Dealing with “Frustration and Overwhelmed”

I had an interesting conversation with someone about them feeling “Frustration” and “Overwhelmed”.  It got me thinking about how we can be facing two different strong emotions that have the chance to dominate our lives.  How do we manage them?

In this conversation, the other person’s “frustration” was the main topic of our conversation.  The metaphor they used was the frustration made them feel like “their hands were tied”.  Much of the frustration was internally driven – they were reliant on others to get some things done.  That wasn’t happening at the speed they felt was necessary, or, was not happening at all.   They lacked control over a few things they wanted to accomplish because there were other decision makers involved.

I had originally thought their “overwhelming” feeling coming from the large task in front of them. We had talked about this task before and it was really big – quite a stretch for the other person.  So I could see why they might be overwhelmed by the enormity and complexity of the task.

What I came to further understand was there were two components to the “overwhelming” feeling.  The first was as I thought – the huge undertaking.  The second component was being driven by the frustration we spoke about earlier.  So the frustration, the “hands are tied” metaphor, was having a dual impact on the other person.   They were overwhelmed, partly because they were thinking, “How can I possibly complete this huge task when I have these other frustrations in the way?”

It became clear that to really keep from being overwhelmed, the frustration needed to be dealt with.  That was the key.  The frustration piece had to be dealt with, because it fed into – and expanded – the overwhelming feeling.  The enormity of the task was a truism.  But they could compartmentalize that to some extent because it was an external source, something they chose to challenge themselves with.  But the frustration piece, leading to being overwhelmed, was internal, driven by their own mind.  We had to get to the internal piece first.

We came up with three solutions to deal with their frustration.

  1. Remind themselves that they have done challenges (probably smaller ones) like this in the past – and seen positive results.  As my kids would say, “this is not my first rodeo”.  Hark back to a time when you successfully met challenges.  Remind yourself you can do it, but it takes time.  There is success on the other side because you are competent.
  2. Become present.  Slow down and recognize that you are getting frustrated.  Become aware of what you feel in the moment, what impact it is having on your demeanor and your ability to cope.  Acknowledge the feelings.
  3. Take baby steps.  And then celebrate them.  Change generally comes from slow, steady progress.  Most of us are not capable of making radical change in one large step.

As I thought about it more later on, these solutions will work even when it is all about you alone.  Lots of times we get frustrated and overwhelmed, but we only have ourselves to blame.

For example, think of a person trying to make personal change.  That is a huge undertaking.  There are so many moving parts –  pushing yourself to go one step further, doing the small things that are dull, overcoming inertia, defeating the inner self that is so good at saying “do it tomorrow”, on and on.  It can get very frustrating when success doesn’t come after months of work.  It can be overwhelming trying to build so many new habits, especially in the face of everyday obstacles.  But slow baby steps, becoming more aware of your situation and reminding yourself you are capable forms a really strong foundation for grounding.


Goals that Matter

I think about, and write about, goals and objectives a lot.  I am a person who does better when I have goals.  So I tend to look at organizations and see what their goals are in order to make some assessment of them.

The University of Dayton (UD) recently named a new President.  He stated his top two goals are: “Diversity (of the faculty and administration) and Research”.  Hmm, can’t really argue that those are bad goals.  But are they truly the top two goals the President of a University should be focused on?  I did a little research to see if that made sense to me.

I looked up some statistics on the University of Dayton at the new federal government website,  UD has a lot to be proud of.  It has a higher graduation rate (77% of its students graduate within 6 years ) that the “average” school.  89% of its students return after their first year of college, so people that choose UD come back because it is meeting their expectations. Ten years after leaving UD, students average a salary of $52,000, which is a pretty good amount.

I guess one could argue that UD is doing so well, that it is appropriate to focus on those goals as articulated by the new President.  Having a more diverse management team is a great opportunity for success.  I understand the focus on research.  It brings at least two things – money and prestige.  Research is practical for the students, aligns the University with business and government and attracts attention.

Looking at the statistics from another angle, UD is very expensive.  The average student has nearly $27,000 of federal student loan debt.  That excludes any personal student loans, bank loans or money owed to others.  That means most students are paying at least $300 a month for ten years to pay off their federal debt, plus whatever other borrowing they have.  Digging deeper into that graduation rate, most of the top, medium-sized, four year schools in the Great Lakes Region (Xavier, Miami, Butler, Marquette, Case Western Reserve, Bradley) have similar graduation rates.

The cost of college over the past 20 years has far outpaced inflation.  Student debt load, as a percentage of student income, is the highest percentage ever.   There is some concern that colleges are now graduating students that are not ready for the workforce.  According to a study done in 2014, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that 44% of college graduates were “underemployed” ( someone who has a job that does not require the degree they hold).

So are schools like UD really doing the best job for their students?

I  wonder if the new President ought to have a more customer-focused goal – perhaps one to make UD less costly. Or, some measure of preparing students for jobs right out of college.  Isn’t that the goal of the institution?

My point of all of this is not to rip on the new UD President. But I think it is important to turn a critical eye towards any organization’s goals.  They may sound good.  They may fit the organization’s charter.  They may be logical.  But are they the key, critical ones to drive success?

