "We (most likely also the Vice-Chair) feel that The Chatter has become the Mark Gorkin Newsletter."

Taken aback by his assessment, which I experienced as a fairly pointed judgment, I didn't question where he was really coming from.  Somewhat stunned and feeling wounded, survival instincts came to the fore:  I tried bartering for a quarterly column.  The conversation ended with a vague, "we'll see."

I knew the effort and quality of the work, as well as the column's uncommon perspective with my being a therapist, speaker, consultant, and "psychohumorist" ™.  In fact, last fall, the association president had a made a point of telling me personally about the positive comments she was receiving regarding the newsletter's upgrade in "professional" content.

A week had gone by and this recent turn of events was still gnawing within.  (I was ambivalent about confronting the chair head on because of his industry clout.)  Then, fortunately, I mentioned my newly downsized columnist status with an Executive Director of another association.  As an aside, we had recently connected for the first time after this director read one of my Chatter pieces.  She had sent an email stating that my article, "Managing Fear in Tension-Filled Times," was great; she also had shared it with her staff.

Anyway, the punch line here is simple.  Upon hearing of my displacement, with utmost conviction, this exec uttered two words:  "They're jealous!"  And suddenly, the clouds lifted; it dawned on me that she was likely on target.  While other members produced regular, if not monthly columns, my articles usually wound up on the publication's front page.  As the only "professional" writer, others perhaps felt overshadowed or crowded out.

Ultimately, I decided to leave the association for one that I believe will yield more business prospects.  But that's not the bottom line message of this tale.  The real moral is this:  in the face of rejection, find a knowledgeable and dispassionate feedback source.  Let this individual help you:  a) discern psychological and personal motivations, b) affirm your essence and the quality of your effort, and c) discriminate subjective from objective judgments.  Such a stress buddy is definitely an asset in the battle of resilience over rejection.

9.  Participating in Counseling or a Support Group.  Wouldn't it be nice if rejections and hostile or dismissive messages were confined to external sources?  If only the need for resilience was in response to face-to-face "constructive criticism."  Or, that one only had to construct an antiballistic defense to ward off those electronic, impulsively aggressive, esteem-seeking e-missiles thinly disguised as e-mails.  (And speaking of disguised and disingenuous, how often does "constructive criticism" really mean:  "By putting you down I build myself up"?  And this aphorism has its complement in the defensive posture of some "strong silent types":  "For me to be strong, you must be silent.")

Alas, the rejection problem is not just "out there"; too often it arises within.  Self-doubt, shame, and inordinate fear of failure (or success) can be our own self-imposed and self-directed WMD -- "Weapons of Mass Dysfunction."

Trials, Tribulations, and Small Triumphs:  Counseling Option

The first tale of self-defeat involves a trial lawyer; I'll call him Bob.  This attorney was struggling with performance anxiety in the courtroom.  Bob would attempt a bold opening display for the judge and jury.  Invariably, after a couple of minutes, the high stress had the papers in his hand transforming into a fluttering white flag right before his mind's eye.  As the trial progressed, Bob would become preoccupied with a juror's "negative" facial expression or body movement.  His anxiety kept spiraling, as would the self-abusing monologue:  "I'm such a wimp for getting so anxious."

Bob's problematic coping strategy was donning rigid armor and trying to use aggression to cover up his vulnerable self-esteem and low threshold for feeling ashamed.  Clearly, this maneuver proved to be a performance barrier.  Equally disruptive was Bob not understanding that a healthy dose of anxiety purposefully directed helps fuel high performance.  And he didn't appreciate performance process:  starting safely, getting into a rhythm, and building to a strong finish.  (Okay, there are exceptions, like the opening of Beethoven's Fifth.)  And we may as well throw a perfectionist mind set into the dysfunctional mix.  (Would anyone be surprised to learn that Bob had strongly internalized the judgmental voice of a rigidly controlling, alcoholic father?)

Resilience building followed suit:
a) use a safe and secure opening; (Olympic skaters don't start a routine doing a triple axel),
b) reframe an optimal level of performance anxiety as high octane fuel and not a sign of personal weakness,
c) try deep breathing and refocusing to counter a tendency for becoming preoccupied with particular jurors; be more selective regarding courtroom attention, and
d) differentiate authority figures, that is, the judge is not necessarily a judgmental father.

And the final intervention occurred when Bob exclaimed, with too much intensity, "If I can just master what we've discussed, I'll be successful."  Sensing his perfectionist performance knot tightening, I quickly replied:  "Try to let go of the end results for a moment, and stay with the process; see if you can create a more relaxed rhythm and flow."  Bob gradually became more self-accepting; he reversed his relentless downward cycle.  And his words still ring as a testament to our work:  "If I get nothing else out of this therapy, it will have been worth it."

