Tag Archives: stress

10 Workplace Stressors – and when it’s time to quit

Stress. No matter what job you have, at some point, it’s going to be stressful. But jobs with chronic stress can destroy your health and happiness at all hours of the day. I’ve attempted to break out the different types of work stress below, to discuss which kinds of stress is ok (short-term) and which kind of stress should be avoided or engineered out of your life.

  1. Work Quantity Stress — you may like your job, your compensation, your boss, and your peers, but you just have too much to do. Perhaps you’re being scheduled for too many hours, or being handed too many clients than it’s reasonably possible to manage in a week’s work. If you can negotiate a lesser project load or convince your boss that additional resources need to be added, then this stress is manageable. However, if you are working in a situation where this is unlikely to change, it’s best to start exploring new employers within the same field. You should determine if the workload is common across all employers in the field, or unique to your employer. If unique, start planning your exit. If not, determine if your career is truly sustainable.
  2. Job Success Stress — some jobs are second nature to employees. There may be specific projects that require learning new skills or developing existing ones, but no matter what there’s a core set of things that you do well, probably better than anyone else in your company. You take pride in these things and know they are adding value to your employer. If you do not have a core set of skills that add value to your employer, it’s time to look at your career and scope your potential for success. If you’re constantly unable to live up to expectations, and are unable to learn certain portions of the role (i.e. you have to be extroverted but you’re really shy) it’s time to look for a new job or career.
  3. Management Stress (Boss) — your boss likes you give you one direction and then change it the next minute. Goals are never consistent and somehow a contribution you made once that received great praise is, despite being nearly identical a few days later, somehow not considered a win. You are fighting an uphill battle that you can’t win. You should maybe start to look for a new boss. If you can move to another department in your company, this is worth a first step if you still like the overall company and culture.
  4. Management Stress (Direct Reports) — no matter what, you just cannot get the best work out of your team. Maybe you are understaffed (see #1) or you made poor hiring choices. Even if you hired the world’s best team, you still may not be helping them succeed due to your own poor managerial skills. Not everyone should be a manager. It’s ok to take a step back and accept if you are not management material, as they say. You can still lead a very successful career without being in middle or senior management. Take stock of your stressors and see how many of these would go away if you could focus entirely on execution and not on leadership. If the answer is “most of them,” consider a career change into a field where individual contributions are rewarded. Consultants can earn as much or more than middle managers. Don’t be a slave to corporate hierarchies if you don’t fit them well.
  5. Financial Stress (Underpaid) — your life is more expensive than your compensation. Maybe you have a lot of debt, or have to support a growing family, and your work isn’t paying enough to enable you to live the life you want. Just leaving your job and jumping to another role will unlikely solve this, unless you can manage a major pay increase. Examine your career and realistically address your likely compensation over the next 10 years within your role and field. If this won’t help you achieve your financial goals, start to look for a career that pays better.
  6. Financial Stress (Overpaid) — this one may seem odd, but there is a stress that comes along with negotiating well for yourself and making comparatively more than others at your level in the company. You and your own boss may place a great deal of stress on your successes that are in reality much bigger than the cost to the business for the extra couple hundred dollars you make each month after taxes. Determine if you’d be happier making less with less unreasonable pressure. It maybe be better to add a second job or some freelancing work to make up for the difference, versus being expected to give up your entire life for work.
  7. Culture Stress — no matter what, you haven’t been able to find your peer group in your organization. It’s like you joined some super cliquey sorority and you were invited as a joke. Perhaps everyone at the office goes on and on about sports everyday and you haven’t watched a game since you were forced to by your parents in second grade. Or the entire company is made out of male engineers who seem to have a touch of Aspergers, and won’t listen to anything you have to say. It’s ok to admit that the culture isn’t right, and it’s time to start looking elsewhere. If the company culture is causing you so much stress it’s distracting you from getting your job done or enjoying your home life… it’s ok to move on.
  8. Individual Person Stress — is there one employee in your organization who just drives you absolutely batshit? If this employee isn’t your boss, you probably can learn to deal with them, but it won’t be easy. Every company is going to have its fair share of people who don’t jive with your personality, and in most cases you have to learn how to deal with them and be a mature adult about the situation. If the person is related to the company’s founder and is given special treatment, you’re probably not the only one who notices. Remind yourself the job is not forever, and do your best now so you can be better suited for other companies – without this person as an employee – in the future.
  9. Travel Stress — you joined the job thinking you’d be traveling a few times a year, but suddenly you’re called on to travel every day of the week, and some weekends. You feel like you never see your family, significant other, pet or bed. Maybe the travel was fun and exciting for a while, but you’ve gotten to the point where you know the security gate attendant better than your partner. If the travel is creating more stress than reward, consider looking for a position in the same field that doesn’t require constant time on the road.
  10. Office Stress — getting out of the office every once in a while can do wonders to help you improve your work. If your employer doesn’t support your attending industry conferences, sitting in on client meetings, or ever leaving your cubical, you may be stuck in a rut that won’t be de-rutted until you make a move. This type of stress is manageable over the short term. Start to look for other positions which your skills can apply towards which offer more opportunities for travel or being put in front of users/clients. Or, talk to your boss and see if there are opportunities to improve this in your company today.

