What My Suitcase Taught Me About Stress, Change And Innovation

by Tamara Ghandour

What My Suitcase Taught Me About Stress, Change And Innovation

I’ve been living out of a suitcase for the past three weeks. 

That doesn’t sound too bad if you are on vacation. But in my case, it involved two kids, a dog and not having any idea where we were going to live. I sold our home of 12 years faster than expected and couldn’t find a new place that met our needs, or really was livable at all. I put us all in total limbo. I thought I was handling it well. If people asked me how it was going I’d put on a smile and say things like, “oh, it’s an adventure” or “hey, someone makes my bed every day.”

But inside I was in turmoil. The ambiguity, the lack of direction, the total lack of being able to control the outcome was putting me very far over the edge. I was irritable, negative and totally exhausted. 

But here’s the crazy part,  I didn’t even realize how stressed out I was until it was all over. 

I thought I was keeping it together for myself and my team (my kiddos). I may have even patted myself on the back a few times. But the minute I was given the keys to my new home it was like ten pounds of stress lifted off of me. Suddenly I took a deep full breath, something I apparently hadn’t done in weeks, and my whole body slumped. It was at that moment that I realized I had been operating from a place of what I call “normalized unconscious stress” and it was impacting everything, and everyone.

I was short with everyone because I didn’t have the capacity to be calm and reasonable. I shot down every new idea. I did everything at a “just get through it” level because that’s all I had to give. I confused checking stuff off my to-do list with real progress because I just needed to feel like I had some sort of control. And until that deep breath, I had no idea the magnitude of the situation.

Sound like you some days? Sound like your team? 

Fortunately, this was a short period of time, but many of us live like this at work every day. In a pressure cooker of stress. We are so used to operating at this stressed out level that we may not even realize it’s happening. All the hyper accelerated rate of change, shifts in our jobs, the marketplace, technology and constant disruption are pushing us into that place of “normalized unconscious stress.” In fact, you’ve probably gotten pretty good at navigating the ambiguity, or so you think. 

But it shows up in subtle yet impactful ways that compound on each other. In slightly locked jaws and shallow breathing. In always feeling rushed and behind. In shutting down your own creativity. In not hearing or seeing the opportunities to innovate around you. In never feeling a sense of being caught up, let alone ahead of the game. And this becomes the normal way of being and acting. 

As an individual, a team, and even a company, it’s killing your ability to innovate. And that is making it tough to be more nimble than the competition or outmaneuver changing times. It’s killing your team morale in slow and insidious ways. In short, we can’t sustain at that level. Eventually, we’ll hit a wall. Here are three simple steps to begin the process of overcoming “normalized unconscious stress.”

#1 Pay Attention To The Signals: As I shared in my story, all the signs are there, you just need to look for them.

#2 Own It: You can’t magically hope this type of invisible stress goes away. You’ve got to talk it out, identify the root causes, work through it. 

#3 Find Your Control Center: You can’t deny the changes going on around you, but as a leader, you can find ways to bring clarity and a sense of purpose to the situation. At LaunchStreet, a lot of what we do is help teams get comfortable with change. That usually includes discovering ways that you can leverage and even own change. And that gives you and your team the much-needed sense of controlling (with flexibility) their own destiny too. Something I had lost sight of for two weeks.

I never truly understood how hard it is to push forward in a cloud of constant stress until I experienced those three painful weeks. If you and your team are working in this cloud daily, this is my personal plea to get it under control. Otherwise, it will eventually burn everyone out from the inside.

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Tamara GhandourTamara Ghandour of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.

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