In last week's column I addressed the topic of "How to Cope with Performance Anxiety at Work." The question that spurred this topic asked how to handle the stress of a job in a fast-paced industry where long hours, competition, and pressure come as part of the job description.
This is a hot topic for twenty-somethings since more and more are attracted to industries like entertainment, music, law, medicine and fashion. To offer some additional advice on this topic, I asked some thirty-somethings in various high-stress, fast-paced industries for their two cents. Here is what they had to say:
A highly demanding job is likely more challenging to cope with if you don't like at least 90% of what you do. There will always be that 10% that you could do without; but if you enjoy your work, then even the most hectic of schedules can be manageable and exciting. Still, the speed at which 'work' needs to get done these days can always lead to stress and result in feeling as if you are out of balance. The key is to check with yourself and take the needed breaks while upholding the values you set for yourself (and your boss) specific to work ethic, integrity and responsibility.
The first question to ask yourself is, "Do I want my boss' job? Do I want my boss' boss' job?" If the answer is no, the stress involved in paying your dues now may not land you where you want to be in the future. If this is the case, you may want to seek an alternate career path. If you do decide that your current job is a necessary stepping stone to your ideal career destination, then you must learn to cope with stress while you make your climb. On the job you can do this by being more organized, delegating wherever possible, and developing a high level of proficiency in your skill set (the more you know the less stressful job performance becomes). Off the job, make sure you take plenty of time to decompress. There is only room for so much stress in a person's life, and when you have a lot of it on-the-job, there is no room for any off-the-job.
There must be compelling reasons why someone is in a high demand job in the first place (prestige, money, power, etc.). If you are not motivated by something, then leaving the high demand job is probably the best advice I can give you. Once you have decided that there are compelling reasons to stay in a high demand job, mental and physical coping mechanisms are very important. Mental coping mechanisms involve managing expectations. Do not try and fool yourself that everyday will be stress-free. On the stressful days, reward yourself with something - you may even want more stressful days depending on the reward. Maybe think about a vacation or other events in the future that you can look forward to. Sometimes physical coping mechanisms are even more helpful. Try calming the nerves by closing your eyes for 5 minutes in a vacant conference room or bathroom stall. Sometimes a walk outside for 5 minutes does the job. Bottom line -Tomorrow is a new day. Put things into perspective. There are many people in the world that would kill to have your job and you should consider yourself lucky and fortunate.
If you are having trouble dealing with the stress now, this might not be the right path for you. In the medical field, you learn really early if you are cut out for this job. The stress is 24/7 - and here we're saving lives. As they say, "if you can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen."
The best way to cope with stress is to always remind yourself about the ultimate prize or goal that keeps you coming into work everyday. If you loose sight of that, it is very easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged. But to keep up in a fast-paced industry, you have to stay on your toes and not allow any insecurity to get in your way. Hurt feelings are insignificant when it comes to business. Work is a priority for most people in fast-paced, prestigious industries - and we all think we're doing something really important. So to keep up, work has to be your first priority and it does require sacrifice. Just be sure to balance it by really taking advantage of the time you aren't working to do things that revitalize you.
Aspiring Designer in the Fashion Industry:
You've got to really want this life. It has to be your passion; otherwise the stress isn't worth it. The biggest thing I've learned is to take nothing personally. I deal with the stress by taking it one day at a time, venting to good friends who do not work in this industry and remembering everyday that it is my choice to have this job. I could move back to Illinois and become a teacher or something. Sure it may be less stressful, but I'd be bored out of my mind. So be honest with yourself and admit that some part of you really loves this life.
Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at email@example.com.