A friend of mine recently went to the doctor because he was facing certain health challenges. The doctor told him that he needed to quit working so hard. If not, his health would continue to go down and it might just kill him. That was a wake-up call to my friend.

I am sure my friend isn’t the first person to get this advice from a medical professional. However, I thought to myself that I hope my friend takes that medical advice in the right way. I am not a medical professional but I might have given him a little different advice.

Not Working Can Be Stressful Too

Doing what my friend does professionally can literally change the lives of the people he works with. He does his job well and he makes a huge difference in the lives of the people he touches. I would imagine that the victories he experiences at work are very meaningful to him. If you took that part of his life away from him, it would probably be difficult for him to adjust.

Many of us need to work to feel fulfilled. That’s why we hear so many stories of people who retire and, soon thereafter, die. For those who spend their lives doing something that is meaningful to them, the stress of not working is much higher than the stress of working.

However, our jobs can become very stressful. As in my friend’s case, if they become too stressful, that can be dangerous. Whether it is stress from too much work or the lack of meaningful work, stress can kill us.

Keep Working Hard but Quit Working Stressed

Knowing my friend, here is the advice I would give him. Keep working just as hard as you do now. Just make sure you find ways to take the stress out of the work. The problem isn’t the hard work. It is the stress.

You may be able to do that at your current employer in your current position. You may need to take a different position or you may need to change employers. But don’t let the stress of your current position with your current employers take you away from the vocation that you love.

At first glance, that may seem like very impractical advice. However, I would guess that most of us could find ways to reduce the stress in our life while staying basically where we are. Let’s think through what some of them are.

Keep It Under 100%

The biggest two stress points in most people’s lives relate to time and money. If we could get these two under control, then much of the stress that is wearing us down would go away. The formula to do so is the same for both time and money. Keep it under 100%.

If I am trying to live off of 110% of my income, I will experience unbearable financial stress. If I am trying to live off of 90% of my income, I am under no financial stress at all. That 20% difference between 110% and 90% is the difference between totally stressed out and totally at peace with my finances.

The same thing is true about time. If we don’t quite have enough time to do what we need to do, we are stressed. If we have a little wiggle room in our schedule, all our time stress is gone. I live about seven or eight minutes from where I work. If I leave my home five minutes before I need to be in my office, the drive totally stresses me out. If I leave my house ten minutes before I need to arrive at work, the drive is totally peaceful. Five minutes can make a total difference between starting my day totally stressed or totally at peace.

Stay Inside Your Reward Zone

Different people are wired for different parts of their job. What is totally stressful for one person is not stressful at all for another. Seek out the parts of your job that don’t leave you stressed.

The most stressful part of many professor’s job is research. For me, it is the most peaceful. If I want to just sit back and enjoy a low stress day, I can go to work on my research. I find it interesting, rewarding, and totally stress free. On the other hand, committee meetings totally stress me out. Others love them. Their ideal job would be to go from meeting to meeting all day long.

We need to find a fit for what causes us stress and what doesn’t. If I structure my job so that I spend all of my time in meetings and none of it back in my office doing my research, I have a very stressful job. There are others who are just the opposite. If they spent days in meetings and faced very little research requirements, that would be their ideal job.

There is a place for both types on campus. The stress doesn’t come from the job per se. It comes from being in the wrong job for who I am. Working hard at research won’t kill me. It gives me life. However, if I took certain other positions on campus, I am sure it would be death by meetings.

Avoid the Drama

Our world is filled with drama. It is in our homes. It is in our workplaces. It is all over social media and the news. And it is all trying to work its way into our lives. Don’t let it.

How much of the drama going on at my work place really affects me? Probably less than I get involved with. How much of the drama at home do I create by not watching what I say or do? Probably a lot of it. How much of the drama on Facebook and the news do I let get me all worked up? Probably way too much of it.

When you go to work, just remember this. A lot of the drama was there before you arrived. It will be there after you leave. Don’t let it stress you out while you are there. And don’t think that you can change jobs to escape the drama. That’s like jumping out of the pool and into the ocean to avoid getting wet. It doesn’t work. You’re still going to be wet. You will just be dealing with salt rather than chlorine. Everyplace has its drama. Most of the time, the drama that affects us is the drama we let ourselves be drawn into.

A Four-Question Stress Test

Before we consider quitting something we love to do because of stress, here are four questions we should ask.

  1. Could I make a few changes that would move me below 100% time or financial commitments?
  2. Could I keep working, just in a position that is less stressful for me?
  3. Am I letting others dump their drama into my lap?
  4. Is there anything I am doing that is increasing the drama in my life?

This quick stress audit may show us where the real problem is. It may not be in working too hard. It may be in working with unnecessary stress.

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Category: , Friday, January 13, 2017

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