Jobs naturally are stressful – if they weren’t, we wouldn’t get paid to do them! But there are some stressors that are worse than others. Take stock of what is causing your stress today, and determine if this is something you can manage for a few months or years, or if it’s time to start looking at a company or career change. This post was inspired by a friend of mine who is an occupational therapist, who, despite stresses over resources, really loves her actual job. She explained that it feels good to be really good at what she does. I returned to thinking about my own stresses today in work, and how most of these are due to my lack of confidence in being able to do any of my core job tasks well. By understanding this, I’m able to focus on looking for a new career where I can obtain a role where I can feel competent. Personally, I don’t see this ever being possible in my current role/field for a number of reasons, so I am more convinced then ever that I must shake things up in order to lead a happy life over the long term.

The Emotional Reprecussions of Narcissistic Parents

No one has perfect parents, and by 30-something you’re supposed to be well adjusted enough to forgive and forget any of their misgivings. I don’t know why I’m still holding out for the day my parents learn how to care about anyone other than themselves, yet that faith consistently proves futile.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer seven years ago and told he had one to two years to live, I spent an evening collapsed on the floor with my friend holding my hand and praying to Jesus for me – which despite my being an atheist Jew was somewhat comforting. Despite growing up as the child of narcissists, and despite being quite self absorbed myself, somehow I’ve managed to learn how to care about others. I’m not very good at expressing this, and I certainly don’t know how to manage these feelings within the context of my family, but I’m learning.

Dad is still alive and kicking. While I had hoped that somehow the stars would align for him to both kick the terminal disease and for having a terminal illness to turn him into a man far less self-centered, I’ve realized this will never happen. The more amount of time I spend away from my parents, the more I can observe their great narcissism. To be fair, they financially took care of me throughout my childhood and then some, and I had a very comfortable childhood, at least on paper.

But that comfortable childhood was spent listening to hours upon hours of my father telling my mother she’s an idiot, throwing curse words at her, screaming and berating her, while my mother nagged about one thing or another, setting him off over and over again. My parents, in many ways, are perfect for each other. There is no satisfying their narcissistic supply, and it would surely drain anyone who actually cared to please the other when such pleasing was impossible.

I may be the type to over dramatize a lot of things in my life, but my parent’s crazy is not one of them. The definition of narcissistic personality disorder defines my father perfectly. My friend from childhood came to visit today and said she was not looking forward to coming over to the house because of my father, as he was never kind to her. She was a bit of a troublemaker as a child, but that was due to her parents both working and leaving her home alone from a young age, alongside her father’s alcoholism and abuse (which I did not know about at the time.) We both had crazy situations at home which is why we bonded, but my father always made it very clear that he looked down on her and her family. Today when she came over, he didn’t greet her in anyway. Yet, when my boyfriend comes over and doesn’t say hi to him, it’s the absolute worst possible disrespect. In short, my father is a great hypocrite, proven time and again, as he constantly cuts others down for faults that if he’d only look in a mirror for once he’d see so clearly in himself.

