I remember too many times when someone asked me to get something done immediately for them. When that happened, I knocked down walls to get it done. I sometimes felt like a dog that had just picked up the morning paper and was waiting for my reward, only to often get passed by without an acknowledgement. I didn’t understand that the word “immediate” had multiple interpretations. The requester might have given credit to someone else or didn’t even remember who did it in the first place. I would put undue pressure on myself and then try to figure out what went wrong. Unfortunately, when receiving these types of requests, I often did not effectively ask for clarification or understand the expectations.
I found myself wondering why I always put this type of unnecessary pressure on myself, or find myself getting riled up when the end result did not come out the way I wanted it to. I tried to understand why I dropped everything else I was doing or poured my heart and soul into something only to realize later that it was a request in passing, or that it could have been done just as easily at a different time. I had to better assess the urgency and importance of these requests. I had to gain a better understanding of what needed to be done now versus later. I also should have compared what needed to be done for the business versus myself. Finally, I needed to understand whether I was putting the pressure on myself or if it was truly pressure about a pressing task that genuinely needed to be addressed quickly.
When I didn’t get the attention I felt I deserved for accomplishing something, I would typically invest far too much time worrying about it. I might have been upset for thinking that a mistake was made and the requester didn’t want to say anything. I searched for the proper credit when I felt it was due. I had to come to grips with myself. I needed to make the move to be more accepting of who I was and what I was doing—everything else would eventually take care of itself. I began to make an attempt to take the pressure off myself by concentrating on the quality of my work and just try to learn from the experience—good and bad.
Many people have a tendency to be harder on themselves than anyone else. The pressure to get the task done, the pressure we put on ourselves in the hope that it was done right and then waiting to see the reaction of others, all adds up. The question is, “Adds up to what?”
I have found myself in situations when I felt like I should kick myself because I said something stupid or forgot to ask a pertinent question in an important meeting. I found that I would drive myself crazy with these thoughts running through my mind, putting more and more pressure on myself to be perfect. I wanted to get everything done for everyone at the exact right times. I include myself when I say everyone because I was typically my own worst enemy.
I started to realize that many people have memories like a dog—they last a couple of minutes and move on. I worked with executives who were responsible for millions of dollars for the company and some who were responsible for hundreds and thousands of people. I began to realize that some people have more important things to do than remember a minor mistake I may have made. Even if the mistake was remembered, I found it important to ensure that everyone saw that I had learned from it. I was the one putting the pressure on myself—pressure that no one else was feeling.
I had to do a better job of ensuring I was clear with expectations relating to time frames and deliverables. There may be situations in which you do have to drop everything, or there is a flavor of the day that needs to be addressed. Sometimes, there really is a pressure to get something done. However, more often than not, I was doing my job well, exceeding my boss’s expectations, and was just putting too much stress on myself. I needed to free my mind of this clutter and just concentrate on the job at hand. I also needed to do a better job ensuring I wasn’t asking too much of myself.
I couldn’t sleep last night. I yelled at my children because I could not concentrate on writing this book, and I felt guilty. Naturally, my reasoning for yelling at them was justified in my mind because it must have made sense that the paragraph I was working on was the most important thing in the world to me at the time. I know this is a ridiculous thought, because nothing is as important to me as my family, but at the time when my emotional pressure was high, I had to find some other silly reason as to why my children were at fault.
I began to assess the situation as I was tossing and turning in the night. I had set very aggressive and specific internal goals relating to this book. I was meeting my own time frames and pacing it out appropriately according to my own expectations. There was no publisher on my back to get it done and there was no one forcing the issue except me. However, my internal goals were stressing me out and building up tension to the point that I was taking it out on the people I love.
I was forcing myself to wake up early to put my ideas and thoughts on paper as quickly as they came to me. I wanted certain sections written by certain times. I was forcing my own direction. It’s good to be aggressive with goals, but there also needs to be a balance with everything around you. I was upset at myself for getting unnecessarily upset at my children. I had no intention of writing a passage about internal pressures, but I know how much each of us drives ourselves to succeed personally and professionally. We will succeed. However, we need to skim some of the pressure off the top that we ourselves have created. When I woke up the next morning, I did not log in to write my book, but I did apologize to my children and thanked them again for being my teachers.
I invested time to reevaluate my goals and decided to extend my own timeline a little longer to ensure that I was putting out a product I would be proud of. The reassessing of a timeline, or giving ourselves a break, does not mean being lax with deadlines, internal or external, and does not mean being less aggressive with respect to personal or professional goals. It means incorporating time to provide breaks and down time to stay fresh, and make sure we truly know what’s important and urgent. Make sure we understand whether the pressure we are feeling is self-imposed. If it is, reassess whether or not those pressures are too intense and thus impacting the quality of the work we are producing.
We should also ask if we are on the same page as the individual requesting our time, even if we are the requester. You might be surprised at the number of instances when you are not in sync. Stop yourself in mid-action and ask what needs to be done and what you want to get done. Need and want will have a different urgency and importance attached to each. As you continue to regularly reassess the pressures, you will begin to assimilate to what is ‘real’ pressure and how much is self-imposed.
Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):
- Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
- Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
- Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
- The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
- From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
- The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood
MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby