In 1967, two psychiatrists named Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe performed a rigorous study to better understand the correlation between stress and illness. Ultimately, they created the Homes and Rahe Stress Scale, a comprehensive list that ranks the 43 most stressful life events. (You can see the list here.)
While much of the scale is predictable (death of a spouse ranks at the top of the list), there are several surprising things that stand out. One of the most fascinating is that the word “change” pops up in 15 out of the 43 listed events. What’s more, the scale doesn’t indicate whether these changes are good or bad. For example, change in financial state, change to a different line of work, and change in living conditions are all listed. Regardless of outcome—positive or negative—the stress associated remains the same, at least according to this scale.
Why is that? The reason revolves around the very nature of change. As human beings, we are creatures of habit. Any change—good, bad, or indifferent—comes with the potential for danger. We are evolutionarily wired to fear the unknown. After all, when our caveman ancestors disrupted the status quo, their lives were often put in jeopardy. Survival depended on consistency.
So it’s no surprise that career changes are stressful. Regardless of how dramatic the change may or may not be, there is inherent risk. It could be the best move you’ve ever made; it could be a disaster. No matter how well you plan for it or how certain you are that it’s the “right” move, there’s just no predicting the future.
Many people let this inherent risk scare them into staying stagnant. Change—and for that matter, GROWTH—of any kind requires confronting fear, weighing the risk against the reward, and taking a leap of (intelligent) faith. Yes, you may land on your butt once or twice. But it’s all part of the process. You take what you learn, pick yourself up, and try it again.
The best you can do is understand the risk you’re facing. Go in with eyes wide open. Do you have the time, money, capabilities, support, etc. needed to make this change comfortable for you and your family? If not, what’s missing? What are the potential consequences? What can you do to fill the gaps and reduce the risk?
Figure out exactly how much risk you’re willing and able to endure. What’s acceptable? What is too much? What goal are you trying to achieve? What will you give up (or put up with) in order to earn the potential rewards of this goal?
Lastly, manage your attitude toward risk. Know that anything worth doing will involve some level of potential danger. If things don’t work out exactly as you dreamed, you will recover. Shift your perspective and look at change as an adventure, an opportunity for growth. Don’t dwell on the risk.
While working at a bank many years ago, I approved a $10,000 fraudulent transaction. When the FBI showed me pictures of the man who had pulled a fast one on me, I didn’t even recognize him. In fact, the whole situation was kind of a blur. At some point, they pulled the footage from the branch security cameras and, as I flipped through photos of myself smiling and giving what appeared to be excellent customer service to a man on the FBI’s watch list, I could hardly believe my naivety.
Unbelievably, I wasn’t fired. Though it would have been completely justified. My boss really stepped up for me. Not normally the sympathetic type, I think he was just as blown away by the situation as I was.
Clearly, that wasn’t a shining moment in my career. In fact, I’d venture to say it was the biggest and most devastating mistake I’ve made at any point in my professional life. Thankfully, I don’t believe in failure. So I see this as a critically important lesson in judgment.
To help you avoid such painful lessons, I thought I’d share the top 5 things I learned from this experience.
1. Don’t Zone Out
The most inexcusable part about my “situation” (as we will now refer to it) was that I didn’t even remember my thought process. I couldn’t justify my actions. Why? Because I was “in the zone”. Or rather, I was zoned out. I was doing my thing, the monotonous daily tasks I had come to take for granted. My brain was on auto-pilot. I ran hundreds of transactions a day. At some point, it only makes sense that I’d stop paying close attention to each one.
Good judgment is an active process. Engage the brain. If you feel yourself falling into a mindless routine, shake it up. Start working with the opposite hand or move the items you use most frequently. Showing strong judgment doesn’t mean you won’t ever make mistakes, but when you do, you should have a clear understanding (and recollection) of what thought process led you to that conclusion.
2. Slow Down
The truth is, I was probably competing with the other tellers to see who could move through customers the fastest. Man, I hate admitting this. But that was a common occurrence. I was a manager so running a teller drawer wasn’t my favorite thing to do. I only jumped up to help out when the line was out of control. And my presence always forced the other tellers to pick up the pace. We made it a game as a way to relieve the tension. That backfired.
Never sacrifice quality for speed. It’s so tempting, especially when impatient customers are right in front of you. But breathe deep and take slow, methodical action. Good judgment requires time. Give yourself a minute to think about what you’re doing. Rushed decisions are never as defensible as those made with measured, deliberate consideration.
3. Multi-Tasking Is Dangerous
You guessed it. I was multi-tasking. It might not seem like it at first, but my attention was in fact divided. I was running a transaction while chatting it up with a customer. Now, I’m not saying I should have ignored the man in front of me. But there’s a time to shut up and focus, which I never did. I was more concerned with being friendly. I probably was trying to upsell him to an investment product. I definitely wasn’t giving the most important task in front of me the attention it deserved.
I’ve written before about the dangers of multi-tasking so I won’t rehash my point-of-view here. Just remember: Good judgment requires full focus. Give it less and you’ll get less.
4. Stress Manipulates
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned how to appropriately manage my stress. Before that, I truly let it run wild. Stress has a way of manipulating your thoughts. Scientifically, it can actually alter your brain chemistry. Stress can physically change the way you see the world and how you react to it. If you’re under severe stress, you can pretty much guarantee that your judgment will suffer. Get it under control now or pay later.