My father is the more violent type of crazy. He’s what I’d call a bad person. He has no care about how his actions make others feel. It is true that my mother has no care about how her actions make others feel, but typically his actions make others feel unsafe while hers are just annoying or embarrassing at worst. Wouldn’t it be nice for my father to, at least for the short time I’m home to visit, make an effort to make the household hospitable? No, in just 24 hours I’ve listened to him spurt more variations of “Fuck you” and “You’re an Idiot” at my mother than I’d care to count.

Thank goodness my mother has no heart inside of her to care. It’s just same old, same old with her. He seems to no longer physically shove her or grab her anymore, largely due to her calling the cops on him finally years back. Of course, after the police came to pick him up and take him to the station she had to go down and pick him up once he was released. That was the day I was terrified my father might actually kill my mother. She’s always been petite and weak, he’s always been obese and strong – which is a bad combination with a man who has no ability to control his temper and a woman who has no ability to realize she ought to not nag – or suggest any of her own ideas – in order to keep peace in the household.

My mother is no angel. She doesn’t have an ounce of mothering spirit in her body. A friend of hers came over tonight, a woman who was my Hebrew School teacher long ago, and as she asked how I’m doing I explained to her my concerns about having a child and maintaining a high-powered executive job, she briefly stroked my hair in a very motherly sort of way — this was completely off-putting to me, but the motherly-ness of it was kind of nice. She does call my mother out at her self-centeredness from time to time, not that my mother actually internalizes any of this feedback, but sometimes it’s nice to have a third party’s opinion organically in the mix. Makes me feel a bit less crazy.

Then there’s my sister, who, just graduated from college, is thank goodness a good person, yet broken as much as I am from growing up in an abusive household. While my seventeen jarring years at home pushed me towards my bipolar medley, she has also sought help for her depression. She has also been, just recently, leading quite the promiscuous life, because she has no sense of what a healthy relationship is, or how to respect herself or her body. And I feel horrible as her bigger sister not being able to provide any guidance to teach her that she deserves to be loved, and what that means. The fact is both of us have been formally diagnosed with depression, and I’m confident that the root cause of this was more nurture than nature. Who can come out of a household filled with so much selfishness and hatred and lead a healthy, normal, successful life – at least without being heavily medicated?

The Beatles said it best – all you need is love – and for the first 20 years of my life I had no such thing. During my 20s I struggled to learn how to love with a very patient, mild mannered, soothing boyfriend who came from his own broken background. His neglect and my physical and emotional abuse seemed to create two fractured creatures made somewhat whole together. There are days when I look around at other people in society who are perhaps more “normal” or socially able and I wonder what it would be like to be a person who can go out to events and socialize, but then I have to remind myself how completely awkward and abnormal I am, and why we’re the perfect fit for each other, till death do us part. And I remind myself that the only thing I really need to be happy is the love I never had as a child, the forgiving, relentless, eternal love that manages to find equal parts beauty and annoyance in even my many faults.

When I began my career, I had no one. I had never experienced love, I never valued myself enough to be in a healthy relationship with another person I fully respected or who respected me. Sure, I had a few relationships, but these were short lived – a girlfriend who, despite being kind and giving, was far too simpleminded to be a long-term match; a boyfriend who, a risk-loving midwestern guy with a horde of giant dogs and bad jokes and no emotional depth, was no fit for my sensitive side; and another boyfriend, a professional who, despite at the time earning a hundred thousand dollars more than my intern salary, and having been dating for nearly two years, made it clear that I would be paying for everything on every date, down to a $7 movie ticket, and then I’d be sleeping on the living room two-person couch for the night. I was so hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places because I had absolutely no respect for myself. I didn’t know how to be loved, or how to be worth being loved.

This is why I threw myself into my career. I wasn’t great at everything I did at work, but I had nothing else to focus on, even when my relationship with my current boyfriend begun, as I was unable to let him in. I found myself, typical as a child of abuse, trying to start fights at every turn, not feeling comfortable just existing in love. I needed the chaos, the ups and downs, the rush of the pain I was so used to. I pushed him away harder than one should be able to push a man and yet he stayed. He stuck he out. He knew I was hurting and lost and we both knew we were perfect for each other even though I tried so hard to break us apart.

