Why Does Stress Mean Success?

Our twisted view of success in today’s world.

In a world of chaos and fierce competition to move up the corporate ladder, my husband and I got to talking last night. As a mother of two with essentially two careers, one in software and one in sleep consulting for families and children that I love to do, things are busy. However, after spending 13 years working full time for a document management and IT services company, stress was at the max every day. Pressure with the role as a leader in the marketing organization, pressure to develop employees, meet deadlines, grow revenue, increase efficiency and reduce costs, we have all been there. Things would keep me up at night, emails coming in all hours of the day, making it nearly impossible to ever stay on top of the inbox was, especially with meetings for 8 hours of every day and meetings about the meetings.

Fast-forward 6 months into my new position with a software startup and the stress is gone. Well, I can’t say totally gone, but I equate it to a different type of stress. It’s a positive, let’s kick butt and keep growing this place stress, let’s have fun, enjoy our job and make money stress. Let’s do what we need to in order to drive growth and profitability with an awesome product. This position I am in now was a shift from what I was doing, but in the same realm. It came with more money and less stress, plus the bonus of working remote 5 days a week and only traveling to Boston a few times a month. It has been life changing both personally and professionally for me.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Now on to my husband, who is the International Controller for a fulfillment and customer service company. He is looking at his career and the next steps to take him where he wants to be in that career. He did not sleep last night. His mind racing about some meetings today with the CFO, what the decisions could be on his growth and trajectory with this company and what he wanted to feel fulfilled. (Now I want to point out that him not sleeping is a big deal. We both go to bed at 9:00 every night. No phones in the room or devices allowed. We stopped that a few years ago and that alone was amazing.) He was stressed about the stress of an expanded role and limits it would have on him with other parts of his life (i.e. seeing his kids, who go to bed at 7pm every night).

So here begs the question, why is stress a value-factor in perceived success? I am in a better job, with less stress and a happier life, yet sometimes feel like because I don’t have that negative stress, I am doing something wrong or ultimately feel guilty about it. Guilty for being happy and engaged in my role. That’s ridiculous. He agreed and his uncertainty with his new responsibilities, and his even higher levels of toxic stress in his life are not things he wants, but can they be avoided? In speaking to recruiters who often seek him out, they say things like, “at your level, it’s expected.” WHY? Why is stress a component of success? Why can’t you get things done, properly manage your time and your team and not feel guilty about it or do it without toxic stress or working an unhealthy amount of hours each day? Has our society really molded the worker today to measure success in accordance with stress? Sleeping 4 hours a night because you are so important you have to be at the office isn’t healthy, not for you or for your team. Data also shows it is actually unproductive. It breeds unnecessary expectations, stress and unhealthy habits that have become a detriment to society & your own health.

I understand every job is different, every personality is different and everyone is different, but only leading by example, setting proper expectations and showing things can be done without unhealthy habits is going to change the culture, and that starts at the top. Someday, when I do get to the top, my entire company will be profitable, happy, healthy and live as stress free as I can help it. I have it seen it done, while rare, it’s possible. With the right team and attitude, anything is possible.