In my Lean In mentoring circle recently we tackled the topic of “When does our ambition end up causing too much stress?”
Intermittent stress is fine. It helps us win the race, get the project finished, achieve the goal. It’s when stress becomes chronic and we feel out of control that it becomes a problem for our relationships, our health and our career. Without ambition, we go nowhere. So where’s the balance?
Ambition become stress when...
We don't say “No” often enough. When we take on too much, thinking that doing more will help us get to our goals, we end up overwhelmed, overburdened and increasingly ineffective. It is possible to turn down requests. Most of our fears of saying “no” are just that – fears. Practice turning something down and observe what happens. Usually, nothing of consequence will happen. It gets easier with time.
We’re not intentional. When we just keep driving ahead, without considering whether we’re heading the right direction, stress will creep in. It’s one thing to make a conscious choice to take on a challenge if you know it is in alignment with a goal and you can see the connection. But when we take on a new challenge without a clear direction, that challenge has no purpose for us and loses its appeal.
We’re working someone else’s agenda. I often hear how women have taken on more because it made them feel needed, or out of loyalty to someone or something. But if you’re draining your energy working someone else’s agenda, you’ll be stressed.
We get burned out. Too much of anything is not good. Even if you’re clear on your goals and making conscious choices, too much work will burn you out.
We feel resentful. If we’ve been working hard towards an objective, only to see someone else get the promotion, or the big project or the recognition, we can end up feeling resentful. Resentment causes stress, because we feel out of control. Tackle the resentment by taking action. Maybe you need to re-assess your strategy or seek guidance and counsel. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the emotion. Left unattended that resentment will grow.
What are your signs that your ambition has led to too much stress?