Now I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve grown up a bit. I still have a lot of aging to do with wisdom to gain. But now all I need to find happiness is to be hugged tightly in his arms. I don’t need money or a fancy house or nice clothes or a new car or even to travel the world (though I enjoy traveling) because I could spend the rest of my life in a room with him and it would be ok. Suddenly, all of my motivation to focus on my career at the cost of avoiding my broken self shifted to my desire to be able to create a healthy, positive family with him. The years began to fly by and suddenly I was in my late 20s and then 30s. We didn’t get married or have kids, we just kept on watching the years go by, having fun together, but making little progress in terms of starting that family I began to see clearer and clearer.

I know having children is going to be a massive challenge due to my PCOS, and I don’t know how I’m going to manage to maintain my job and go through infertility treatments when the time comes. I’m going to have to make a lot of sacrifices and I will have to be strong enough to do this, not on my own, but as a team of two, us against the world. I’m quite frankly terrified because I don’t want to have kids and be a bad mother – I know I can be a horrible boss sometimes and while that’s not good either, at least with work you don’t always have the same employees throughout your career. One wrong move as a parent and it haunts you and your child for the rest of your life.

My teen self never dreamt of becoming a mother. Now, there’s nothing else in my life that seems more desirable or real. I’m afraid of what happens when I have children and introduce them to my parents, especially to my father’s rage, and how to explain to them that he thinks he’s right all the time even though he isn’t. Then I remember that chances are he won’t even be around when they’re born, or old enough to understand anything. Then I get sad over that, because I do want them to meet their grandfather, even with all of his volcanic anger constantly erupting. And I want them to meet my mother, as she far better plays the role of crazy grandmother than mother, taking pictures of her grandchildren and buying them presents to later be photographed with as well.

I can’t believe how fast time is flying — I’m nearly 32 and I’m not even married yet. I don’t feel behind mentally yet I know biologically the door to have a family is rapidly closing. Between that and the challenge and cost of going through the procedures needed to even children while also maintaining my high-pressure job is frightening. I’ll need to make some big choices about giving up massive savings potential in order to have a family. But at the end of the day, what is the point of saving if you never have a family to share that with (if that’s what you want to do, that is.)

 

Dealing with Severe Anxiety

I’ve suffered with anxiety all of my life — perhaps the result of an overly-anxious mother and a very angry father — but never have I had such physical reactions to this anxiety. Usually I can go about my day fine and only feel anxiety when I’m dealing with a specific situation. But at the moment I have this deep rooted anxiety that I’m pretty sure is trying to murder me from the inside out. It’s intense, and I don’t know what to do about it.

So many stressful situations are colliding right now. My company is struggling. My colleagues are quitting. I have potential opportunities but all of them require negotiating and trying to pick the right one. I may lose $20,000 in early exercised stock options. I have to move out by April 1. Every apartment that I can find requires at least a $200 per month increase in rent, and for 1 bedrooms comparable in quality to my existing 3 bedroom it would be more like a $400 a month increase in rent. My boyfriend’s limit on his part of the rent is $850 and most 1 bedrooms that are nice around here go for $2000-$2200. So then I’d be paying $1150-$1350 a month. I pay $650 today! — Meanwhile the stock market isn’t doing well. I poured $4000 of pre-tax money into my 401k on Jan 15, when my total networth was at $257k, and now it’s down to $248k. So — on paper — I lost almost $10k in half a month. It could go back up, but it can also keep going down. And I’m freaking out.

Continue reading

Overwhelmed at Work: For Better or Worse

My job isn’t nearly as high stress as a career as an emergency room surgeon, but it has its ongoing stress nonetheless. The stress comes from carving a path that is not clear, and the responsibility that comes with both carving it on your own, while also the pressure of not trying anything too far out in left field, as there isn’t enough time to waste on something that doesn’t work. And you can still mess up quite a bit, even while keeping your work fairly ordinary.

