It’s 7 A.M. Monday morning. Your roll out of bed and check your email — only to find forty unread messages urgently awaiting your reply.
You thought you were on top of your work — after all, you sacrificed most of your weekend trying to get ahead — but before getting a single sip of coffee, new time-sensitive projects and requests start to pile up.
For most ambitious professionals today, this is the way all-too-many of our days unfold. To get ahead in today’s hyper-competitive and interconnected world, you push yourself to work harder, faster, and longer than ever before.
With sky-high expectations imposed by our culture and ambitions and only moments of respite from our devices, you’ve trapped yourself in a near-permanent state of stress. Instead of finding satisfaction in our current job and recent successes, you anxiously anticipate what’s to come, telling yourself it can always get better.
You compare your life to peers and role models through the lens of social media. The very possibility of failure and the stress it induces haunts you and tricks you into a paralyzing, fearful kind of complacency. But what if your very understanding of stress has been wrong all along?
What if, rather than an imposing obstacle, stress was one of our greatest opportunities? What if, approached with the right strategy, it was the essential ingredient to our success?
In my experience, it is. As the founder of five companies and CEO of three, I’m familiar with the problems stress creates. I’ve been lucky enough to find these three strategies to conquer it, embrace it, and use it to channel success for both my business and personal life:
1. Make a commitment to leisure time.
One of the first things people tend to eliminate from our busy schedules is leisure time. In pursuit of productivity, you convince yourself that any unstructured time spent on non-work-related personal pursuits is time wasted.
Leisure isn’t some excuse to turn off your mind and become lazy. It’s that essential period of deadline-free, contemplative time to think more clearly about yourself, your activities, and deeper, more-true springs of inspiration. It’s the careful process by which you step back from your constraints, reflect on what moves you, and explore new personal and professional horizons while gaining relief from your immediate day-to-day concerns.
Whether a twenty-minute walk around the neighborhood or a trip to Europe, leisure is one of your most important tools for building true success. It’s the best time you have to transform your stress into a more sustainable and fulfilling kind of productivity.
2. Seek inspiration.
Make a commitment to discovering and cultivating what truly inspires you. You need to develop and commit ourselves to a concrete vision of the kind of life you want to live and legacy you want to leave behind — or the deeper, more compelling reasons for why you do what you do.
Often, this vision connects to something beyond yourself: a person, community, cause or ideal. Through it, your work becomes rooted in a basic, solid foundation, and you overcome your blanket fear of setbacks or failure.
To uncover your inspiration, you need to remove yourself from rigid routines. Actively explore new intellectual and experiential terrains. This should involve activities that can be part of daily routines including reading more books, listening to new music, watching thought-provoking films, learning languages, and working with people and in places that inspire us.
It should also it should include activities that make you go out of your way, such as travel, meeting new people, building new friendships, and engaging with your local communities. By forming new connections and uncovering new passions, you’ll find and strengthen the deeper kind of commitments that motivate you and help you navigate difficulty.
3. Accept your lack of control.
With seemingly so much to lose, it’s easy to feel pressured to do everything you can to gain control over your life and its trajectory. Often, those plans backfire. Spread yourself thin negatively impacts all areas of your life. In turn, your stress increases, and your success suffers.
Work on what you can control. Learn to accept and plan for what’s out of your control. Find a way to quiet your anxieties and commit yourself to immediate tasks. Find a way to balance your varying priorities in a way that allows you succeed on all of them.
Channeled properly, stress is the essential link between you and your goals. It’s that engine that keeps you moving forward. It helps us find and sustain inspiration, discover new passions, and live a more enriching, happy life.
Through these three steps, you’ll help balance work with other areas of your life while succeeding across all. Your mind, family, and co-workers will thank you — trust me.