Positive and Negative Stress

So I haven’t posted for a long time – but life has been busy and stressful – which leads me to my latest topic.

Stress is a serious problem. And we are the only ones who can solve it. As much as we would like our workplaces to hire more staff, fire all the difficult people, and give us more time off and better pay, it’s not going to happen. Work will always have some element of stress, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need some level of stress to help us feel motivated and get work done. This is called eustress or “good stress”. We don’t want to eliminate this energizing stress at work because it keeps us engaged. In contrast, we do want to reduce the negative stress that work generates. Often good stress can shift into negative stress when there is too much of it. It’s great to have a project to work on and deadlines to work to, but it’s not so great to have five projects to work on and five impossible deadlines to meet.

Identify what your stress triggers are as well as what gives you energy. I love autonomy, creative work, helping people, and getting things done. These things make me feel energized and engaged. I dislike and am not very good at paperwork, logistics, or anything to do with technology. I can’t avoid those tasks as they are part of my job, but I can minimize how much time I spend on them. I lasted three months in a job as a receptionist because every task that the job required wasn’t a strength of mine. I didn’t enjoy what I was doing or the environment I was working in – everyone else was stressed out too. I quit, went back to school and found a different job. My new job was a better fit for my natural strengths and was far more satisfying.

It can be terrifying to quit but it’s worth it to find a job that is right for you. If you have trouble identifying what your strengths and passions are, an excellent and affordable tool to help you do so is the Gallup Strengthsfinder. It’s based on research, accurate and affordable.

Knowing your strengths and passions, and working with them, can significantly reduce your negative stress and increase your positive eustress. We need to pay more attention to our workloads and notice when our “eustress” starts tipping over into stress. Ideally, we want to pull it back as soon as we notice signs that we are feeling stressed out or anxious. The sooner we become aware of this shift, and seek to balance the situation, the easier it is to manage.

Most of us know our individual signs of a rising stress level – a kink in the neck, impatience, irritability, difficulty falling asleep, feeling cranky, or frequent headaches. Learn your stress signs, and when you start to see them, do everything you can to reduce your stress. Unfortunately, many people let their stress pile up and then they end up burned out and exhausted. There are negative consequences of ignoring your stress, including major health issues, relationship breakdown and job loss.

Working more than 10 hours a day is associated with a 60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues. 10 percent of those working 50 to 60 hours report relationship problems; the rate increases to 30 percent for those working more than 60 hours. Working more than 40 hours a week is associated with increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as unhealthy weight gain in men and depression in women. Little productive work occurs after 50 hours per week.

Nothing is worth compromising our health or our relationships. It’s crucial that we recognise stress and act to reduce it, as soon as we notice that it is impacting us.

Work is only one element of life, and not the most important one. As one of my clients so eloquently put it, you can always find another job but you only have one family.

There are many sources of workplace stress: feeling overwhelmed, feeling disempowered, a lack of clear roles and expectations, an unrealistic workload, workplace politics and interpersonal conflict. It’s unlikely that you are going to eliminate all of these sources of negative stress. That is simply reality. Rather than hoping for some fantasy world where there is no stress, what we need are tools to manage these stressors so they don’t have as much impact on us.

If you find yourself dealing with overwhelming stress, speak to someone. A listening ear is always helpful and can provide advice or an alternative view to things.

Gender inequalities in the workplace are perpetuated from childhood

Women’s careers aren’t just in the ether, they’re on the front pages of newspapers, inside glossy magazines, on the radio, across the internet and they’re being discussed on a daily basis in governments all around the world. It’s amazing that there’s so much buzz around women and careers; people are really talking about women’s rights at work, and attitudes are changing.

Things are getting really exciting for women at work. Sure, if you look at gender-split job statistics, the situation is pretty much as depressing as it’s ever been. But – BIG BUT – the John stat doesn’t account for what’s swirling around the media, and is inside the meeting rooms and minds of career folk (women and men) across the globe. Women have been legally entitled to the same respect, pay and job titles as our male friends and peers for many years and slowly but surely the reality is catching up with the legal framework. We want equality, but we want something more than that too: we want to stay uniquely and wonderfully female. The same pay, yes, opportunities, of course, but we don’t want to have to abandon our femininity at the office revolving door. For us, gender parity does not imply gender uniformity.