5. People Aren’t All As Nice As You
This is a hard lesson to learn. I worked at the bank right after college and, until that point, I didn’t really understand just how much “bad stuff” happened each day out in the big world. Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t an idiot. But I always thought I could SEE danger. And I trusted my gut. So I figured danger would either jump out with a neon sign over its head or I’d instinctively just know. Turns out, danger hides in all kinds of charming, fun, easy-to-talk-to places. Danger lives inside the most unsuspecting people and moments.
Good judgment means you’re willing to see what’s really there, even when it’s hard. You’re willing to look beneath the surface and confront the reality—that people aren’t always good and truthful. You may be a target. You may be the person who looks easily swayed or distracted, the one whose judgment looks questionable. Don’t let them get away with it. Show them that your judgment is sharp and nothing gets by you.
I wonder what it would have been like if I had followed these tips on that fateful day. Would I have stopped the man? Would I have notified the police, saved the bank thousands of dollars, and possibly even played a central role in bringing down the fraud ring this man was a part of? Who knows? It’ll always be a question for me.
Written by Chrissy Scivicque, April 13th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
A little while back, I wrote an article called How to Work For (or With) a Perfectionist. And it got me thinking…I could probably write a whole series of these. I could substitute perfectionist for almost anything: control freak, micro-manager, procrastinator…the list could be endless.
We’re surrounded by flawed individuals in everything we do. That’s what it is to be human. Working with humans requires patience. It’s an art form, you might say.
Here are a few helpful hints I’ve discovered in my time on Earth.
Let It Go
People are, by nature, imperfect. It’s not something they do intentionally and it’s not personal. Spend a significant amount of time with anyone and, sooner or later, the faulty wiring will show. Don’t dwell on it. This person isn’t just trying to get under your skin, no matter how it might feel.
Every human being is completely unique. And yet, they are all so inescapably HUMAN. You’ll never find a workplace that isn’t full of them, so get used to it. The stuff you deal with on a daily basis happens all over the world. It’s the unavoidable reality of life on Earth.
Know What You Control
The most wonderful—and most irritating—thing about humans is that they don’t come with any kind of control panel. You can’t punch in a code and make them behave in a certain way. The only one you can control is you. Take advantage of it. Don’t relinquish that control to someone else. If your boss is having a bad day, it’s his issue, not yours. You can’t control his mood and his mood doesn’t have to control you. That’s the beauty of free will.
Remember Your Own Humanity
It’s easy to point the finger at others. But we’re all in the same boat, my friend. Right now, a co-worker of yours is reading this thinking about all of your imperfections. That’s cool. You’re human. You’re allowed to be flawed. There’s no manufacturer’s guarantee on your back. And, in fact, those are the things that make you beautiful. If we were all the same, the workplace would be incredibly boring. Life as a human—and with humans—is full of surprises and frustrations. But I assure you, it’s better than the alternative.
This post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.
A few years ago, a small book titled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff became an overnight sensation in the self-help world. The general idea—that you shouldn’t get so bogged down in the details that you lose sight of the big picture—was fine in theory. But it quickly became a mantra that the unsuspecting public applied equally to every aspect of life, using it as a justification for unexceptional, and even careless, behavior.
In practice, the concept proved to be a surefire path to mediocrity.
You see, in reality, the small stuff is what matters. It’s what differentiates the outstanding performers from everyone else. The big stuff is sort of a given. That’s that known requirement. It’s the small stuff—the hidden, extra step that few people see and even fewer actually take—that separates the average person just “getting by” from the person who really believes in the goal and is dedicated to doing everything it takes in order to achieve it.
Success is all about the small stuff.
Another book came out a few years after Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. This one took a dramatically different approach. It’s called 212°: The Extra Degree and that title comes from the fact that water, at 212 degrees, creates steam. Before that, even up to 211 degrees, water is just really, really hot. It’s that extra degree that changes it to steam, and steam can power a locomotive. All it takes it one tiny degree to transform water into something completely different and infinitely more powerful.
This concept is far more useful for those seeking professional success. Micro-movements have the ability to transform the ordinary into the outstanding.
Just ask any competitive sportsman and he’ll agree. The margin of victory in most professional sports is very, very small. According to SimpleTruths.com, at the Indy 500, the average margin of victory for the last 10 years has been 1.54 seconds. In the PGA Championship, the first and second place winners have averaged a difference of just 1.71 strokes—less than half a stroke per day. The difference between the gold medal and no metal at all in the Olympic games is often a matter of split seconds.
The giant leaps allow you to compete but it’s the small stuff that puts you out in front.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the small stuff is unimportant. Yes, it’s counterproductive to obsess over the details so intensely that you lose sight of the ultimate goal. But a little sweat is necessary. Being meticulous is not a character flaw. Use the small stuff to your advantage. Everyone else is ignoring it.
A few weeks ago, I hosted a free teleseminar with my good friend Sydni Craig-Hart (of Executive Assistant to Virtual Assistant) and she was kind enough to record it. For your listening pleasure, I’ve loaded it in here. Please take some time out of your busy day to sit back, relax and learn all about how to manage stress and emotions in the workplace. Remember, we’re coming up to the holiday season. Stress is coming, whether you like it or not!
This session IS NOT full of those generic stress management tips you’ve heard before. It’s got real, tangible tools to help you get stress under control right now.
Dedicate just an hour of your time and you will:
Identify the ways in which you are experiencing stress emotionally, mentally and physically.
Identify the circumstances that cause these emotional reactions.
Learn techniques to improve your awareness of these issues and prevent them from creating unintended obstacles in the workplace.
Learn fun and easy techniques for managing and minimizing all types of stress.