We live in an age of great stress. We are bombarded daily with more information than we can possibly assimilate, and we are always connected to this flow of information with our iPhone, Blackberry’s and computers. There is no end to the information that is at our finger tips 24/7. It seems there is no place to hide either. Our personal and professional lives are now publicly displayed across the Internet. The job market is tough, the economy weak, and competition for advancement has increased dramatically with more and more highly educated women in the workforce. And many of us are trying to balance our careers with a family as well.

It would seem only logical that we should strive to eliminate the stress in our lives in order to achieve more equilibrium, health, and happiness.

I thought it was interesting, therefore, to read a recent post, Stress is Not Your Enemy, by Tony Schwartz in Harvard Business Review that states that we need stress in our lives in order to reach our full potential.

Tony says, “Subjecting yourself to stress is the only way to systematically get stronger — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And you’ll get weaker if you don’t.”

This is the “use it or lose it” mentality that maintains that if you don’t exercise your mind and body “muscles”, you will atrophy and, as a consequence, will  not be able to grow and improve.

We live by the myth that stress is the enemy in our lives. The real enemy is our failure to balance stress with intermittent rest. Push the body too hard for too long — chronic stress — and the result will indeed be burnout and breakdown. But subject the body to insufficient stress, and it will weaken and atrophy.

Few of us push ourselves nearly hard enough to realize our potential, nor do we rest, sleep, and renew nearly as deeply or for as long as we should.

The real message here is that moving outside your comfort zone can be stressful, but it also allows you to increase your skill set to advance your career. Stretching yourself to take on new responsibilities at work, volunteering for high profile projects, speaking up in meetings and voicing your opinions when you’d rather keep silent can certainly be stressful, but if you want to get out of the trenches and move your career forward, it’s important to take the leap even though it gives you some anxiety initially.

Tony Schwartz’s point is that we need to do these things to grow personally and professionally but we also need to learn how to better manage our stress and know when it’s right to take a break and rest. We are not going to eliminate all the stress from our lives, but we can certainly learn to control our reaction to stressful situations so that it does not derail us.

This Wednesday, May 9th, at noon EDT, Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University will be my guest on GPS Your Career: A Woman’s Guide to Success to discuss the simple techniques we can all do to manage the effect stress has on our personal and professional lives. I hope you can join us.

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