Work Stress Can Kill You - Don't Let It

Last Updated Mar 3, 2010 3:10 PM EST

Get Off the Stress TreadmillI just read a report that Intel executive VP Sean Maloney suffered a stroke. Intel says the 53 year-old executive's prognosis for full recovery is excellent and he's expected to be back at work after a few month's medical leave to recuperate. I've never met Maloney, but he's been a rising star at Intel for nearly two decades and some consider him the leading candidate to take the reigns from current CEO Paul Otellini.

According to Real World Technologies analyst David Kanter in a Reuters article, "It was pretty clear that he [Maloney] and Dadi [Perlmutter] would be running the company together when Otellini steps down. The bigger question is, long-term, is this something that Sean says, 'Maybe I need to slow down? Or maybe I'm not the right person to step up and be CEO.'"

That got me thinking about how we work ourselves to death on a stress treadmill, often of our own making, expecting some beautiful oasis at the end. But that's not the way it works. Here's how it really works:

  • A couple of years ago I had dinner with a long-time friend and associate who was in town from Dallas. After dinner, he mentioned he had a headache. Neither of us thought much of it. I went home and he went to his hotel. That night he had an aneurism. Luckily he's fine now, even after a scary two week stay in the intensive care unit.
  • A few years before that, my dad died after a long bout with heart disease and strokes. He used to worry about everything. Now he has nothing to worry about.
  • In 1997, a good friend in his late 30s had a stroke. That was a real shock. Who gets a stroke in his 30s? When I asked him why he thought it happened, he came clean and told me that he spent a good percentage of his brain cycles worrying about stuff. Who knew?
  • I get crazy migraine headaches when I'm stressed out. When the attacks are really bad, they can last for days. I know folks who get them much worse than that. It's nuts.
I can't speak for Sean, but everybody else in this story, myself included, is or was a stress monster.

Look, I know you folks like to hear about positive things that can help your careers; I don't blame you. But let's be honest, does any of that really matter if you stress and worry and push yourself so hard that you can't enjoy it when you "make it," either because you're debilitated or not around. Morbid, I know, but it is reality, folks.

Want to know why I gave up a lucrative executive career at only 46? I think you can figure it out. But you know what? I rarely get those headaches anymore, maybe twice a year. I used to get them all the time.

Here's the question: are you a stress monster? Sure, we all learn our own techniques to manage as best we can, but we also intuitively know when we've gotten to a point where things are starting to get out of control. When that happens, do yourself a favor: look in the mirror and ask yourself if it's worth it. More importantly, if you think you're stuck, ask yourself if you're on a treadmill of your own making. More often than not, you are. And that means only you can stop it.

One more thing. There's no beautiful oasis at the end. The journey is the oasis, every minute of every day. Enjoy it while you can.

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