Building a Stage for Becoming a Rapper:  Support Group Option

Years back, with the encouragement of a gospel radio host, I tried my hand at some rap-like lyrics for a black beauty contest called "Electrifying Lady."  (It was an impressive, albeit unsuccessful, effort.  If curious, email stressdoc@aol.com for the lyrics.)  I'll skip the details and simply report that one morning, lying in bed in a twilight state, I mused:  "Mark you've been a university professor and a psychotherapist…What are you doing trying to write rap lyrics?"  And suddenly that blazing "aha" had me popping straight up:  "Of course, you're into 'Shrink Rap' ™."

And with this robust concept, in a matter of days, I had whipped out some lyrics that were to be among my most popular raps.  However, writing was one thing; performing these "Shrink Raps" in public initially proved more performance strain than stretching out of a comfort zone.  I did not appreciate or acknowledge the richness of this concept, neither its full meaning nor its creative spark.  Then, too, professional self-consciousness was suppressing a capacity for playful absurdity.

Fortunately, at the time, I was in an Artists Support Group.  First, the group was a forum for reciting new works; then it became a stage for performing the double-edged -- humorous yet serious -- raps with unconventional style.  Second, and most important, these edge-dwellers helped me out of a constricted self-image box.  My colleagues assured me that acting in a silly or, even a ridiculous, fashion had a noble artistic tradition, especially when a work had layers of meaning.  (So I progressively added a Blues Brothers hat, black sunglasses, and a black tambourine to my performance attire.  See a picture on my home page -- www.stressdoc.com.)

I began to understand how using humor to poke good-natured fun at oneself can win over an audience.  While an audience may initially laugh at you, eventually, they come to admire your courage and self-assurance.  And you're helping them not be so critical of their own flaws and foibles.  Gradually, I came to swim and thrive in the paradoxical wellspring of "Shrink Rap" -- a thoughtful clinician delivering a "seriously funny" message with outrageous style.  Now, when performing in this rap-id-flow state, rejection is the farthest thing from my head and heart.

10.  Evolving, Discovering Serenity, and "The Secret of Wisdom." 
To use the Old West metaphor, the essence of resilience is "getting back in the saddle" after one has been thrown.  And you don't always have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps.  While self-motivation is vital, the ability to reach out helps you survive rejection, gain new perspective, stay the course and, eventually, enables you to grow and reach those high performance goals.

Akin to a speaking presentation, for our "Rejection to Resilience" finale, let's go inspirational (with a humorous edge, of course).  Consider these uplifting sources -- a scientist's bio-philosophical discovery, a spiritual prayer, and a paradoxical story, as well as a final Stress Doc passage.  Let's start with the scientific pioneer, Jonas Salk, renowned for groundbreaking work in developing a polio vaccine.  His rejection-buster and resilience-builder has a hopeful and elegant simplicity: 

Evolution is about getting up one more time than we fall down, being courageous one more time than we are fearful...trusting one more time than being anxious.

And along with a sense of persistence, everyday struggle, and an appreciation for even small triumphs is the need for serenity:  "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know where to hide the bodies."  No...Just kidding.  ;-)  "And the wisdom to know the difference."  And the older I get, the more profound "The Serenity Prayer" seems.  Yet, a fundamental question remains:  how the heck do you get the wisdom?  Okay, folks.  Here it is...The Secret of Wisdom.

Once there was a young woman who heard that an old wise woman had the secret of wisdom.  The young woman was determined to track the old woman down.  After traveling many months, the young woman found the old woman in a cave.  She entered and addressed the old woman:  "Old Wise Woman, I hear you have The Secret of Wisdom.  Would you share it with me?  The old woman looked at the youth and said, "Yes, you seem sincere.  The Secret of Wisdom is good judgment."  "Good judgment, of course," said the youth, thanked her mentor, and started to leave.  However, as she got to the entrance of the cave she paused, turned back and said, "Old Woman, I feel funny, but, if I may ask, how does one obtain good judgment?"  "That's a good question," said the sage.  "One obtains good judgment through experience."  "Experience, of course," said the young seeker, and proceeded to leave.  But once again she stopped in her tracks, and humbly walked back to her mentor.  "Old Woman," said the young woman, "I feel foolish, but I have to ask:  How does one obtain experience?"  The old woman paused, nodded her head and then proceeded:  "Now you have reached the right question.  How does one obtain experience?. . .Through bad judgment!"

Errors of judgment rarely mean incompetence; they more likely reveal inexperience or immaturity, perhaps even boldness.  Our so-called "failures" can be channeled as guiding streams (sometimes raging rivers) of opportunity and experience that ultimately enrich -- widen and deepen -- the risk-taking passage...If we can just immerse ourselves in the these unpredictably rejuvenating waters.

