An industry professional messaged me recently with a question I probably would have answered very differently ten or fifteen years ago. He was looking for advice. Ways to cope with the continually escalating stress that has accompanied each of the thirty years of success he has enjoyed working as an automotive service professional.
I can’t be sure how I would have responded before my cancer diagnosis and the stem cell/bone marrow transplant that saved my life. All I can be sure of is that the man who survived that experience is different in so many ways the answer could not possibly have been the same.
Ten or fifteen years ago I would have told him to enjoy his success and ignore the stress suggesting that the rewards of all that hard work were real while the stress was artificial. A manufactured illusion. What I’ve learned is that stress is real. Real and more dangerous than I could possibly have imagined. And that by eliminating as much stress from my life as I possibly could, my health, quality of life, and chances for survival improved dramatically.
Here are some of the things I shared in my response and a few that occurred to me after I pressed the Send button. I’d be interested in how you would answer the same question.
I told him that relationships are the real currency of a life well-lived. Something I realized in the blinding flash of clarity that accompanied my diagnosis. And that all too often, those relationships are sacrificed at the altar of external pressure and material success. So, I told him to guard those relationships carefully as they may be all that really matters.
Stress as Candy
I told him that stress is candy to serious and catastrophic illnesses. The need to rid my life of as much stress as possible was the one thing all my doctors agreed upon. Working smarter and not harder is one way you can do that. That means having the right tools, technology, and training required to leverage everything you do at home, in the office, or on the shop floor.
Another way to reduce stress is to avoid ‘carriers.’ Individuals who are more than willing to have you carry their burden of stress-related problems. It also means embracing activities that help reduce stress. Some as simple as breathing properly. Working out or practicing meditation and mindfulness. Physical things like taking a spin class. Running. Walking. Crawling, if you have to. The best way to do that is to make sure you are always an item on your To-Do list.
Ultimately, all of this is easier to talk about than it is to do. But if you are filling your current reality with stress – the simple answer would be to stop.
Stop taking things too seriously. Chances are those things aren’t so let it go! While you’re at it, learn the difference between Urgent and Important. They aren’t the same.
Focus on those things guaranteed to enhance the quality of your life. Not all the stuff chipping away at it.
Pay attention to all the ways you can serve others. Serving others will fill your heart with joy while filling in all the cracks and crevices stress likes to hide.
Inventory Your Successes
Create an inventory of all your successes. Think about where you started and where you are now. Consider all the things you’ve learned, the places you’ve gone, and the people you’ve helped along with those who have helped you. Then, take a deep breath and smile. Smiling can really make a difference.
Update your resume. It will help you document just how far you’ve come and all the impossible challenges you’ve met, managed and transcended. If you’ve managed to sustain a successful career in any industry you have plenty to be proud of!
Don’t get involved in Monkey Management… Monkey Management occurs when someone comes to you with a problem – a Monkey – and asks for your help taking take care of it. If you agree, you can actually see that Monkey jump from their shoulder to yours. Suddenly, their monkey is your responsibility. Along with its care, maintenance, and management. Then, suddenly, they wind up managing you!
“How’s my Monkey doing’? Have you fed him? Bathed him? Is he happy? Healthy? If not, you’d better get on it!”
Stress flourishes anywhere there is responsibility without influence or control. The time to avoid that stress is before you accept that responsibility.
Stress: Two Flavors
I pointed out that there are two kinds of stress — Good and Bad — and that both are a natural bi-product of life and living. The real question is what do you do with the stress. How do you handle stress without becoming its victim? You start by differentiating between the two. Good stress often accompanies the challenge of meaningful work. Bad stress comes from being challenged with problems that aren’t yours to solve or work that isn’t meaningful. That, or being surrounded by people who are malignant, selfish, or self-absorbed.
I’m not sure if he will follow any of the advice I offered any more than I’m sure I would have. After all, the notion of free will ensures that ultimately we get to decide whether we are content to drown in a sea of stress or demand more from life than sleepless nights, a headache, or an ulcer.