Printer Friendly

Take the stress out of success.


LET ME START BY SAYING SOMEthing I said in front of the director of the FBI and all his staff, and still say to anybody I ever speak to--that is, "This job will never come first in my life." In the FBI, of course, if you say that you look like a full-fledged, card-carrying Commie. If you put the FBI seal on one side of my desk and my family on the other, I can guarantee you who would win. But very often you go into a job and forget the job exists to support the life-style you have chosen. And often the job does not allow any time for your family.

So I would like to talk about prioritizing your life, to define what creates stress, and to suggest ways to eliminate the impact of negative stress. It is important to understand that good stress and bad stress are not the same, but the body cannot tell the difference. The body reacts the same way in either case.

A survey we performed contacted every law enforcement department in the United States. Our returns were great -- almost 90 percent of the police officers in the United States were represented by this survey. We asked them, "What is the number one training need in your department and in your life?" We listed everything from crime scene searches to fingerprint identification to DNA identification.

The number one answer was training in how to handle personal stress. People are basically telling us this: "You have taught me how to do my job. What you have not told me is how to live my life. What can I do to live as long as possible?"

I ask you to make stress management one of the most important things you do. There is nothing advantageous to having somebody say what a great employee you were if he or she is talking over your dead body. That's how serious it gets.

Stress is the primary cause of mental disorder in America. I say this without hesitation as a doctor in family therapy, a counselor, an FBI agent, a father, a husband, and a human being. The foremost problem that creates mental distress in America is avoiding facing problems. People simply do not want to face problems because of the pain and suffering inherent in doing so. Moreover, we do not teach our children to face problems, either.

Let me talk just to the men for a minute. How much time do you spend talking to your children in the evenings, if they're still home, and if they're not, when they were? In one survey, the average amount of time men spent communicating with their kids versus working or coming home and worrying about work was 37 seconds a day. Now, if you think you can tell your child about what you believe in or how you met your wife or what you do for a living, you are deceived, because you simply cannot. If that figure of 37 seconds is even close to accurate in your case, then your priorities are out of line.

ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO REDUCE stress in your life is to improve the quality of your life outside work. Find something else to do. Struggle like I do: Play golf. As Mark Twain once said, that little ball sure ruins a good walk. But it gets me away from phones, and I don't play with FBI agents. I don't want to say, "Boy, that was a nice shot," and have some guy say, "10-4." I want to get away from that stuff for a while. I need time for my family and time for myself.

Let me talk about a couple of myths in stress management. First is that all stress is bad. Well, all stress is not bad. There is good stress, like having a baby or getting married. For some people, even getting divorced is a good stress.

This brings us to the term perception. Maybe you've seen this in a grocery store: a lost dog poster that says, "Lost: dog. Ear bitten off, tail missing, leg broken. Answers to the name of Lucky."

Think about it. That dog is lucky; it ought to be dead. Maybe you're lucky. Maybe you're here for all the wrong reasons. Maybe you've had that chest shut down on you; maybe you've gone through your 14 millionth Rolaid. If you had invested a little bit in relaxation you might have bought some stock in the company and let other people take pills.

It's not the job of doctors to manage your stress; all they can do is try to repair you. It's not the FBI's job to manage my stress. It's in business to investigate federal crimes. It's not your company's job to manage your stress. Sure, it might have a place for you to go if you succumb to it, but the responsibility is yours. Once you allow someone else to take control over your stress management, then you become a loser. You must maintain control of your own health and accept responsibility for it.

Another myth is that stress should be avoided at all costs. You don't avoid stress. If stress is part of life, how are you going to avoid it? Where are you going to go? How are you going to hide? Tranquilizers and drugs may be used to eliminate stress. Does this country sell drugs? We can talk all we want about heroin and cocaine, but look at some of the prescription drugs being sold and the amounts they're being sold in. Shame on us. You're not eliminating stress; all you're doing is masking symptoms. You're just going to die without pain someday. This is a failure to face the problem.

Another myth is that to avoid stress a person should work as little as possible. Now wouldn't you love for that to be true? Ever had a day with nothing to do? I don't want to be around you. You complain when you're busy, and you're miserable when you're not. That's why there are only two tragedies in life. One of them is getting everything you always wanted; the other is not getting it.

Another myth: Stress affects only adults. No. You can take your stress home with you and affect everybody around you, including dogs. When I walk in the door, my dog knows if it's a bad night; it'll hide behind the dryer. That's my wife's first clue.

Here's another myth: People at the top of their professions are most likely to suffer heart attacks due to job stress. Sorry, you don't have that excuse. People at the top of their professions are no more likely than anyone else to suffer heart attacks related to stress. You're a human being. You might have a few unique stressors placed on you, but you basically face what everyone else in the world faces.

You need something to believe in. At a speech I gave recently I was introduced by FBI Director William Sessions, a man who cares about this topic. He said, "Dr. Reese is going to be next. He's going to talk about stress, about how it impacts on your family, about the need for spiritual wellness. It's all important. Pay it heed."

