I’ve had a rough year so far. Scratch that, make that a rough ten months. It’s unfortunate that this has been the most stressful and challenging period of my career. So much for thinking things get easier the more work experience you accumulate. Recently I had a bit of a wake up call when someone close to me asked, “what if you lost everything except your career?”
I was stunned and didn’t know how to answer. How did this come up in conversation? Well I’ve been so consumed with stress for so long now that it’s really started to take a toll on my life and those most important to me. This question was a polite way of hinting that I really needed to start making some changes or I could very well end up permanently miserable and alone. It’s no fun being around a stressed out person, especially for extended periods, and gosh I am totally guilty.
When Stress Starts To Destroy Your Life
We all have stressful days from time to time. The car breaks down, we’re late for an important meeting, a loved one is unexpectedly in the hospital, we don’t get promoted, the basement floods, etc. etc. While those things aren’t pleasant experiences, they’re certainly part of the normal unpredictability of life. As one of old colleagues likes to say, “Well, it is what it is. Sh– happens.”
The real trouble comes when these stressful days don’t just happen on occasion but start to happen all the time. And that’s the exact predicament I’m in. Sure I’ve had bouts of stressful periods before, but those were for a few days here and there or a couple weeks at most. This time around I’ve felt like I’ve been caught in a T11 strength tornado for ten months straight. And it’s gotten to the point where it’s not just affecting me anymore, it’s affecting the people I love. It’s just plain terrible. And that has to change pronto.
Unfortunately, People Notice
Some people hide stress a lot better than others. Unfortunately I’m not one of those people. I have a hard time concealing my emotions when I’m upset, under pressure, or on tilt. But I’m trying to get better at it. It is so hard not to get upset when bad things happen, often out of my control, and I’m responsible for putting those fires out. It makes me admire people who are calm as cucumbers under pressure.
But even those folks who are pretty good at hiding their stress still leave little clues that other people can pick up on. No one really wants other people to know that they’re stressed. But I’ve learned that we can never assume those around us are unaffected, no matter how well we think we are hiding it from them. Unfortunately, people notice.
Why? When you work with the same people day after day, you pick up on subtleties and changes in other their behavior. This is even more true with the people you live with at home. Sighs, frowns, acting withdrawn, having mood swings, being forgetful, missing out on things, having a glazed look, talking frantically…these are all signs that people notice. It can be so hard when everything’s going to hell, but we all need to be sensitive and aware of how we interact with others when we’re stressed.
I’m trying to take deeper breaths, weave in humor when things get tense, ask for help more often, work through my lunch breaks so I can leave a little earlier, talk slower, and be more specific when giving instructions. It seems to be helping.
Workaholics: What Are You Really Willing To Sacrifice?
There are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with their jobs. And most of those people just do the bare minimum to get by and collect their paycheck. They’re not the ones I’m worried about in this post. What I’m focused on here are the workaholics like me: the gung ho, motivated, hungry, driven individuals who want to make a difference every day and aren’t satisfied with “good enough.” Work can become very addicting, but it comes at a price too.
If you’ve never had a job you actually enjoyed, it’s gotta be hard for you to understand how people can turn into workaholics. I used to be a skeptic myself. I never thought I would ever turn into a workaholic, but oh how things can change. Power and the need and desire for success can be very addicting.
I never imagined I would feel the lure of power, but once I got a taste of it, I really liked it. It’s exciting feeling in control and being able to bring about change. This is especially true when you like what you do and genuinely care about your business, your clients, and your own performance. But we can only do but so much in a day. The more we get caught up in work, the more other things are going to have to give whether we like it or not.
So all of you workaholics out there, you have to ask yourself, what are you really willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to give up sleep, weekends with friends, dinners with your spouse, exercise, vacations, and time with your family?
It’s hard to walk away from work, especially for entrepreneurs. Just recognize that if you don’t revisit your priorities regularly, you do run the risk of being left with just your career and nothing else. It freaked me out when I started thinking about that and helped me make the time and effort to change.
Finding Balance Is Easier Said Than Done
Everyone wants a nice work life balance. It’s just so freakin’ hard to do sometimes. I am regularly pulled in a million different directions. And many times I get stuck with a bunch of high priority to-do’s at once. It’s a lot of pressure and responsibility. How do you just walk away when everything has to get done “as soon as possible”? It is easier said than done.
My best advice is to ask for more resources and speak up before things really get out of control. I should have done this nine months ago instead of just one month ago. As much as the perfectionist in me wishes I could do everything myself, it’s just not possible or practical. It takes time for resources to become available even when you ask for them, so don’t wait for things to get really bad. I learned this the hard way.
Next, listen to your loved ones. If they’re telling you they wished you spent more time at home and were less stressed, take them seriously. I’m not kidding. If you screw up, they’ll probably give you a second chance. But trying to get third, fourth, or fifth chances come at a cost and there’s no guarantee you’ll even get them. Don’t take advantage of the people you care about the most. It’s easy to unintentionally hurt those we love when we’re stressed but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.
When you’re stuck trying to figure out what to prioritize, ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? I have to remind myself this all the time. If I do this tomorrow so I can go home at a reasonable hour today, what’s the worst that could happen? If I work late again today, what’s the worst that could happen? Only you can answer questions like these for yourself because we all have different commitments and responsibilities at work and at home. What are you willing to lose and what do you want to protect?
Refresh Your Perspectives
When you’re super stressed out and battling a million things, it’s not always feasible to take a vacation to escape from it all. I love to travel, but I haven’t been able to do much of it this year because of my work commitments. I’m sure many of you have been in the same boat before. It can be really frustrating when we’re the ones who need a vacation the most but can’t get the time off. Sigh. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to refresh our perspectives.
What really helps me when I make time to do it, is to take a ten minute walk to the piers along the Bay and stare out onto the water. I clear my head of all thoughts. Then I watch the waves lap against the dock, I listen to the sounds of the water and the seagulls, I watch the boats passing by, and breathe in the crisp cool air. I focus on the subtle things and turn on all my senses.
The water is my reminder that there’s more to life than just work. I’ve spent some of my happiest days on the water with loved ones. And seeing the water reminds me that we are all connected to the Earth, to each other, and we’re lucky to be alive. Perhaps your mini escape can be walking through a park, driving around town at night just to drive, watching kids giggling with joy at a playground, blasting your favorite song and dancing like a fool in your bedroom, or playing a fierce battle of pingpong. You have to find the simple things accessible to you that clear your head of your stresses and refresh your perspectives.
Lastly, remind yourself of the things that make you happy. Then do whatever it takes to keep them in your life.
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Untemplaters, do you like your current job? Are you a workaholic? What if you lost everything except your career? What are your priorities and how good are you at keeping a work life balance?
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