Today was a rough day. It started out fine: I got a lot of work done at a couple of rentals and ran some errands. Felt productive. Then around noon, as planned, I headed over to the sports bar near our house to watch Michigan State host Michigan in their annual football slug-fest. We don’t have cable, and this game is one I refuse to miss. So I spent the next three hours watching my Spartans get beaten.
Crazy what being a sports fan can do to you when you lose. Dare I say it was stressful, during and after the fact? I came home in a bad mood and the rest of my day was the pits. Mrs. AC and the kids were in great moods and I was the big dud, all because I invested so much in this game. Yeesh. When will I learn?!?
Today’s post is all about our dear, dear friend, STRESS.
Mainly from a workplace perspective, but stress can certainly pop up from a variety of sources, including relationships and sour outcomes of football games, apparently. Enjoy, and be sure to comment so we can commiserate on this lovely topic.
Recently, after a period of relative calm in Cubical Land, I was in a meeting with a handful of execs… and things, well, blew up a bit. Nothing bad in terms of job security, thank goodness. But as the saying goes, the shit rolls downhill. I was waiting at the bottom with a flimsy umbrella.
A common phenomenon in my company occurs when information is shared up the hierarchy in bits and pieces, and only certain bits and pieces get filtered through. It’s an incomplete picture. Sound familiar? Sometimes this can be good, if the incomplete information keeps execs out of your hair. Sometimes the reconstructed info that bubbles up gets you into hot water. Stress alert!
Stress in the workplace is taking a real toll on us. A recent study by Harvard (in conjunction with NPR and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) showed that nearly half of working Americans believe their jobs affect their health. Among those individuals, 72% believe their jobs negatively affect their health. Count me among the 72%.
Workplace Stress Avoidance
In my experience, stress-avoidance in the workplace is one of the drivers for strong performance. I don’t want to put myself in the position at the base of that hill with stuff rolling down at me. I try to minimize those events as much as possible. My personal approach is to:
- anticipate what my leaders want and expect
- bring a high-degree of self-confidence, collaboration, and decisiveness to meetings
- build and maintain relationships with all of my key stakeholders and colleagues
- build a track-record of delivering results
Mastering these four tactics will shape the perception of your leadership. When the stuff hits the fan, you’ll find yourself in a position of strength, and your reputation will shield you from stress-inducing butt-kickings.
Making Work-life Balance Work for You
Another huge source of workplace stress is when work overwhelms your life. Many of my colleagues put in 50 to 60 hours (or more) per week. Some of those hours are spent on weekends, evenings, or even holidays. It’s stressful just to type that! That pattern can play out for consecutive months or years.
Speaking from experience, when it goes beyond a year, there’s a mental and physical toll you pay. I remember just a few years ago in my current job, spending a good chunk of the winter holidays, Mother’s Day, Easter, and Memorial weekend wrapped up in war room calls. Software development deadlines at Fortune 500 companies are highly visible and often contentious, as deadlines are rarely met.
Sometimes there’s not much you can do if you have a big, important project or task to deliver. As with any difficult situation, you can turn it into a positive by digging in and giving your best. Then, you’ll be in a better position to consider early retirement. Rewards (raises, bonuses, and promotions) follow the results. Use those rewards to pay down debt, max out tax-deferred savings, and maybe buy a rental property or two.
The Face Time Myth
If you manage a team, set a good example by sticking to a 45 hour work-week. Avoid sending emails at night when you should be present for your family. Take all of your vacation, every year.
In my experience, the most valued employees are the ones who confidently get results with a great attitude. They’re also the ones who don’t stick around past 6 and aren’t shy about using their time off.
In contrast, colleagues who put in crazy hours and leave vacation on the table are often the least valued and least effective. They don’t know how to prioritize their work, they set a bad example for their teams, and they wind up unhealthy and sick from working an unsustainable schedule.
If All Else Fails, Retire Early!
Having been through a number of stressful situations during my career, I’ve come to understand a universal truth: No matter how high a performer you are, or how highly regarded you may be, there will always be stressful situations to deal with.
You might get a spanking you didn’t deserve because of the warped flow of information or political jockeying among the big shots, or you might have a team that is all-of-the-sudden struggling to deliver. Sometimes there’s a re-org that simply shakes everyone’s confidence, and morale goes up in smoke.
Early retirement is certainly a great option to consider, if any of the following apply to you:
- You’re susceptible to stress, and your job, employer, career is stressful
- You have identified other, meaningful work that isn’t stressful (or cubicle-bound!)
- You recognize that stress is something you can control and minimize, but even after all that, you’ve simply had your fill.
In my opinion, the best and most rewarding work is not found in companies where the CEO makes 300 times the average worker. Be your own boss. That’s the most rewarding.
How to Limit Your Stress
This is one of the things they should teach you in school, along with personal finance – limit that stress! I’ve had to learn most of this stuff over time, reacting first, learning later. Based on my own experience, here are the life stages of growth with stress response:
- Childhood stress relief: Go to your room convinced you’re not tired (as mom claims), you are justifiably cranky!!!
- Teenager stress relief: Go to your room and blast heavy metal on your headphones (Metallica, likely)
- College stress relief: Naps, video games, pizza, more naps, smoke things that make you want to eat more pizza, etc.
- Newly-minted worker stress relief: Go to happy hour, drink much beer, and lose sleep in the process, so your work suffers…
- Early retirement candidate: Go for a run! (And a few naps here and there…)
- Early retiree: What stress???
I owe a great deal to my lovely wife for introducing me to running. Running is an amazing stress reliever. That runner’s high is for real. I can go for long bike rides, take walks, sling kettlebells around, etc. but no other workout comes as close as plain old running for clearing my mind and getting a lasting, positive “buzz” for hours afterwards. I generally go for 2.5 to 3 miles on an average run. No earbuds, no treadmills – gotta be outside, take it in.
The other key bits of wisdom I try to abide by include:
- getting at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night
- keeping in touch and spending time with old friends
- limiting carbs and limiting booze to one drink a day (maybe two on occasion)
- reading books
- playing and laughing (often) with the family (often overlooked, but so important)
- making date nights
- Pick a winning football team!
Stress is something we all have to deal with. Some of us are better than others are managing it. I know I’ve got a lot to learn myself. Now at mid-life, I’m still just a mere novice when it comes to managing my own stress, whether it’s in the workplace or at home. Maybe that’s ultimately why I have this early retirement goal?
Readers: How do you manage your stress? I’d love to learn from you!
Level-Set: The post is indicative of the first-world problems I mentioned in my very first post on this blog. Many countless individuals the world over are going through REAL stress and are in really tough situations. Consider being homeless, living in a war zone, being in an abusive relationship, being bullied, or dealing with addictions. Remembering that our blessings are countless is a supreme means of stress avoidance. Even better if we reach out and help those in need.