I’ve lived with stress my entire life. You likely have, too. I’ve not done much to avoid it. I mean, I said I have, but I can only think of really one time in my working life that I made a real effort to avoid stress. That was when I stopped working. I sold my company I had spent eight years building, and I took time off.
The day I sold my company I went rock climbing. Lawyers worked in their offices and bankers transferred funds while I enjoyed time with two of my friends and mentors. It was a sweet time. It was the first time that I felt like I really could do nothing. Absolutely nothing. So, I did.
I took the next year off and played video games. I slept in late. I took my kids to school. I had leisurely breakfasts, lunches, and went to the gym. My wife was busy being a school nurse for most of the first month or so, but when summer came around, we took time away. We traveled for weeks at a time with only a vague plan of where we’d end up. School started a few months later, and I was again alone – kids to school, wife to work. Quiet.
I even joked with friends about taking “naked Tuesdays” – walking around my house in honor. I never did. No, I didn’t do much. I didn’t fix the house. I didn’t do yard work. I spent a lot of time doing a lot of nothing.
A double-edged word. One moment, nothing implies that we take needed time to rest. The next, nothing implies no forward movement – nothing is accomplished. A blessing on one side, a curse on the next, and a razor edge between.
I spent a morning this week with a company who stagnated years ago and began a slow decline. I was working with my team to present to them a new plan of action that would turn the company around.
I began the meeting by describing a visual of the continuum we are all on from who we were, who we are, and who we will be. It’s true of all of us. We were once at a place, doing a thing, in a certain way. We no longer do that – now we are “here.” Hopefully, who we are today is better than who we were. I encouraged them that they, as individuals and as an organization, need to also know who they are going to be. What will the organization be like in three or five years? What will the organization be doing? What’s the plan?
Who we were Who we are Who we will be
There in lies the stress. See, some stress is bad. The stress of my circumstances in my business before I sold it was doing me harm. It was too much. I was not thriving, and I thought how stupid it was to stay where I was unhappy when I could easily have changed things. That was a bad stress – relieved by definitive action. That stress is a curse. It pulls you backward.
Yet, some stress is good. It moves us on, calls us forward. It’s the stress that keeps us from stagnating, from sitting around all day doing nothing. It’s the stress that we feel when we are not who we yet will be. That stress is a blessing. That is the stress that is better characterized by longing. “Longing to become …” It’s the stress that keeps an entrepreneur pushing forward – wanting to create something amazing.
The good stress of moving us forward into who we want to be is what keeps us growing. It’s necessary. Without it, when we have nothing in particular to do, we become ineffective, not making a difference in the world, not using the amazing minds we have. We produce nothing. We only take.
When we are who we will be we are done. It’s the company that stagnates at the top of their game, and several years later scrambles to turn things around. It’s the individual who achieves great success and then takes too much time off with no plan. Longing for no stress, and achieving it, however momentarily, can have disastrous consequences. If you believe that you are capable of amazing things, you must understand the difference between the stress that moves you forward, and the stress that pulls you back. Otherwise, you will run from that which helps you and stay in that which hurts you.
Our new client is very excited about the next chapter, and they should be. They are revolutionaries. Our spark is going to help them reignite their fire. We are excited for them.
I took a year off, and then some. I didn’t have a clear enough vision for what I would do next. It took me far too long to get my productivity back on track. I’m not complaining – I’m a blessed man. And, it wasn’t without benefits – my family saw a lot of the country from our RV. But, I became complacent, which any wise man will tell you is code for “slowly accelerating backward”.
What about you? Do you have a clear definition of who you and your organization ARE today? Do you have a clear vision of who you and your organization WILL BE in the future? If not, then you’re likely to stagnate. If you don’t know have a clear vision of who you will be, then you can’t communicate that to your team. If you can’t communicate it to your team, then the team cannot achieve the vision. Today, start by defining the reality of who you ARE, and the vision of who you WILL BE. Then make that clear to everyone you work with.
Hey, leader – that’s your job! Sound stressful? Don’t worry – it’s good for you.