03/01/2008

Strategy Replaces Stress

By Arlene R. Barro

Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ---Confucius


Delay Fuels Stress

As a career coach, I work with a wide array of clients who stay stuck in their wrong fit jobs. Many, overcome with stress, are physically ill.

I will always remember Laurie. She heard me speak and waited two years to call me. Here’s what she said. “I know I’ve got to find a new job, the perfect job for me, and I need to find it now. I’m not getting anywhere on my own, and I feel a little desperate. My son is about to enter high school. If I don’t act now, I’ll have to wait another four years to make a change, and I can’t bear the thought of waiting that long. If I do, I’ll go out of my mind.” Laurie explained to me that the stress of maintaining her current career as a professor and educational consultant had begun to take a great toll, even on her health. “I’m swallowing Maalox like it’s candy. My hair is falling out. I’m not sleeping. I’ve lost weight I didn’t need to lose. I’m a wreck.”

What did Laurie’s internist say? He advised her to quit her job immediately because of the severity of her stress. I said, absolutely not. I will show you how to reduce your stress. I knew that she was having great difficulty in her faculty position as a result of a change in management. But I also knew that I could not mentor her to achieve her goal – the dean of a school – if she became suddenly unemployed. Laura understood and agreed. She would change her behavior which would enable her to stop fueling the stress.

Manage the Process

I taught Laurie how to take charge of her professional and personal life. She was a single super mom and professor who wanted to do it all perfectly herself. I asked her to make lists of tasks that ate into her time and added to her stress. I showed her how to differentiate between those tasks that she had to do herself and those that others could do for her. For example, someone else could chauffeur her son from one activity to another. Someone else could correct student exams. The result: Laurie’s physical symptoms subsided – no more hair and weight loss! We had successfully replaced stress with strategy.

Play Your Game

I showed Laurie how to implement a new mindset to capture her dream job. She initially focused on learning about the other candidates who were seeking the same deanship position. She thought that she needed to compete against them. When I told Laurie that I needed no information about the so-called “competitors,” she was surprised and delighted. I wanted her to focus on competing with herself, not against others. She needed to raise the bar setting higher and higher standards for herself. Laurie learned how to play her game, setting standards against which no one could compete.

Her goal was to convince the university that she was the “Right Fit” for the deanship. To do that, she needed to match the specs of the position, eliminating employer objections which included her minimal management experience. Laurie convinced the university that faculty did not need to be managed. Voila! She eliminated their major objection and recognized the value of playing her game and managing the process. The mindset of “no competition” coupled with “play your game” replaced the stress of a job search with strategy.

Make No Assumptions

When did Laurie experience short-term stress? As soon as she made assumptions. Here are three examples:

  • The university was no longer interested because they took so long to respond after the fourth interview.
  • The compensation package, if they were to make an offer, may not satisfy her.
  • Her son would ultimately not want to move.

All of Laurie’s assumptions were erroneous. Academia moves slowly, the offer was acceptable, and her son moved willingly. She did not realize how effectively she had managed the university and her son. Laurie achieved her dream and became the dean.


Arlene R. Barro holds a Ph.D. in education with distinction from UCLA. She is an educational psychologist and evaluator who is a search consultant and career coach. She is the president and CEO of the Los Angeles-based executive search firm barro global search, inc. and the author of Win Without Competing! . Reach Dr. Arlene at 310-441-5305 or drbarro@WinWithoutCompeting.com .


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