I love the challenge that comes with my current job. I truly have the opportunity to make a huge difference in my company. I also have the opportunity to really hurt my company (not on purpose, of course, but if I just can’t meet my commitments for whatever reason.)

My confusion is when I am fairly overwhelmed and when I’m not organized/focused enough to get things done as they should be. It’s hard to say because I know I do have a tendency to procrastinate, but I’m still working 60+ hours a week, barely sleeping, staying up all night to get projects done. So I might not be the most productive at the office straight through the day, but I’m still putting in quite a lot of hours into this job. I can’t imagine – even if I could manage to retain focus from 8am to 7pm – that I’d be much more productive. I might sleep more, but my output would likely be around the same. Continue reading

The Currency of Time: Life’s Most Precious Commodity

Lately I’ve been trying to compute the currency of time.

Not every second holds the same value as the next. And value is relative — sleep seconds, for instance, are highly valuable cohesively, yet alone they are nights of insomnia dosed with fissures of awareness. The same goes for time to spend with family, friends, or even yourself, outside of your daily work hours. What is the value of that time? High, surely, but how high? What if you spend four years of your life dedicated to work, almost every minute of your life, to build a successful company, so the rest of your life requires less stress over earning and the ability to appreciate time more — making time more valuable.

At this very moment, I’m sitting on a plane (in first class again – yeay, elite status upgrades) and — after two bloody marys — am quite introspective. God, I only had one and a half bloody marys — they make these very strong in first class! Regardless, I’m once again pondering time as currency, because time itself is the most limited commodity, therefore it’s the most valuable. I also owe you all a post, since I’ve been incredibly busy with — work (and rewarding work at that) — and haven’t had time to write. Or haven’t known what to write about. But now, sweet readers, I impart my thoughts on the most valuable currency of all, the limited moments we have here on this earth between birth and death that are quickly flying by as we sit at our desks, stressing over something that in the grand scheme of things, as far as the meaning, or lack of meaning, of life itself, is not that important, beyond purchasing for more “time” with an investment in today’s time value.

My job doesn’t need to require all nighters, but I do my best work at night, and need to be at the office during the day to handle the thousands of little things that come up — an interview to schedule, a event to coordinate, a new graphic to manage the design process for, and so on. I’m completely overwhelmed by my role and terrified I’ll be replaced. There’s the alcohol truth serum speaking up. I like drinking, occasionally, on flights, because it gives me time to think, straight or crooked I’m not sure, but at the very least, I feel calm, and can process simpler important matters without worrying about the bigger picture.

But back to the point of this point — what is the value of time, and does it make sense to trade in time now for time later? As the company that acquired my former company announces its IPO, I realize that, although I’ll never see a dollar of that success, wealth is within reach. Wealth, not as in becoming a billionaire, but as in earning $1M before I turn 32. Granted, this isn’t a requirement by any means, but it’s more of a possibility now than ever. There are days I believe — despite my ardent atheism — that there must be some great screenwriter above writing my life story. It’s too funny how things work out, or don’t work out, but if you keep pushing, keep going, eventually something works out.

Two bloody marys and a red wine into this 1 hr flight before I have a stopover and get on my next flight, I’m, admittedly, extremely intoxicated. Not to the point of feeling sick, but to the point I love, occasionally, on extremely rare occasions, by myself, when the rest of the world just disappears, where I’m in my mind, in a place where I can examine what matters and what doesn’t.

Red wine, done.

I don’t want to be a billionaire. I’d like to have a million dollars at 30 or 32. To invest most of it and live a simple life. To pay rent off my boyfriend’s salary. To have a family — three kids — we’ve already named them, go figure — and to love them more than anything. I want to paint, to write, to do all the things I have absolutely no time for right now. I want to kick ass in my current role and be a leader in helping this company be extraordinarily succcessful. On one hand, that sounds ridiculous. On the other hand, it’s possible.

