Grace Under Pressure

The hard part of the move is over. The van is loaded, the extra van is loaded too and the gift of lessons has been presented.

What’s a “gift of lessons”? Life often takes interesting, unexpected twists. They are generally not fun. If we learn quickly from them, we can adjust and move ahead. If we fight the lesson, refuse to see it, insist it isn’t there, demand it to go away, it will still be there, but we will be exhausted and miserable.

Figuring out how to navigate those life lessons to get the nourishment and leave the stress is a rare gift. I had one of those gifts yesterday, during the height of the move. We had rented the largest van available. The plan was to load it and use the extra space to move the motorcycles. A friend built a special rack.

When you figure out how much of a van you need, you use calculators that ask for room size, special furniture (gym equipment, big screen TVs) and other bulky items. No calculator ever asks if you have books. They simply assume you have about 10 pounds of books. After giving away hundreds of books, I had hundreds more. Books that make good reading, art books, instruction books. The van filled quickly.

At first I thought it was a matter of deciding what to take and what to leave behind. But it wasn’t. The only choice was to rent another van. That wasn’t in the plan. It was more than I’d budgeted for. In a wonderful flash of understanding, I realized that it didn’t matter what I had planned, the reality was right in front of me–rent another van. The van in the driveway was full, the motorcycles weren’t in it yet, and there was still furniture in the house.

Much as I hated the option, it was the only really workable one. Even after careful pruning, there was too much I owned already loaded in the van. No use beating myself up, no beating myself up for not knowing (how could I have known?), simply quick and direct action–finding an available van and bringing it back. I did it.

And my reward? Less stress. A feeling of making a necessary decision. A feeling of mastery over my emotions. (Want to feel a lack of control? Do a cross-country move.) We can not control the occasional smelly fish-head life tosses at us. But we are in total control of the decision-making process and the reaction we have. We can choose to be angry, yell, make unreasonable demands, engage in attention-grabbing drama.

Or, we can cut the drama, control our emotions and move on. Doesn’t get as much attention, but gets the job done. The American author Ernest Hemingway (whose books are in the van), defined courage as “grace under pressure.” Choosing to make the best decision at hand now is not always easy, but it opens the road ahead for smoother travel.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She is moving cross country with more than 500 books, a husband and three cats. See her work at