While everyone deserves to be received and treated equally at work, women must do it their own way, because being a woman is part of what makes you, you. The side-by-side vision of a naked female and a naked male validates the simple fact of life: we are different versions of the same species. There’s the obvious stuff and then there are the mysterious workings inside our heads. Our brain is arguably the most important thing about us. It makes us human and is the instigator of everything that we think and do. It’s our life control centre, and science tells us that for men and women there are brain wiring variations.

In the past, we’ve been wedded to the notion that men have better connectivity within each hemisphere, whilst women have better connectivity between the hemispheres. In an everyday sense, this explained why men excelled at spatial awareness and women at social cognition and multitasking. Neuroscience is notoriously complex but the latest large-scale research shows that gender brain differences may not be as clear-cut as we were led to believe. While some recent studies suggest no significant difference in crucial parts of the brain at all, the most recent research leads to the centre of the brain – the hippocampus, the part associated with emotion and memory. This is usually larger in men than women, but, without wanting to get too technical, some women have a larger, more male-style hippocampus and some men have one that is smaller and more female in style. This suggests the idea of a continuum of femaleness to maleness for the entire brain. Scientists found that the majority of the brains studied were a mosaic of male and female structures, meaning there is no one type of male or female brain.

I like this because it validates our own stance of overlap. The most successful person in the workplace, research says, is the woman who retains her female brain but who isn’t afraid to borrow some stereotypically male traits when the opportunity requires it. Success isn’t about pitting yourself against a man, it’s about learning to be your best – it’s about finding your place on the continuum and making it rock. Interestingly, brains aren’t fixed organs, they are constantly evolving and changing as we age, depending on how we use them. Neuroplasticity, as it is called, in part explains why little girls end up studying languages and the arts and little boys get filtered into STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects that frequently lead to more lucrative careers. Repetition reinforces the networks within our brains: baby girls and baby boys might start off with exactly the same brain software, but over time, as we unwittingly encourage boys towards Lego and trucks and girls into social situations that require capable communication skills, the map of association in our childhood brains is sculpted so that the function of the hardware is constantly altered by experience. We lead our girls to dolls and our boys to the top of trees, and then we wonder why society ends up treating women and men differently.

Hormones also play a part in this lifelong divide, as does parental nurture. More interestingly, though, this has a much more subtle impact – it defines what we believe about ourselves. We self-stereotype against ourselves as women, and then we live up to these restrictions.

There is a recent study using Asian-American women that perfectly illustrates the point. The group was divided and set a maths test. Just before the test commenced, half of the group were reminded that they were Asian, invoking the stereotype of Asians having a high maths ability. This half did better in the test. However, when they were reminded of being female (which invokes the stereotype of poor maths performance), they scored lower on the test than the control group. The point is that while men do tend to outperform women in assessments of mathematic ability, for example using the test results of American SATs exams, in reality women aren’t actually worse at maths (see here), we’re just stereotyped into thinking that way.

In the workplace, this presents as women not reaching for leadership positions, or being too conservative in their entrepreneurial expectations for the simple reason that we believe that we don’t belong at the top. We aren’t all professors in waiting, but we should all be able to imagine ourselves where we really want to be at work. Not where society or our stereotyped brains expect us to land. Your career brain, the one you rely on to muster confidence, the one that assists you in awkward networking situations, pay negotiations and everything else in between, may not currently be on your side and thats in part due to stereotyping and nurture. When you know the reasoning behind where your brain is at, it allows you to make positive changes to redirect those channels – to change the hardware, so that your brain (your unconscious thinking) is aligned to your reach-for-the-stars career dreams.

Using colour to bring out your traits

These days, among other things, there is such a vast selection of clothing options that every one of us has the possibility of finding items that bring out the best in us. Despite this, however, so many of us find ourselves confronting the daily dilemma of “What am I going to wear today?”, and all too often our choices leave us underwhelmed or at least partially so.