I was hired by a director, God bless him, J. Edgar Hoover, who would never have said that. Maybe it wasn't the right time; it's the right time now, and it's being said. I think it's a great step forward in this organization. I hope you will look inside your own life and say, It's my time--today is my time to start doing things differently. You don't have to be a Harvard graduate to understand this: You can change your entire world, right now, by changing your attitude.

You can't buy an attitude; I can't give you an attitude. Attitudes can be good or bad.

How about the term burnout? Ever heard of burnout? People come up to me all the time and say, "Reese, I'm burnt out."

Let me give you my definition of burnout. It's a self-inflicted attitudinal injury. You want burnout? Go for it; nobody can stop you. On the other hand, nobody can make you. The best defense against burnout is personal growth, doing what you're doing right now: sitting listening to somebody else. If you are educated yesterday and stop learning today, you're uneducated tomorrow. Take the time to learn. As long as you can grow personally and perhaps professionally, you won't burn out. Somebody might stop your professional growth, but nobody can stop your personal growth, short of your death.

Why is it that one man, one woman, will fall prey to a stress-related disorder, and the other won't? Is it a question of physical stamina? It might be. Exercise is important.

What about this complaint? "I spend too much time thinking about other people." If you've never heard this term, note it: responsibility absorption behavior. Everything that happens is your fault. That ain't so. Even if they blame it on you; it isn't so. But we start to get this responsibility absorption behavior where everything is our fault and we spend all our time thinking about other people. You believe that's true? Do you spend a lot of time thinking about the people you love? You say, "Gee, wouldn't I love to spend more time with them." Then, when you're home it's always, Don't talk to me now, I've had a bad day, and you grab a beer and hit the easy chair and say, "Keep the kids away for an hour." Welcome home; it's nice to have you. You might start hearing, "I still love you, but I don't like you any more."

We have a tendency to think of ourselves. Think of the last time you made a sandwich in your kitchen. When you opened that loaf of bread, where did you reach? That's right. In the middle. You saved all that hard stuff for the people you loved. Don't tell me you don't think about yourself. It's a natural tendency for self-preservation. And yet whenever you fall to your knees--and, by the way, that's probably one of the only places where you can't lose your footing; you ought to get on them more often -- you blame other people because you're trying to worry about them.

Why not take some time out to take care of yourself? Why not realize that you're in an at-risk population statistically and do something about it. You don't have to be a statistic once you know you're in trouble.

It's like dressing for combat. If you walk into combat not dressed for it, you're going to get hurt. If you walk in ready, you've got a chance. All I'm telling you is to try to gird yourself with whatever enables you to survive this thing we're calling stress.

Perception is the key. How you perceive an event is how you're going to react to it. I recently came back from Seattle, where I addressed the task force on the Green River murders. They have more than 30 decomposed bodies, and they're running around trying to solve the case, and it doesn't appear to be solvable. You think they're happy? You think that four or five years down the road, when they can't come up with one lead, they're going to be pleased? Not only are they unsuccessful, their lives are miserable.

About eight or nine years ago I flew to Chicago to talk to the Tylenol task force on that cyanide case. It was the same story: the best in the world conducting a thorough investigation and getting nowhere. They were very unhappy, their families were separating, and they were starting to go home and kick the dog and yell at the kids more than they ever did. Where does that leave you? Normally someplace else, maybe a bar. If you can't go to work and you can't go home, there aren't many options. You're not going to sit around in the public library. You're going to go somewhere where you can mask your symptoms.

What I told them is basically what I'd like to share with you now. It's not the identifiable stressful components of your job that normally create the stress problem. It is your reaction to them. As Carl Rogers and other psychologists might say, "It's not what happens in life that matters, it's what you tell yourself about what has happened." What does this mean to me? Should I lose control? Is it worth getting sick over?

I'll take you a step further, as I did there. You're not responsible for everything that happens in your environment. But you must accept responsibility for your reactions. You are solely responsible for how you react to events, even events you cannot control.

KEEPING PROBLEMS BOTTLED UP IS a tremendous source of stress. You can do some pretty foolish things when you're under stress, and one of them is withdrawing -- socially, professionally, and emotionally. The Freudian term for it is isolation of emotion. It's what the FBI and I have labeled image armor. You don't have any idea what's going on in Jim Reese's life today, but here I am with an FBI image; there you are with a corporate security image. We look good. And no one will ever know if we hurt; nobody will know if we're sad; nobody will know anything about us. All you're going to know is what I tell you.

At some point you're going to have to get rid of that armor and share your problems with someone. You're going to sit down with someone who cares, and say, "I've got some things I need to get off my chest; I've got some things I want to talk about; I've been carrying a lot of anger around with me." Yes, that's part of stress management, being able to speak your feelings and getting rid of this John Wayne or Calamity Jane complex that says we look tough and nothing can hurt us, that we're impermeable. It simply isn't the truth.

The greatest difficulty in life is choice. You are a product of the choices you've made in life up to this point. Some were good choices; some were bad choices. Some things happened that you had no control over but you chose to cope or not to cope; you chose to progress in one direction or another.

It's one of the nicest things human beings can do, choose. Everything goes through our filter, and we make choices based on the information we filter. What I'm trying to do is change your filter. Get your filter cleaned; start looking at life and asking what you are getting out of it.