That same critical eye applies to all of us.  What are the two or three goals we are really focused on?  Are they ones that really are important?  Or do they sound good?



Listening.  Everybody does it.  Most of us think we are pretty good at it.  In fact, we all probably think we are better than average at listening.  Is that true?

Listening is defined as “to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing”.  We all know “how” to listen.  It seems like an instinct. I have read where research suggests that we remember between 25 percent and 50 percent of what we hear.  Is that enough?  My initial reaction is I must be good at getting the “right” or “most important” 25-50% of what the other person is saying.  The part I don’t remember is less critical.  So I must be a good listener.  But am I really?

I had an example of this the other day.  Rose was telling me her interpretation of a particular situation.  As I was listening to her, I thought she had a plausible interpretation.  But I concurrently had a different interpretation.  I found myself “listening” to her but at the same time formulating how I would tell her what I thought.  I let her finish, and then offered my thoughts on my interpretation.  We had a “nice” conversation – I think.

Upon reflection, I was not really listening to Rose.  Somewhere as she was speaking, I stopped fully listening and started formulating my own thoughts.  This was not necessarily rude or disrespectful.  It did not lead to a conflict or disagreement.  But it is an example of not fully listening to someone.  Perhaps I missed part of her point.  Maybe because I was so anxious to get across my point I missed a chance to flesh out her idea more thoroughly.  Maybe I was reinforcing a bad habit that could have more important impact at another time.

How many times are you in a conversation with someone and you think they are talking about one thing but eventually you find out they are talking about something else?  Or, you think the point they are trying to make is one thing, but eventually you figure out their point is something else?  This happened to me the other day.  I thought someone’s concern was around money, but it became clear after a while that the bigger concern was finding the right person to deliver the service.  If I am being honest, this happens to me all the time.

How often do we truly listen to someone else?  How often does someone else say, “listen to me”?  Because we all “know” how to listen, do we ever really take time to evaluate our listening skills?

I am working on a couple skills.  One is trying to set aside all distractions.  If I am truly going to listen to someone, I am not also on my phone, computer, or watching TV.  I am working on paying attention to what they say and suspending my judgement/analysis.  I am making a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.

Some experts say that true listening comes when you can either:

  • repeat back what the other person said
  • paraphrase what the other person said using similar words, or
  • reflect back what the person said using your own words.

How often could you do one of those techniques in the course of a day?


The Wright Stuff

“In no way did any of this discourage or deter Wilbur and Orville Wright, any more than the fact that they had no college education, no formal technical training, no experience working with anyone other than themselves, no friends in high places, no financial bakers. no government subsidies, and little money of their own. Or the entirely real possibility that at some point, like Otto Lilienthal, they could be killed.”

-David McCullough, The Wright Brothers

For those of us who have lived in the Dayton area, we are somewhat familiar with the Wright Brothers’ story.  Most people in the USA know they were the first people to fly an airplane.  We know them as ultra-successful.  Two brilliant brothers who did the impossible.  I suspect along with that  historical knowledge comes the assumption on our part that these two had some extraordinary advantage over the rest of us.  Their success was preordained by some God-given talent or advantage not available to the rest of us.  The Wright Brothers could succeed because they had “It”.

But when you read the paragraph above from David McCullough’s book, you see that the Wright Brothers had a lot stacked against them – no education, no training, no money, etc.  How can anyone succeed when they have so much stacked against them, even if they have brains and determination?

But succeed they did. In the end, they had an underlying faith in themselves.  They believed they could do it.  They did not allow the self doubts stop them.  They didn’t pay attention to people who scoffed at them.  They believed.

Might there be a lesson in that for all of us?

Later in the book, AFTER the Wright Brothers had successfully completed their flight at Kitty Hawk, they were met with less-than-overwhelming acclaim.  Living back in Dayton, running their bicycle shop and continuing their airplane experiments, they were still doubted.  According to the same book, this is what Luther Beard, managing editor of the Dayton Journal had to say about the Brothers:

“I used to chat with them in a friendly way and was always polite to them,”  Beard would recall, because I sort of felt sorry for them.  They seemed like well-meaning, decent young men.  Yet there they were, neglecting their business to waste their time day after day on the ridiculous flying machine.”

He “felt sorry” for the “decent young men” who “waste(d) their time”!  Wow.  Who of us has encountered condescension or people doubting our determination to do something?  In fact, how often is it OUR OWN SELF that doubts our own ability to do something?

Think about it.  Most of us are trying to do relatively simple things, like find a job, please a significant other, write a book, or pursue some passion of ours.  Maybe we just want to lose some weight or learn to cook a little better or stop biting our nails or face a challenge in life.  We are not doing anything close to as monumental as the Wright Brothers (and that is okay!).  Yet something stops us or prevents us from moving forward.

Sometimes all it takes is some faith in yourself.  Or another person to lend encouragement.  Sometimes the “little voices” in your head, the self-doubt, the reasons why not, need to be pushed aside.  I am hoping the brief tale of the Wright Brothers helps you think that way.