We often see young women in the street wearing clothes that are perfectly formed for their physique, each one of them wearing up-to-the-minute fashion, and yet they are anything but alluring or beautiful. The reason for these failures lies essentially in the fact that when we follow the trends, we very often find ourselves forgetting the importance of sticking to our own style, which is fundamental if we want to craft an image that not only keeps us satisfied but also profoundly reflects us, highlighting our physique as well as our character. Only style, in the end, is able to fully bring out our best. As Coco Chanel said, “Fashion changes, but style endures”. And so it’s style, not fashion, that we have to follow.

Finding your own style is, at the end of the day, really quite simple. There’s just one key: truly embracing your own sense of femininity. In truth, there are many ways to be a woman, and each one of these perfectly corresponds to a well-defined style born from the fusion of our aesthetic taste and our own personality. It’s precisely because of this that we can say that it’s enough to simply reach into our own way of being a woman and our character to find the style that brings out the most in us—the one that fits us the best.

But what does that even mean? It means, in other words, that if we consciously gear our aesthetic choices toward styles that reflect who we are, with just a teensy bit of effort we will be able to achieve our most personalized style, which will have a double advantage.

On the one hand, it will help us make the most out of ourselves aesthetically, and on the other hand, it will help us understand ourselves even better, something that can only happen if our style is in sync with our nature. In selecting our look—for example, when we pick out our daily outfit—personality is of far more importance than the use of aesthetic ideals, which may be formally irreproachable but are not personalized in any way. I’m sure you’ve seen a friend for whom look is usually not of huge importance all dressed up for an important occasion and looking no more attractive than usual and even looking clumsy and impeded by clothes in which she clearly feels uncomfortable. This is the most evident proof of how important it is to always follow your own personal style, one that descends from your own inner nature and personality, pairing this rule with some necessary technical suggestions to enhance your physical characteristics.

In and of itself, as you can see, the concept is pretty simple. What’s a bit less simple is translating it into something that can be readily put into use. To better understand what this means, let’s try to shed some light on it with a comparison of the colour of a simple piece of clothing. Take an everlasting colour: blue, for example. Without a doubt, this is a classic colour that goes well with practically anything, one that everyone tends to like.

Each one of us, however, will use the colour blue in a slightly different way. This is because each one of us will chose a different tonality of blue, even if that hue varies only just slightly, and also because despite using the same colour, we will always choose combinations that will make it seem different. A woman with a more exuberant character will tend to prefer, for instance, more brightly lit tonalities, almost electric blue. The traditionalist wills her preference to the classic navy blue. A woman with a more romantic nature will match her blue with pink floral patterns, and so it goes. This selection process usually gets carried out in a completely spontaneous and unconscious way, at least for the simplest of choices, such as colour or pattern.

But if we apply it to our whole personal look in a deliberately conscious way, our decisions will have the effect of clearly highlighting what fits and matches us the best and what brings out the best in us. If we focus on the most significant aspects of our personality and our character and combine them with the choices that bring out the magic of our body type, we will then be able to zero in on the most suitable look for us, avoiding having closets stuffed to the brim with clothes that we will never even think about putting on.

The end result? Allowing us to have a curated choice rather than an unlimited one. A closet overflowing with clothes and accessories, rather than giving us the opportunity to have the most perfect outfit for every occasion, instead drains us of our energy as we waste time choosing and mixing up our ideas; it can leave us feeling indecisive.

In contrast, having but just the right amount of clothing for us allows us to always roll on the safe side of things and feel “right” in every occasion. The idea came to me while I was observing my dearest friends; I realized how for each certain type of character, there was a corresponding well-defined understanding of image and self-care.

As I mentioned at the start, the styles are not picked out like the typically understood aesthetic standards, but instead they should be seen as the many facets of the diverse ways of expressing your own femininity. For this reason in particular, they transcend the trends of the day and the passage of time. This allows us to be, in every moment and in all occasions, authentically fascinating and spontaneously feminine. Because it’s truly our femininity—and let’s not forget it—that at once contains and reveals the charme of every woman.

So in short, don’t dress to suit fashion. Dress the bring out characteristics of yourself you want to emphasise. And the way you dress can help you not only attract a future partner, but also help you advance up the career ladder too.

Female attitudes in the workplace

Why do smart, capable women act in ways detrimental to their career mobility (not to mention mental health)? During my career, working with literally thousands of professional men and women and comparing their behaviors, I found the answer to that question through inquiry and study: From early childhood, girls are taught that their well-being and ultimate success are contingent upon acting in certain stereotypical ways, such as being polite, soft-spoken, compliant, and relationship-oriented. Throughout their lifetimes, this is reinforced through media, family, and social messages.

