OG2: In following the FI/PF world on social media you come across a lot of great success stories. Comebacks, debt payoffs, retiring early, world wide travel, not to mention you can make a lot of virtual friends. One other recurring headline is that people seem really stressed. In particular, stressed about work or their job. I’ll be the first to admit LIFE can bring all sorts of stress. Health or heartbreak with loved ones, less than ideal living conditions, the 7 deadly sins, bad luck and so-on. We are all in the same boat, needing to figure out how to manage these life events, both big and small. But it’s work related stress that seems to come up frequently and I just don’t understand why. Now, I’m no psychologist or sociologist, but I’ve been around for over 4 decades and have had a job since I was 14 making pizzas a Little Caesars. That provides me a little perspective.
Legit job with stress?
I engaged someone in the Twitterverse when they exclaimed they had work stress and I earnestly asked why. Of course I got a diatribe on all the things wrong at their workplace. A couple of examples were “Verbal abuse & morally questionable directives”. These are normally illegal and you can report it to HR or leave. Here’s the remainder of the list, “ Salaried and working 60-80 hours, people above you with poor management skills, lack of oversight, micromanaged, people promoted who shouldn’t have, taken advantage of because of a bleak job market, and they could go on and on”. Well boo-hoo. I hate to break it to you. That’s EVERYWHERE, every company. I have all of those things too. But is that a reason for stress? Of course not. You not only need to manage yourself, you have to learn to manage upwardly. You can be stuck at being your ‘genuine’ self, or you can learn to work with individuals on their level, not just yours. If you learn to bend to how they communicate, things will be a lot less stressful. So yes, you need to learn to be a chameleon.
One job that I’ve pondered to be stressful would be a sales type job that was 100% commissioned based. On the surface, I could imagine some stress that if you didn’t make a sale, you couldn’t eat that day or pay rent. I think that type of stress would be reasonable. Then again, I harken to the movie The Shawshank Redemption, when a newly processes convict is asked about why he’s in the joint. After explaining that he’s been busted several times for theft, the main character suggests he goes into a new line of work. When asked why, the reply was ‘You keep getting busted. You’re obviously not a good thief’. When you take a sales job like this, you know what you’re getting into.
Yes, there are lots of jobs out there that are not great. I’ve done a lot of them. Like a helpdesk or call center job. You’re stuck in a seat, staring at a computer and no one, no one, is calling to tell you how happy they are. Dry Cleaning… I’ve done that. You wouldn’t believe what people will do in their pants and have the nerve to drop off for cleaning. I’ve also done general outdoor labor in all sorts of weather conditions, 3rd shift grocery stocking shelves, retail, usher… I can’t remember them all. But, the crappy jobs pay. And when you need to eat and have a place to live, a crappy job suits just fine. You entitled not to like it, even hate your job, but stress need not be part of that equation. Bide your time and plot a course to a job that will be better. That’s what I did.
Not Making the Money You Thought
Another common thread is that college grads over the past decade aren’t making what they thought they would make upon graduation or that the job market is bad. For the first, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s your fault. Either you didn’t pick a degree correctly or you didn’t have a correct view of what someone with zero experience in your field will be paid. The job market? I don’t know what you’re talking about. See crappy job above. There are always jobs to be had. They just may not be what you want to do.
Shortly after getting married, we quickly found ourselves underwater with credit card debt. Almost a year’s salary for one of us. Even though I was working 60 hours a week at a startup telecom company, I took a second job on nights and weekends at Bally Fitness. I did this for 2 years. Hard work pays, literally.
My first career related job was at a startup referenced above. I started at $30k. In two years I got up to $40k. Then, I literally walked across the street as a consultant and doubled what I was making. I busted my hump to to learn the skills that made me valuable. Two years later I was over $100k and haven’t looked back since. Here’s the kicker… I graduated with a degree in Poly Sci. I always wanted to be a lawyer. Things changed and I didn’t have a Plan B. So, I made one. Parlayed one skill to the next, was the beneficiary of people who mentored me and pointed me towards the coding and technologies to study at home and, here it is again, I BUSTED MY REAR END. I went from reviewing contracts to building the application that all the contract data went into. From building the app to being a DBA and Business Intelligence expert. All of this was in D.C. Not exactly inexpensive.
Old Guy Advice
For the past 10 years or so, when it comes to work related stress, I’ve advised my teams the same. Here it is folks, the OG Stylings of Wisdom:
- Tasks do not have emotions. It’s just a task. That key on the keyboard (or whatever you’re pushing) doesn’t have feelings.
- If you’re emotional about a task (project, etc), it’s because of one of two things:
- You have assigned emotion to that task yourself (see #1 above) or
- You have allowed someone else to transfer their emotion about a task onto you.
Do you see? These ‘stresses’ are all within your control. Someone mad about something work related? Instead of getting worked up yourself, figure out why they are emotional about it or just focus on the task. It’s just a task. There is no argument to make it otherwise.
Be prepared. My teams have great responsibilities. Not just for the performance of the company’s bottom line, but for millions of lives surrounding areas in which our company operates. One serious mistake could lead to a major international incident where lots of people could die. This weight could carry a lot of stress. But it doesn’t. We’re prepared, well educated (almost all on the job), practiced and execute as a team.
So why are you stressed at work? Honestly, I would love to hear what it is that is stressing you out about your job.