When we are fresh out of school or early on in our careers, there is a definite tendency to push ourselves to the limit in order to get ahead. At such a young age, we feel we are invincible and are not aware of our own limitations, despite being convinced that we are managing our lives in an apparently harmless manner.
Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to force us to rethink our strategy and the aim of this piece is to show how I used project management techniques to solve a personal crisis I had at the beginning of my career.
Inexperience And Overzealousness: A Dangerous CombinationFile:Stress Spelled Out In Scrabble Tiles.jpg - Wikimedia Commonscommons.wikimedia.org
When I was 28 years old and only three years into my very first job out of school, I landed in the hospital with a severe, very painful rash on the right side of my waist. So painful was the rash that I could hardly walk and was unable to apply any pressure at all to the area. Needless to say, I was unable to work and spent five long days in the hospital while the doctors ran tests on me.
When the tests were done, it turned out that I had contracted shingles which the doctors thought was very curious for someone so young and vibrant.
Upon further analysis, the doctors came to the conclusion that I had suffered an acute stress attack, no doubt directly linked to the high levels of stress that I had at my job. I was always used to working very long hours and investing 1000% in everything I did, and then blowing off steam by hitting tennis balls or going out with my friends. So, I had no idea that something like this was even remotely possible for me, the picture of perfect health.
But this was different and I had to really get to the root cause of the problem.When I analyzed deeply what could have provoked such a drastic outcome, I realized that, in fact, my stress levels had been accumulating over a number of years and that my attempts to combat them were not enough. I do remember that I was particularly frustrated about several of my work colleagues who had displayed very unprofessional behavior, not to mention a total lack of commitment to our project team. This could have easily jeopardized the success of our multi-million dollar project as well as my name and budding career in the process.
Why We Put So Much Pressure On Ourselves Early In Our CareersCrossroads: Success or Failure | Please give attribution to … | Flickrwww.flickr.com
When we start our careers, we have incredible energy and a strong desire to succeed without a doubt. We feel that hard work and teamwork will be enough for us to wow our bosses and move up the ladder. For most of us, we plow on, unaware of our surroundings and those who may be threats to our success.
One thing we do not learn in school is the sophisticated dynamic of human interaction in a work environment, even though we may have had adult or business psychology as part of our university training. As they say, there is nothing like living it, and boy was I in for quite a treat!
Even though I had obviously been exposed to young adults in non-work related environments, it was hard for me to understand the actual manifestation of concepts such as sabotage, jealousy, politics, and lust for power as tools to progress on the job. I was brought up on the principles of hard work, respect, discipline, fairness, and teamwork so seeing grown adults acting in such ways was extremely disturbing for me. You may think this is both corny and quite naïve on my part, and maybe you are right!
So, why was this such a big deal for me?
Psychologists would argue that these reactions must stem from some sort of childhood memory which, in this case, was no doubt the pressure to honor my family's legacy and reputation for success in all walks of life. Although I am quite lucky to have been born with an amazing drive and energy geared for success and happiness, I tended to put additional pressure on myself to not only succeed, but win in everything I did. In fact, I had a total obsession of being first all the time and would also apply this to all aspects of my life, including sports teams and individual athletes I rooted for, talent shows and political debates I participated in, or any competitive endeavor that I was involved in for that matter.In a professional context, this obsession can be a double-edged sword and I learned at that very moment that my health was much more important, so I would need to find a way to cope with the situation, find a way to resolve the conflicts at hand, or risk paying an even heavier price.
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When I was released from the hospital following my stress attack at the tender age of 28, I made a complete re-assessment of my life and looked for ways to better cope with my stress and inherent strive for perfection.
The first coping mechanism I did pursue was to involve my mentor at the time, the vice president of my company's affiliate in Houston. He had always been extremely supportive since he hired me to work for the company just a few years before. This did pay immediate dividends for me as he helped me address the issues which were obviously a direct result of my inexperience in the workforce coupled with a bit of naiveté.
I do firmly believe in the value of mentorship, a concept I see that is being challenged in the digital age as we lose more and more of our personal interaction in the workplace with companies preferring to transfer such things as employee on-boarding and training programs to online systems or apps. Although I fully understand the intent behind this, I feel that there is a minimal human experience required in order to create a sense of community and would challenge companies to study this carefully in their particular situations so as to strike the best balance with their teams.
The second mechanism I implemented was to create a project management inspired life roadmap so as to transfer my work and personal goals to paper. By committing these ideas to paper, I effectively transferred my stress to the document while also providing myself with a solid framework to achieve these lofty goals. These goals of course produced other goals in the process so the benefits were definitely clear to me and I was ready to now attack life with a different perspective.
Over time, I realized that creating and following this plan would be the most effective way to manage my stress levels and I will present more of this along with the specific sections of the life roadmap in a future article...