It’s not that women consciously act in self-sabotaging ways; they simply act in ways consistent with their learning experiences. Even women who proclaim to have gotten “the right”messages in childhood from parents who encouraged them to achieve their full potential by becoming anything they want to be find that when they enter the real world, all bets are off. This is particularly true for many African American women who grew up with strong mothers.

Whether by example or encouragement, if a woman exhibits confidence and courage on a par with a man, she is often accused of being that dreaded “b-word.” Attempts to act counter to social stereotypes are frequently met with ridicule, disapproval, and scorn.

Whether it was Mom’s message—“Boys don’t like girls who are too loud”—or, in response to an angry outburst, a spouse’s message—“What’s the matter? Is it that time of the month?”—women are continually bombarded with negative reinforcement for acting in any manner contrary to what they were taught in girlhood. As a result, they learn that acting like a “nice girl”is less painful than assuming behaviors more appropriate for adult women (and totally acceptable for boys and adult men).

In short, women wind up acting like little girls, even after they’re grown up.

Now, is this to say gender bias no longer exists in the workplace? Not at all. The statistics speak for themselves. Additionally, women are more likely to be overlooked for developmental assignments and promotions to senior levels of an organization. Research shows that on performance evaluation ratings, women consistently score less favorably than men. These are the realities.

But after all these years I continue to go to the place of “So what?” We can rationalize, defend, and bemoan these facts, or we can acknowledge that these are the realities within which we must work. Rationalizing, defending, and bemoaning won’t get us where we want to be. They become excuses for staying where we are.

Although there are plenty of mistakes made by both men and women that hold them back, there are a unique set of mistakes made predominantly by women. Whether I’m working in Jakarta, Oslo, Prague, Frankfurt, Trinidad, or Houston, I’m amazed to watch women across cultures make the same mistakes at work. They may be more exaggerated in Hong Kong than in Los Angeles, but they’re variations on the same theme. And I know these are mistakes because once women address them and begin to act differently, their career paths take wonderful turns they never thought possible.

So why do women stay in the place of girlhood long after it’s productive for them? One reason is because we’ve been taught that acting like a nice girl—even when we’re grown up—isn’t such a bad thing. Girls get taken care of in ways boys don’t. Girls aren’t expected to fend for or take care of themselves—others do that for them. Sugar and spice and everything nice—that’s what little girls are made of. Who doesn’t want to be everything nice? People like girls. Men want to protect you. Cuddly or sweet, tall or tan, girls don’t ask for much. They’re nice to be around and they’re nice to have around—sort of like pets. Being a girl is certainly easier than being a woman. Girls don’t have to take responsibility for their destiny. Their choices are limited by a narrowly defined scope of expectations.

And here’s another reason why we continue to exhibit the behaviors learned in childhood even when at some level we know they’re holding us back: We can’t see beyond the boundaries that have traditionally circumscribed the parameters of our influence. It’s dangerous to go out-of-bounds. When you do, you get accused of trying to act like a man or being “bitchy.”

All in all, it’s easier to behave in socially acceptable ways. This might also be a good time to dispel the myth that overcoming the nice girl syndrome means you have to be mean and nasty. It’s the question I am asked most often in interviews. Some women have even told me they didn’t read on because they assumed from the title that it must contain suggestions for how to be more like a man. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it literally five hundred times in the last ten years: Nice is necessary for success; it’s simply not sufficient. If you overrely on being nice to the exclusion of developing complementary behaviors, you’ll never achieve your adult goals.

Learn to have a wider variety of responses on which to draw. When we live lives circumscribed by the expectations of others, we live limited lives. What does it really mean to live our lives as girls rather than women? It means we choose behaviors consistent with those that are expected of us rather than those that move us toward fulfillment and self-actualization. Rather than live consciously, we live reactively.

Although we mature physically, we never really mature emotionally. And while this may allow us momentary relief from real-world dilemmas, it never allows us to be fully in control of our destinies. Missed opportunities for career-furthering assignments or promotions arise from acting like the nice little girl you were taught to be in childhood: being reluctant to showcase your capabilities, feeling hesitant to speak in meetings, and working so hard that you forget to build the relationships necessary for long-term success.

