Whenever I am asked that question in an interview, you know the one..."how do you handle stress", I think of this story.
During my time as a Peace Corps volunteer, I spent my weekends as a volunteer trek guide for a non-profit in Guatemala that raised money for street kids and a boys’ home in the city of Quetzaltenango. We led tourists on overnight treks up volcanoes and across the highlands and cloud forests.
On one of my treks, I was one of three guides, leading a large group of gap-year students on a 3-day overnight trip over the Western highlands and then through a cloud forest on our way to Lake Atitlan. There was a small group of other tourists in the mix, but the majority of the group was made up of post high school kids that, let’s say, did not fully appreciate their parent’s higher income statuses.
We had incessant rain during the entire trip. On day 2, coming through the cloud forest, you could barely see ten feet in front of you due to the rain and darkness from the storm. It was only 3pm. We had fanned out a bit and I was in the back, bringing up the tail of the line. When I caught up with the rest of the group, we had reached a crossroads in the path, and there was only one guide, and just a little more than half of the group. The other guide, their trip leader and the other students were no where to be seen. We needed to go to the path to the left. They clearly had not. To the right was a pitch black jungle and the rain was intense. Our lead guide was already pissed and beyond annoyed by the 30+ hours of these spoiled students. He threw up his hands and shouted, “F**k them, let’s just move on”. By the stunned look on the other tourists and students faces, I could tell that was not the answer they were looking for in their lead guide. I looked at the stunned faces, then I stripped my pack off from under my rain poncho and dropped it on the muddy ground. I unsheathed my machete from my pack and then said “stay right here” to the group. I turned and walked down the path into the jungle. It was dark enough that I had to use a headlamp. The mud came up to my knees and I tried to walk across fallen trees where I could to stay above it. I chopped and slashed my way through the overgrown trail, wondering how anyone could have come this way. I did this for 20-30 minutes until I heard something. Voices. Calls for help. I pushed on and came to a clearing where a dozen shadowy figures were huddled on a ridge. I called to them and had them follow me back and after some effort, we soon were reunited with the rest of the group.
By the stunned look on the other tourists and students faces, I could tell that was not the answer they were looking for in their lead guide.
There, I sheathed my machete and heaved my pack onto my back once again. I looked at the lead guide and then at the correct trail, and saying nothing, we all continued on. A long hike still ahead of us, but at least in the right direction – together.
Like I said, whenever I am asked about how I handle stress in an interview, I think of this story. This tells you everything you need to know about me and how I handle stressful situations:
- I do not panic when things go bad.
- I will do what I need to do to fix the problem – does not matter if it was not my job, fault or responsibility.
- I’m not going to get angry or yell at others – better to lead by example – not with empty or hostile words.
- When the problem is resolved, then move on. Always plenty more to get done.