It’s so possible it really seems like it’s scripted. I invested $20k into my stock options because, quite frankly, I’ve been blessed (in a non religious sense) with a CEO/boss who is brilliant, who I trust, who knows how to build an extremely valuable company. I don’t know what my place is in that company, as I think I’ll be replaced, or “superior-ized” as a VP is brought in to manage me once it really matters — but I really want to prove I can do that. I can kick ass. I can help our entire company be successful. I love that. For the first time in my life, I believe I have the opportunity to make a difference in the company. If we’re ever to be worth billions of dollars, I’m going to own up to the fact that there’s a good change I’ll have something to do with it. Incredible. That job of mine is not being done well now. I need time to focus. Time to read and learn as much as possible. That time is not available. That time is spent worrying, and then working through the night. I love the night. I wish I had the day to read books about marketing and analytics and the night to work. But I can’t have that — I just need to be amazing at what I do have. The opportunity is there. I don’t want to fuck this up.

Which brings me back to — time. I am more than willing to give all of my time to work now, so I can live the life I want later. I don’t know what that life is — maybe it’s painting, having a family, starting my own business, volunteering — whatever it is — I know money is the only answer to that end goal. It isn’t the answer for everyone. I don’t want to be a billionaire. I don’t want a big house. I want time. How much does time cost? Maybe more than a big house. But that’s what I want. How can I get it? How can I help my company succeed? That is all I want right now.

Blogging Yourself to Death

Once upon a time, I blogged for a living. I was lucky enough to land a coveted job at a respected blog and worked alongside some of the best bloggers in the business. Their passion and dedication to their career went beyond what I expected in my vague understanding of the blogging lifestyle from afar.

I’ve been blogging for more than 10 years, but until I took the full-time blogging gig, it has always been a side hobby of mine. It was more about writing about my personal experiences. Once it was my job, it was a combination of reporting and opinion, a pressure far exceeding that of a traditional journalist because it required both solid reporting and something to say about every piece of news.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an opinionated gal, but the pressure to always have something to say, and to still get the news first and get it out there wore me out fast. I definitely freaked myself out and got massive writer’s block. I ultimately left that job. I lasted three months. My boss conceded that I had talent as a writer but a startup blog was not the place for me.
At the time, it hurt. I wanted so badly to be a great blogger. The blogging lifestyle was pretty awesome… I could work anywhere, say what I wanted (as long as it was supported by fact.) I was rewarded for creative thinking, and for page views. Well, mostly for page views.
The New York Times is aware of the pressure. “In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop,” asserts the Times. “the evolution of the ‘pay-per-click’ economy has put the emphasis on reader traffic and financial return, not journalism,’ quotes the article. It just so happens I worked for a company the cared equally about reader traffic AND journalism. That was great for the quality of the blog, but awful for the quality of life for anyone who worked there.
My boss… well, he eventually got very ill. But he’s still going strong. Unfortunately, other bloggers have literally died from the pressure. Others have had heart attacks and are now determined to make a lifestyle change.
But how much of a lifestyle change is possible? Once upon a time reporting required getting the news first… as in that day, by the time the papers went to press. Now, it’s all about being first. Getting the scoop long before the thousand other people attempting to write the best blog get the story first. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. It’s not for everyone. The people who love it suffer as well. It’s like training for the Olympics. You do it because you love it. But you sometimes wonder if all the stress is worth it. There are certainly other jobs that pay better and require less effort.
I’m personally happy that I left my life as a full-time blogger. Though I still dream of starting a love advice blog that would somehow take off and be my ticket to my next fifteen minutes of fame, I’m quite content with my current career working for a non-blog web startup.
For now, I’m blogging because I love it, when I feel like it. This blog certainly has gone in directions that I haven’t expected. I try to keep my posts on topic — either being about finances or career, but sometimes I wonder if my readers would be interested in a broader focus. In any case, I’m amazed that I’m now getting over 100 hits per day, I’ve made about $60 on AdSense, and I even have about 160 feedburner readers. It’s fun that I can blog about things I’m really interested in and… find out that other people are actually interested  in hearing what I have to say. It’s a very nice feeling. 
So thanks, my lovely readers. You sure all make my day. And I don’t even need to risk having a heart attack to obtain that satisfaction.