Harvey Mackay

Passing the Stress Test

Once upon a time, there was a king who wanted to pick the wisest person among his subjects to be his prime minister. He decided to put three finalists to an unusual test.

He placed the three candidates together in a room at the palace and told them the door had been fitted with the most complicated lock ever designed by the royal locksmith.

“Whoever is able to open the door first will be the prime minister,” the king declared.

The pressure in the room was palpable. The three set to work immediately. The first began to work out complicated mathematical formulas in search of the secret combination. The second scoured thick volumes on lock construction. The third sat quietly by a window, lost in thought.

Watching the clock and feeling the need to come up with a solution as soon as possible, the first two worked feverishly to open the door, growing ever more panicked. But then something unexpected happened.

The third candidate walked over to the door and simply turned the handle. With no effort, the door swung open! It had been unlocked all the time.

For this common-sense and active approach, the king named the third person to the coveted post. Such a shining example of grace under pressure convinced the king that he had indeed chosen well.

Pressure, stress, angst -- call it whatever you want. If you let it take control of your mind, you will struggle to open every door that you need to walk through. You must learn to master that pressure or stress in order to make it work for you.

An article in Bits and Pieces magazine describes how certain types of stress can actually be good for you. Citing the Mother Nature Network, the article explains how moderate and intermittent amounts of stress, such as a project deadline that gets moved up, can actually help us become more aware of our situations and motivate us to find creative solutions to problems. In addition, stress teaches us how to operate outside our usual comfort zone.

Life will hand us occasional curveballs. Understanding how to approach them is the first step to navigating the next one that will inevitably present itself. True, it may throw us off-balance at first. But reacting appropriately and swiftly becomes more manageable each time.

A recent survey published by the American Psychological Association found that as many as 70 percent of Americans reported suffering from workplace stress. Separating work-related tasks, such as resisting the urge to catch up with emails in the evening, from leisure and family time can help prevent workplace stress from spilling into other areas of your life.

The Society for Human Resource Management found that more than half of workers who put in more than 40 hours a week do so not because of pressure from management, but because those demands are self-imposed. For them, working hard isn’t necessarily so much a stressor as a source of fulfillment.

I personally thrive on pressure. The more balls I’m juggling, the more I feel like I’m spending my time well. I turn pressure into purpose. True, there are necessary tasks and projects that I don’t relish and work to finish simply so I can cross them off my list. The payoff comes when I see that list with a number of accomplishments at the end of the day. That’s my motivation.

Learning how to deal with pressure and stress is critical to your health and success. Whether that means an attitude adjustment, a job change or a heart attack is up to you. Don’t make your situation more difficult by doing things the hard way.

In other words, walk right up to the door and try the handle first.

Mackay’s Moral: Pressure turns a diamond in the rough into a precious stone.