Let me improve my personal life so I can go out and do one heck of a job for my company, knowing that when I get my time it's going to be for me and when I work for them it's going to be for them. That way Jim Reese doesn't come into the FBI office and put out personal brush fires all day. If I have my personal life in order, I can fly to Oslo and Boston because I know things at home are well. If they're not, then I've got to stop avoiding problems and get matters stabilized.

I'd like to talk about a few stressors unique to executives. The first is power. Do you feel you have enough power? Are there times when you have a lot of power until the big decisions have to be made, and then your boss strips you of your power? When you do something wrong, does anyone forget? When you do something right, does anyone remember? Do you start to have a pity party, turn into a couch potato, just sit there and pout? That will get their respect if nothing else will, right? Power is essential, but you shouldn't use it to shut people up. Power should enable you to get succinct explanations of behavior and then move on to the next task.

Another aspect of your function is risk taking. The problem is that when you take risks you're doing so at a corporate level and you're playing with other people, so your risks are not just for yourself.

Another source of stress for you is the maintenance of interpersonal relationships. You have to be able to talk up, talk down, and talk laterally. You have to relate to everybody. The Chinese have a symbol for it. It says you have to do the greatest things, and you have to do the smallest things. You must protect an entire complex, and you've got to make sure the director's car is there on time.

The last thing you have to do is manage change. Very briefly, we've been on this planet for about 800 lifetimes, according to Alvin Toffler and his book Future Shock. For 650 of these lifetimes there was basically no change. You and I, the masses, have only been able to read and write for six lifetimes. That's a lot of change in a little bit of time. We've only been able to monitor time for four lifetimes. Think about that one. Your boss hands you a piece of paper and says he wants it back by noon. You think he knows when noon is? I guarantee you he does. If he really wants to get you, he will set his watch 10 minutes ahead. You walk in there at 10 after noon, and he's going to tell you you're late. Five lifetimes ago, he couldn't have done it. If you handed it to him on a cloudy day, he'd be totally lost.

We invented time, but we're finding out it's not our friend, normally because we never have enough of it. Yet, if you look at the amount of time during the day that you waste, that you could spend with family, and that you could use to send yourself some good messages about who you are and what life has in store, you would find out time doesn't have to be your enemy. You chose to get up 10 minutes later, you chose not to give yourself that extra half hour in the morning, you chose to say, "I can't play with you right now, kids, I'm busy." Remember the number one problem? Choice.

So we've only been able to measure time for four lifetimes; we've only had the electric motor for two lifetimes; and almost every convenience in your home, if you think about it, was invented during your lifetime. It's too much change too soon.

Recently a captain in a California police department couldn't get the information he wanted from a computer. After three attempts he shot it. People seem not to know how to deal with change. They don't understand things are going to change and change is okay.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO MANAGE stress? First, understand the difference between being happy and being successful. Did you know there was a difference? Did you ever think you could be happy without being successful? Have you ever seen anybody that by the world's standards was successful but wasn't happy? Wouldn't you love to have been Howard Hughes?

Success is down the road. Success is somewhere out there for Jim Reese, and if I ever achieve that level of success, do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to look at still another level. So if I wait to be successful to get happy, what are my chances of being happy? They're starting to shrink, aren't they? If success is getting what you want, then happiness is wanting what you have.

Right this minute is when you should be happy, not waiting for something to happen in your life, not waiting for an ill parent to get well, not waiting for your child to pull his or her grades up. Of course, you may have to mourn and grieve. You may have relatives in the hospital, but they don't have to take your happiness away.

I don't know when you plan to stop worrying and waiting, but I plan to stop right now. My time is up. The message in stress management is that you must be in control. You can do all the voodoo stuff; you can read all the books you want; you can say that stress is a nonspecific response of the body to any demand placed on it.

You can do all these things, but none of them work until you have a commitment. The difference between being committed and being involved is the difference between eggs and bacon. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed. You've got to be committed to a plan.

I hope you'll get up in the morning and send yourself a good message. Read something good; believe in something besides just you. If you think you're just going to live 72 years and die and it doesn't matter, then we don't need to have this conversation. If you think your life has a purpose, get up in the morning and give yourself a good thought. Don't be George Burns. He says, "I get up in the morning. I look in the obituaries. If I'm not there, I have breakfast."

Get up and be thankful that you've got another day and you have family and friends. Tell yourself, I'm going to do things differently, I'm going to change my attitude, I'm going to start eating better, I'm going to take care of this body. And, if I love something, I'm going to take some time out to hug it. I'm going to get happy, and I'm going to let success surprise me. Have some good goals in life, but don't give up today for tomorrow. Some people wait until the 11th hour, only to die at 10:30.

James T. Reese is a supervisory special agent with the FBI and assistant unit chief of the FBI's behavioral science unit in Quantico, VA.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:transcript
Date:Aug 1, 1989
Previous Article:The war in the workplace.
Next Article:The computer flu blues.

Related Articles
Education update.
Your online, on-call legal assistant.
Overcome insurer bad faith with Exchange litigation packets.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters