When you see the picture of the glass in its captured state, the age-old question first comes to mind: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

Half FullYour answer supposedly reflects your perception and outlook on life.  If the glass is half-full, you are an optimistic Piglet; if the glass is half-empty, you are a pessimistic Eeyore.  I propose we start looking at the glass from a new perspective and ask a different question instead… how heavy is this glass?

I use a plastic water bottle and ask this question in many of the training classes I teach.  I see the wheels in peoples’ minds start turning as they quickly try to crunch some numbers.  They figure the average-sized plastic water bottle holds 16-18 ounces of water when full, so half of that is 8-9 ounces, not counting the bottle itself.  Add a couple more ounces to include the bottle and they conclude the answer is approximately 10 ounces.  “10 ounces!”, they shout.  Many of their eyes twinkle with pride as they pat themselves on the backs for their deductive reasoning.  However, I seem to crush their joy when I tell them that does not answer the question I asked.  Although 10 ounces is sound reasoning for how much the glass WEIGHS, that does not answer the question of how HEAVY it is.

What if I told you to stand up and hold that water bottle with your arm fully extended straight out in front of you parallel to the ground at your eyes level?  Easy enough.  How heavy is the bottle?  Not very heavy.  You can twirl it around in your hand and toss it up in the air with ease.  But I want you to hold it out there in that position for an hour.  Now how heavy is the bottle?  It is starting to get heavy.  That is ironic because we just concluded that it does not weigh very much.  So what is it that is suddenly making the bottle so heavy? Several factors come into play: the stamina of the person holding the bottle, the position in which the bottle is being held, the duration of time it is being held, and its contents (because a bottle half-full of water can be different than a bottle half-full of lead) are just some of the variables that can be taken into consideration.

Sooner or later, your arm is going to get tired.  You will feel the tingling sensation as your arm screams for the lack of blood it is receiving.  At some point, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments laboring to hold that bottle will give and you will drop your arm sending that bottle crashing to the ground.  Holding that bottle out in front of you in that position is what it feels like to work as a first-responder in public-safety, except the bottle is not filled with water.  It is filled with stress.

At first it is easy, but the stress that comes with a job in public-safety accumulates with every shift.  6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years working in public-safety… and you are still holding that bottle out in front of you.  At some point, things give.  It could be early in your career; it could be later in your career; it could be after you retire.  But it is inevitable.  You cannot fight nature, just like you cannot fight the laws of physics in holding the bottle.  So what state will your heart and mind be in when things give and you drop that bottle to the ground?

Stress is like alcohol: different amounts affect different people differently.  What one person might find very stressful, another person might not at all.  So it really does not matter if you perceive the glass as half-full or half-empty; what is important is that you acknowledge sometimes that glass can feel very heavy, regardless of its actual weight.  Seeing and hearing what you experience in your job in public-safety every day… well of course the glass can feel heavy.  And that is okay.  Asking for help to build healthy coping mechanisms and resiliency is what will save your life when the glass becomes so heavy you feel no other option but to drop it to the ground.