Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Reader Must Attack Challenges One Step at a Time

DEAR HARRIETTE: Every time I think things are going well, something bad happens. I really do try to treat people nicely, do a good job and stay honest, but it doesn't seem to matter much. Like, I just finished paying off most of my bills only to get a huge bill from the Internal Revenue Service. I thought I had filed properly, and now this. I don't have any extra money. How am I ever going to climb out of this? I feel so overwhelmed and sad. -- Frustrated, Syracuse, N.Y.

DEAR FRUSTRATED: As you have already experienced, life has many twists and turns. I was taught that the best way to manage through them is to stay grounded and not to attach oneself to the highs or the lows. That means not getting too stressed out when faced with debt.

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, make a plan. This should begin with reaching out to the IRS and asking for a payment plan that will allow you to be responsible for what you owe and pay it over time. This is a common relationship that the IRS makes with taxpayers, so you need not be afraid.

In other aspects of your life, look carefully to see what is working, and identify where you can improve. Then approach your list of improvements one by one. By focusing your efforts and by being realistic about addressing challenges in their smallest components, you set yourself up for success. Whenever you begin to feel worried or anxious, make a plan.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was asked to run for office in my school government. I know this is an honor, but I am scared. I pay attention to the news, and I have seen how horrifically our elected officials behave. I used to have political aspirations until I started paying attention. Now I feel like there isn't anything I would like to do less. Still, I'm being given a chance to try it out. If I do run, how can I make sure that it doesn't get ugly? -- Politically Ambitious, Boston

DEAR POLITICALLY AMBITIOUS: Congratulations on your vote of confidence, as evidenced by whoever has nominated you to run for school government. It is an honor and a privilege. The ideals upon which our American government was founded are lofty, to be sure. And, as you have witnessed, the reality can look very different. But that is no reason to avoid politics. Instead, it can be your motivation for getting into the game.

Every elected official -- whether in student government or otherwise -- has the opportunity to live and work with integrity. Everyone has the choice of behaving in a dignified, respectful manner. Everyone can learn how to collaborate on ideas and agree to disagree on others. By starting in school government, you can get a taste of how government works. Go for it. Run for office. If you win, make the conscious choice to behave with dignity. Set an example for others.