Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it. — Lily Tomlin
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens, a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its grip, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be fit for use when you want it.”
Many people today find themselves at the breaking point. Recent findings in the 2013 Work Stress Survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College revealed that 83 percent of American workers said they are stressed out by at least one thing at work, up sharply from 73 percent in 2012. Other stressors include lack of opportunity for advancement, fear of being laid off, poor work/life balance and working in a job that was not the person’s chosen career.
These stress points along with others are reasons why many are at the breaking point. Applying a little wisdom from Aesop could go a long way in reducing stress levels and gaining some fresh perspective on the challenges of leadership and life. Here are a few tips to consider.
Know your limits. It might be noble to think you can be the “Ironman” of your office. You can even have 5-hour energy drinks coursing through your veins as you work night and day. But it’s not smart or sustainable, nor is it healthy. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t try. You can work hard; you can work smart, but you shouldn’t work yourself to death. Permission is granted to be human.
Learn to say no. One of the most liberating things you can learn as a leader is how to say no. This is not an excuse to slack off or not carry your weight as an effective team player, but you have to protect your boundaries. Knowing your limits is only useful when you can define and defend your boundaries. Learning to say no allows you to be more productive at what you do best. Permission is granted to defend yourself.
Set priorities. Many reach their breaking points because of poor time management skills. The most precious resource you have is time. How you manage your time is essential to your success. Jim Rohn was right when he said, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” Get a grip on your priorities, write them down, and guard them as best you can. With your priorities in place you can significantly reduce your stress and be more productive. Permission is granted to be organized.
Consider others. Something magical happens on the day you stop navel-gazing and put into practice the Golden Rule. When serving causes greater than self becomes the norm it puts things into a new perspective. When you begin to focus on the needs of others it begins a wonderful process of reciprocation that allows you to count your blessings instead of your troubles. Permission is granted to be compassionate.
Enjoy guilt-free down time. The point Aesop made was that if you always keep the bow bent it will eventually break. If you let it go slack it will be fit for use when you need it. With the same degree of enthusiasm you have adopted the philosophy of hard work you should equally embrace the philosophy of needed rest and relaxation. Taking time to rest, relax, and enjoy down time will give you the much needed time to recharge and refresh yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Permission is granted to rest.
What do you say?
Doug Dickerson is a syndicated columnist. He writes a weekly column for this newspaper. To contact Doug Dickerson, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.