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?"
and the Art of Rejecting Rejection: Part II
Final Five of the Stress Doc's "Top Ten" Rejection Busters
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.
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
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?
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,
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.
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
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
d) differentiate authority figures, that is, the judge is not necessarily a
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 --
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
This two-part series has posited ten strategies for "Resilience and the Art of
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,
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."
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 ™
-- 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 email@example.com or call
Subj: Word Games
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
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
4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an
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.
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.
Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a
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:
Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
Wise Sayings By Wise Men
A government which robs Peter to pay
Paul can always
depend on the support of Paul.
George Bernard Shaw
aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people
in rich countries to rich people in poor
Giving money and power to government is like giving
whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
Government is the great
fiction, through which everybody
endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
I don't make jokes, I just watch the government and report the
If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you
see what it costs when it's free.
Just because you do not take an
interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
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.
The inherent vice of capitalism is
the unequal sharing of the blessings.
The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of
The only difference between a tax man and a
taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
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.
What this country needs is
more unemployed politicians.
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."
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.
News 8 Austin | 24 Hour Local
News | Web Sightings
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
(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.
Click here: News 8 Austin | 24 Hour Local News | Web Sightings
Web Sightings for July 2003
Stress Doc Air Date:
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.