Bite by Bite

Bite by Bite

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Say Goodbye to Stress


Bite by Bite

“Mom, I can’t do this.” My teenage son Bret stood in front of me with his hands outstretched, full of papers.

“Can’t do what?” I half-looked at him while preparing supper.

“All this!” He waved his hands up and down to show me. “There’s no way I can do everything my teachers are asking me to do!”

I stopped what I was doing and turned to face him. I had never seen him so upset. He was my jovial, carefree son. He made good grades in school and nothing ever seemed to bother him. As I studied his face, I could see tears brimming in his eyes accompanying the look of panic.

Walking over to the kitchen table, I sat down and motioned him to join me.

“Show me what you have to do.”

Bret plopped down in a chair and dropped the papers in a stack in front of him.

“Ms. Jones, my chemistry teacher, wants me to make a project for the Science Fair.”

“Okay. And what else?”

“I have an algebra test next week that will be one-third of our semester grade!”

I knew how Bret hated algebra, which always gave him trouble.

“And I have to write an essay for English composition. And midterms are the next week! I need to study for them and I have to get help with Spanish. There’s no way I can do everything!”

His hands shook as he picked up each assignment. It broke my heart to see him so stressed out. I wanted to help him, yet I couldn’t do the work for him. I could relate to his dilemma though.

In my job as a sales manager, there had been many stressful times. Caught in the middle, I had to please upper management by producing results from my sales team as well as deal with ten individuals who each had concerns with making their quotas, taking care of their customers and personal issues.

I was particularly stressed out when I had to plan a sales meeting for the company. At that time, I was in charge of the agenda, setting up the presentations, arranging the people who would participate, ordering supplies, and so on. My performance was on the line and under the closest scrutiny at these times.

As much as I wanted to run away and hide from the responsibility, I knew I had to handle it. And even though I had my doubts about the outcome, I wanted things to run well. How did I handle it and not implode? I made a list. I listed everything that had to be done, then I put a deadline on each item and organized the list according to what had to be done first, second, and so on.

Back in the kitchen, I looked at Bret and said, “You don’t have to do everything at once. You can do one at a time. Let’s make a list of what you need to do.”

So, one by one, we listed each item. Then we put the due date next to the item. Next we separated the items into parts; for instance, the chemistry project needed supplies. So we put a deadline on getting the supplies. He had a friend who could help him with Spanish, so we had to factor that time in. As we worked on prioritizing the tasks, I saw my son visibly relax.

When we finished with the list, I asked, “Do you think you can do this now?”

He smiled and I saw his confidence return. “Sure! Thanks, Mom!”

From that day on, Bret made lists for everything he had to do. I had to laugh when I saw lists on pieces of paper lying around, but I knew the process worked for him, as it did for me. Bret completed all his assignments and kept his good grades.

There’s an adage that asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is, “One bite at a time.”

~ Marilyn Turk ~

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