As covered in my book, Stress-Less Leadership, and in my workshops, when you wave away stress, you’re using your fifth finger, which is your spiritual finger. And as a leader, you probably pour your heart and soul into your work. You spend the bulk of your waking hours at work and thinking about work. Do you wake up each morning excited about your role and career? If not, it may be time to re-evaluate whether you’ve found your career calling. It’s enormously fulfilling to spend your time on something you’re genuinely passionate about. If you’re stressed because you are not in a fulfilling career, it will be difficult for you to stay motivated.
When we’re stressed, our prefrontal cortex is negatively impacted. Why does this matter? Our prefrontal cortex is like our brain’s control center. It controls our memory, concentration, decision making and willpower. Our prefrontal cortex weakens when we’re stressed and we’re no longer able to be rational. Our primitive brain takes over and we go into fight-or-flight mode. It’s nearly impossible to engage in the thinking you need to find your true career calling.
Reducing your stress and finding your true career calling isn’t easy, but it’s essential. Here are four steps to help you select a career that gives you a deep sense of purpose and meaning and minimizes your stress levels.
1. Understand how careers are built.
Contrary to popular belief, most leaders don’t stumble upon their career calling on a whim. Instead, they do a lot of research, try out a lot of roles and slowly but surely pinpoint their calling. It’s important to invest time and energy into understanding how careers are built. You should learn about the trajectories of people you admire and who inspire you by researching different career paths on career websites.
Try to have face-to-face interviews with at least five people from your company and other companies who are performing at high levels. Ask them to share their background and how they prepared for their current roles. What motivates them? You can also step into their shoes by shadowing them for an hour, a day or even a week. Watch their routine, strategies, management styles and ways of learning. How does they compare to your behavior? Try to think about how you can refine your approach. Uncertainty is stressful.
2. Follow your passion.
When you’re stressed, it’s easy to lose touch with your passion. Some leaders have been stressed and unmotivated for so long that they only see what’s in front of them and plod forward from day to day. This hinders their career progression and also their team’s development. Nobody wants to report to someone who has little passion for their work or for leadership. So consider asking yourself these questions: Are you passionate about your role? Do you enjoy working with and collaborating with your coworkers? Do you identify with your company’s culture? Are you confident in the products and services you’re building or selling? Have you lost track of your passions?
Try to talk with people who have known you for a long time. You can ask them to reflect on times when you seemed especially passionate and motivated. You should also do a career profile and a personality or leadership inventory. Follow your passion. When you enjoy the journey, you’re a more effective leader, feel more fulfilled and are less stressed. As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle wisely said, “Stress is caused by being ‘here,’ but wanting to be ‘there’.”
We all need time to rewind and reflect. Try to take the time to meditate for at least three minutes each day. You can start by finding a comfortable and quiet space. Then, focus on a single point or a single sound to soothe your mind. Try to take deep breaths and let your breath rise and fall naturally as you push your worries to the side.
Meditation is a powerful activity. It helps calm your mind and ease your stress levels. It also increases your cerebral blood flow and increases the neurotransmitters in your brain, which are responsible for establishing new neural connections. As a leader, meditation helps you avoid mental traps, focus on the present and transform your negative thoughts into positive ones. If you’re not at peace with yourself, it’s hard to have the career that’s your calling.
4. Build a strong social support system.
The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Do you have a support system to help you identify your career calling? Research has shown that social support is a critical part of the stress-recovery process. You’re better able to heal from stress when you have strong connections you can rely on. Social contact has been shown to increase the production of neurochemicals and the release of endorphins and other “feel-good” hormones. So, it’s important to surround yourself by people who can support you in your personal and professional journey. You should have formal and informal mentors who can provide career advice and social support to help you advance in your career. Research shows that individuals with a mentor are more likely to be promoted, more satisfied with their career, more committed to their career and more likely to advance in their career. A strong social-support network will help you cope in stressful situations and alleviate the emotional distress.
It’s easy to get stuck in the grind. If you want to wake up each day excited to go to work, it’s important to find your career calling. You’ll lead a more rewarding life with more fulfilling relationships. It’s stressful to work at a job that you’re not passionate about. So, take the above four steps to find the career that’s your calling. When you do, you’ll live a more enriching and fulfilling life and lower your stress levels. You’ll also be more likely to thrive as a leader. Most importantly, take good care of yourself.