Fond Memories: Some of my earliest memories as a child are playing in the snow. My neighborhood was built next to a steep hill that leveled off into a field, and every year snow would fall, covering the hill like a blanket . That’s when the sleds would come out. Families would gather from all around to race down the hill, and there was a real sense of community. One day, I decided that I was ready to do it myself. Before I realized it, I was head over heels – not in a good way. I rolled down the hill, my giant turtle shell shaped sled hitting me over the head. As I struggled to get up, I could only express my anger and frustration.
First Encounter with Altruism: That’s when this stranger pulled me aside and asked if I was all right. He did his best to calm me down. Then, he got my parents to help me out. Of course, I wasn’t hurt per say. I guess I was just fragile, and the adults around me recognized that. This was my first brush with altruism. It was something I’d never really seen before, but it was to be expected. If you see a child hurt in the snow, you’re first instinct would be to help that child., especially if you had children of your own. According to the Atlantic, having children has the potential to make you more emotionally aware of people around you. For years, psychologists have argued that “need to support helpless offspring drove the development of neural, chemical, and psychological sensitivity to others’ needs.”
Hypochondria: I can’t tell you how many diseases I’ve survived these past four years. Brain cancer, stomach cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, Tetanus, Appendicitis, Hantavirus, and Hypervitaminosis A. Then there’s that rare genetic disease I have. Trisomy 8. Ever heard of it? Well, let’s just say it’s really, really rare (MedScape is a great resource). At this point, you’ve probably realized that I’ve never had any of these diseases. Yet, I convinced myself I did. Hypochondria can be psychologically debilitating. Even when you think you’re fine, you know deep down in your gut that there’s a life threatening disease lurking just around the corner.
This can be difficult to deal with as a college student. I was working two jobs at the university, taking engineering courses, and trying to become a writer all at once. I suppose the stress I burdened myself with didn’t help; in fact, it might have been the catalyst for a series of hypochondria induced break downs. I once heard that the old residence halls still have asbestos in the walls in floors. After Boulder was hit with record flood waters, all of the floors had be stripped and replaced. My reaction: complete and utter panic. After the flood ended, I found myself wandering around campus, yelling at the local EPA to take my concerns seriously. I suspected that I had every asbestos related cancer imaginable and that it was only a matter of time. Suddenly, I was the little kid crying in the snow after tumbling over in his sled. Only, this time, I wouldn’t stop tumbling.
Professional Leadership: The person I can credit with helping me through the process was my hall director. He’s a great guy, not just because of his self-effacing air, his sense of humor, and his patience; he has an incredible capacity to listen to your concerns, no matter how frivolous or over-wrought. Now, going to my hall director for help wasn’t an easy decision. I was filled with trepidation, thinking he was going to laugh at me. It’s easy to empathize with a kid whose been hurt, but to empathize with an adult who keeps overreacting? That’s a little bit more difficult.
My hall director could have easily dismissed my concerns about asbestos. That’s what everybody else did. He could have easily placated my concerns, telling me that it was very possible that I was going to die. Instead, he listened to my concerns, validated what I had to say, and offered some real advice. He referred me to CAPS and other resources to help me psychologically process whatever I was going through. Then, he went ahead and called the local EPA just to give me a bit of solace that I wasn’t crazy. This was an important moment for me, because I learned that helping other people isn’t just a matter of altruism. It’s a cornerstone of professional leadership.