These behaviors are magnified in workshops at which men and women are the participants. My work in corporations has allowed me to facilitate both workshops for only women and leadership development programs for mixed groups within the same company. Even women whom I’ve seen act assertively in a group of other women become more passive, compliant, and reticent to speak in a mixed group. When men are around, we dumb down or try to become invisible so as not to incur their wrath.

Recognize these traits in yourself. And never put yourself down again!

Can you make a living online?

Can you make it big as a YouTube sensation? Can you ever quit the day job, the one that purportedly causes you grief, and replace with a seemingly more interesting career, such as singing or posting internet videos?

Lots of people – women, in particular – seem to think so. Internet video sites – chief among them YouTube – are awash with videos of people posting on any topic of interest, and music videos of them performing their favourite song.

How is it possible to make a living from posting videos? That probably goes against what many people in traditional jobs have been brought up to believe.

The underlying dynamic about maing a living from posting videos is this. You are trying to get people to watch your vidoes. And it is not just about watching your video, but making them watch the entire video.

People that supposedly make a living from YouTube videos get paid depending on how long people watch their video for. If someone clicks on your video link and then clicks away after ten seconds, you’d have earned less that if someone watched three minutes of it.

Making a living from videos is also about making money from advertising. You can monetise your YouTube channel so that ads appear, perhaps at the start or somewhere in the middle, and if viewers are interested in your video enough to tolerate the ads you allow for, then you are rewarded for both.

What really helps if you have large viewership. If one thousand people watch a three-minute video each day, you could be raking in the cash. But you won’t get one thousand fans overnight, like a newspaper, readership is something you have to cultivate. Which is why a lot of people start working on their YouTube channels while they are still in other jobs, so that the moment they decide to take the plunge making a living online, they have paid their dues.

Making videos is one of the ways you can make a living online. Another is writing and starting up blogs. Both pretty much rely on readership and advertising, and on building up large numbers of readers. And for that reason, you’re going to have to read or blog or video-log about topics that people are going to be interested in, in the first place.

This is why you see an abundance of make-up videos and beauty tips in videos. That is a good starting point for women. After that, you can branch out to other fields. Zoella Suggs started out with beauty tips, got even more interest from her participation in The Great British Bake Off, secured a book deal and moved on to being an author. It is about leveraging interest in one field to springboard to another.

Most women blogs and YouTube channels deal with make-up, beauty tips, home-working, early retirement and travelling on a budget. Starting a YouTube channel with one of these themes is usually a good way to begin.

Sometimes people also start blogs or video channels to market their products. What products? Some may be beauty products, from which they earn commissions from. Or if you are looking for a digital product, an online course (usually on “How to make a living from YouTube”) is usually quite popular.

If you have not got the patience or time to build a big readership, there is another alternative you can try. You can make covers of other famous songs and hope that someone out there will notice your video and offer you either a singing job, or a contract. After all, young Justin Bieber was discovered when he was little via his videos on YouTube. But if you don’t like singing, or like to be videoed singing, and have a talent playing an instrument instead, you could make a cover of the song on your instrument. Piano covers seem to be popular, because on the piano you can play the tune and accompaniment at the same time.

In both cases you can also register your covers to be sold. Now, there are strict rules about selling other people’s work as your own, but in the case of music, you can apply for a mechanical license to market your covers. Really? Yes! You can apply for it via the Harry Fox Agency, indicate whose song you are covering and how many copies you intend to sell, and then the right to market it is dealt with for you – the royalties you pay to the original artist are taken care of you.

Thinking of becoming the next YouTube sensation? Start while you are still in education, or still in your existing job so that you develop a fan base that you can sell advertising to. Use your channel to sell advertising and secondary products, such as courses and music covers. And you never know, when you become well known enough, something else may come out of it – singing contract, book deal or theatre or movie role!

Why are women attracted to the idea of making an online living? Unfortunately this arises from having to balance work, family and children – and guilt. During the normal working hours we have to be responsible for children, so we have to look for other ways to restructure work around it. An online income offers another means of flexible living.