COLUMN: The least stressed among us

This is my Sunday column for the Jan. 13, 2012 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

The least stressed among us
By Aaron J. Brown

A while back I talked about holiday stress affecting American workers. Now that the holidays are over and a new year upon us, we enter a cold reality: we decked the halls, ate the cookies, opened the presents, and yet here we remain in a viper’s pit of stress.

Perhaps this stress is more elevated for me. For the past few months I’ve worked on a special project at my job; now, tomorrow, I return to the classroom to teach communication courses. On one hand, it’s a job I know how to do. On the other, I gave a presentation last week after months of ticking away at a computer and I almost asked the nursing department to determine whether or not I had experienced a stroke. That’s how out of practice I was.

It was helpful to learn that, according to analysis from Career Cast, the least stressful job in America is that of a college professor. Now, I am not exactly a professor. The difference between a college professor and a community college instructor is a little like the difference between Johnny Carson and the DJ at a budget wedding who has to make sure people’s drinks are filled while the Van Morrison plays.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Van Morrison.

But according to the Kyle Kensing article, which was also reported on CNBC and Yahoo News, the hallmark of a “least stressful” job is control over your schedule. And while we do not get as much control over our schedules as the fanciest of your fancy-pants professors, we do have some. Which is nice, because then I can grade papers whenever I want and still have time left over for sleep and personal hygiene.

After professor, the list of remaining jobs on the “least stressful” list goes like this: seamstress, medical records technician, jeweler, medical lab technician, audiologist, dietician, hair stylist, librarian and drill press operator. To be fair, the article stresses than none of these jobs are “stress free.” For instance, drill press operator seems like the kind of job that’s a breeze until a day that will henceforth be known as “The Day Earl Did Not Properly Secure His Ponytail”

Almost half of these are the medical professions never depicted in the ABC show “Grey’s Anatomy.” Apparently that’s how you know they aren’t stressful. That show has no problem showing emergency room doctors in the throes of passion after removing a running chainsaw from the cavernous torso of the World’s Fattest Man. But do the pleasant audiologists down the hall ever get any action? No. They get giant headphones and an endless supply of CDs featuring repetitive tonal patterns. Apparently, stress has its benefits.

Jeweler makes the list, though I don’t think that’s fair. Nothing reduces stress quite like a room full of gold. And seamstresses might have it a little better now that they no longer work in flammable factories, but I don’t know that the job is dramatically less stressful than any other gig.

I was really surprised to see librarian on this list, too. I know several librarians and have heard many stories. If the criteria for making the least stressful job list is “control of schedule” I don’t know that having your schedule set by a cash-strapped city council is particularly reassuring. Nor do librarians control any aspect of who walks through their doors. Guy wearing a Popeye costume and carrying a crucifix? Yeah, just Patron #457. And if he wants to ask for books about fingernails, they’ll do what they can.

(On a side note: have you ever taken a book from somewhere in the library and put it somewhere else in the library? Ha ha! I bet that’s very stressful for librarians).

It goes to show that stress in jobs is relative. If you like your job, stress and all, you’ll find that the stress matters less than the purpose.

So I welcome the new semester. I may not be a fancy pants professor. But there’s no reason to let stress ruin my … wait … did I order books?

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from the Iron Range. He writes and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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