I was attending this month’s Good Leadership Breakfast and bumped into Lorrie Anderson – who took me to my first GLB meeting last year. She introduced me to her mentee, and commented to him, “This is the person I told you about. The one with the great fitness story about goals and stress.” So here’s my story… which is a story we all know well. Have you ever been asked to do a project that had big visibility, little clarity, and no executive sponsorship? This blog could be about all the reasons not to proceed with the project, but as we all know, sometimes that is not an option. This particular project was to develop a communications strategy for a global reorganization. Cool opportunity until I realized I was being ask to drive engagement and excitement on a project that had little traction or political support. The project was really getting to me, so finally I said to my coworker, I need to do something to manage my stress. So I’m going to sign up for a triathlon. I was a moderate runner, an occasional biker, and a basic swimmer. So what drove me to try a tri to manage stress? To get control of my sphere of control, to embrace risk, and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Controlling my sphere of control. Your sphere of control has three distinct parts. Think of it as three concentric circles. The center circle is the things you can control. That circle is surrounded by the things you can influence. That circle is surrounded by the things outside of your control or influence. I was drowning in that last, largest circle, obsessing about all the things I couldn’t control or influence and worried that both this project and I were going to sink. I desperately needed a new perspective, so I thought, I don’t know how I will accomplish this project, and I don’t know how I will accomplish a triathlon. But I do know that I can control my training. Removing your focus from what you can’t control is a critical first step in managing stress. Planning a triathlon moved me into my sphere of control. I started researching training plans. I mapped out a practice schedule. I got feedback from others who had done triathlons to get their advice. And by re-channeling all that anxious energy into productive energy, I was more patient with myself and the project. I found items in the sphere of influence for my work project and got some wins once I focused on my sphere of control.
Embracing risk. “If no one ever took risks, Michaelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor.” – Neil Simon. I love this quote and started to use it as a mirror for myself. I wanted to grow in my career, and I wanted a new challenge. Now that I had one, it was time for me to step off the steps of safety and get a new perspective. In a Forbes article on why risk is the key to innovation, they list some of the steps I took in my journey. I figured if I was going to do it, I was going to make it public to drive my accountability and creativity. Once I got the idea about doing a triathlon, I told a few friends. Then a few more. Then I posted about it on Facebook. Now people were watching, so now I was on the hook – I had to do this race. It also meant those friends were engaged with me- encouraging me, offering advice and supporting me. One of my stressors about my work project was I felt the weight was solely on my shoulders. Once I realized this project was not all about me, and that I had a great team around me, I started to get some momentum. Going to coworkers and admitting you are stuck and asking for their input is a great way to build awareness and shared ownership for a big initiative. It’s also a great way to get more insights and ideas than you could ever generate alone.
Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. As I worked on this project, I realized my stress was tied to my fear of the unknown. What if the executives rejected this project? What if they didn’t? What might change once a decision on the reorganization was made? I was grasping on to the things that were comfortable and looking at how I thought things should be. Training for the triathlon helped me focus on the adventure. I hated (still do!) lake swimming- but I was going to have to get comfortable doing it. I was going to have to prepare that I would finish -and have a plan in case I didn’t. There were a lot of uncomfortable parts of my work project. So how did I push forward? One way to manage my stress was to look at what we could gain instead of what we could lose through this reorganization. Instead of shying away from the worst case scenario, I looked right at it, and came up with various options – for the project and for me. Suddenly this project was less scary, and I was more confident.
I completed the YWCA Triathlon 5 years ago. I went way off course in the swimming and lost a lot of time. I was pooped after the bike so had to rest before the run. But I finished, and I loved it. Now I set a fitness goal every year, to help me manage my stress and to push my comfort zone. Try something that pushes you. For me, I decided to try a tri to manage stress and was able to get control of my sphere of control, to embrace risk, and to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.