This two-part series has posited ten strategies for "Resilience and the Art of Rejecting Rejection":
Part I:  1) Embracing the Journey, 2) Distinguishing Rejection Regression from Burnout Blues, 3) Diversifying Efforts, Results, and Revenue Streams, 4) Getting Out of the Be All and End All Box, and 5) Coming to Grips with Commercial Virtuality and Cyber Reality, and

Part II:  6) The Four "R"s of Rejection Recovery:  Running, Reading, Retreating, and Writing, 7) Embracing Feedback:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, 8) Discriminating Feedback, 9) Participating in Counseling or a Support Group, and 10) Evolving, Discovering Serenity, and "The Secret of Wisdom."

Hopefully, we've provided skills and strategies for turning situational rejection into dispositional resilience; and words for helping us all...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™,
an international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker, training consultant, psychotherapist, syndicated writer, and upcoming author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression.  Mark, recently interviewed by BBC Radio, has a multi-award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- cited as workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad Bosses".  As AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ the Doc runs his weekly Shrink Rap and Group Chat.  Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.  Finally, Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ --
www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource.  Email for his monthly newsletter recently showcased on List-a-Day.com.  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

Readers' Submissions

Subj: Word Games 
From:  Momb7

The Washington Post, in its annual Style Invitational, invites readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it  was your money to start with.
2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating.  The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking  down in the near future.
4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially  impotent for an indefinite period.
6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic with and the person who  doesn't get it.
8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes,  right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally  walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at  three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Subj: Wise Sayings By Wise Men
From: MDodick

A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always
depend on the support of Paul.
         George Bernard Shaw

Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people
in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
         Douglas Casey

Giving money and power to government is like giving
whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
         P.J. O'Rourke

Government is the great fiction, through which everybody
endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
         Frederic Bastiat

I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the facts.
         Will Rogers

If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
         P.J. O'Rourke

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
         Pericles (430 B.C.)

No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.
         Mark Twain (1866)

Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.
         Mark Twain

The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings.
The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
         Winston Churchill

The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
         Mark Twain

We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
         Winston Churchill

What this country needs is more unemployed politicians.
         Edward Langley


Heads Up:

1.  Ladies Home Journal, Aug 2003, "Ending the Stress Epidemic," p.122-129
by Lisa Collier Cool

Stress Doc Contribution:

Live on the Light Side.  There's a reason for the Dilbert cartoons tacked up in office cubicles everywhere.  "Stepping back and poking fun at ourselves -- or the ridiculous side of the situation we're in -- helps regain perspective," says Washington, D.C. psychotherapist Mark Gorkin.  "And laughing enhances mood and counteracts stress."  Gorkin, who offers stress reduction seminars, often asks participants to draw a cartoon of what's making them stressed out.  If your workload is too heavy, you might sketch a picture of yourself with bloodthirsty sharks circling your desk, he says.  "It's liberating and defusing to draw out your anger and frustration on paper."

Ms. Collier Cool adds:

A 2002 study at Loma Linda University. in California, proved that humor is such good therapy that even anticipating watching a funny video later in the week was enough to lower cortisol by 39 percent [a chemical which helps us recover from the "fight" coping response] and decrease adrenaline by an average of 70 percent in the 16 volunteers, while boosting feel-good endorphins by 27 percent.  So, plan to giggle as you watch Friends tonight -- and you'll feel calmer right now.

2.  News 8 Austin | 24 Hour Local News | Web Sightings

Hello StressDoc:

Just saw your website highlighted on "News8Austin" (the 24 x 7 local news station on cable.  They have a section where people submit their favorite website).

(Ed. note:  Website was "sighted" on July 26th.  See promo below.)

(And in a follow-up email, Ken wrote:  They gave the URL and showed several pages from the website.  They gave your bio and told what was on the site.  www.news8austin.com .)

Checked out your site and liked what I saw.

Unemployed in a down market, 4 kids including a newborn, burning financial resources ...... shouldn't be any stress here (ha-ha).  Interestingly, a friend said yesterday that he thought I was handling everything really well ...... and my blood pressure has actually dropped 20 points since before the layoff.  But I diverge ....
Please add me to your mailing list.
Best Regards,

Click here: News 8 Austin | 24 Hour Local News | Web Sightings

Web Sightings for July 2003

Stress Doc Air Date: 7/26/2003  


Mark Gorkin is internationally known as the "Stress Doc." He's also known as "America Online's "Online Psychohumorist.” For more than 20 years, he’s been an organizational development consultant as well as a popular multimedia humorist.