Sharon Birkman, used with permission
Source: Sharon Birkman, used with permission

For decades work has topped the list of America’s greatest life stressors. Consider that in 2015 the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America Survey found the following:

  • 31percent of Americans reported stress strongly impacts their physical health
  • 32 percent of Americans reported stress strongly impacts their mental health
  • 33 percent of Americans felt tense or stressed out during their workday

There is no doubt Americans are stressed out and as a society we spend a lot of time and energy on managing that stress. Whether it’s going the gym, meditating, or taking a long walk there are numerous strategies for de-stressing our minds and our bodies. However, managing our stress does little to get at the root cause. If we want to tackle stress head-on we need to focus more on addressing where our stress comes from as opposed to just keeping it at bay. 

Sharon Birkman, President and CEO of Birkman International believes a lot of our life stress can be alleviated through self-insight and better aligning with our natural strengths and interests. I had the opportunity to sit down with Birkman at the 30th Annual EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards celebration in Palm Springs to talk about the role of self-insight in mitigating work and life stress.

Birkman points out, “We should view stress as we do a warning light on the dashboard.” It’s an indicator that it is “time for some self-care,” explains Birkman. She believes a big part of that self-care is examining where you are in your life and if you truly feel you are on the best track for you. Their marquis product The Birkman Method is an assessment designed to just that.

“You can’t look at a person as an isolated event,” Birkman notes. We are all products of our natural dispositions and life experiences. The better understanding you have of yourself at any given point in time, the more informed choices you can make about your future. In the long run this kind of alignment will reduce your stress. To that end, Birkman believes you need to focus on rediscovering your strengths and interests so as to best position yourself for natural success.     

Are You Playing to Your True Strengths?

For many of us our career paths are determined by our early work experiences along with the pressure to get that first real paying job. The reality is that first full-time job can really exert a heavy influence on our life path. Unfortunately, that path may not be one that plays well to our strengths and interests. Birkman explains, “There are so many factors that pressure you into certain directions,” which is why you must listen to yourself and understand your natural inclinations. 

She believes assessments like The Birkman Method can serve as a “powerful affirmation that your hunch is right” and that it’s OK to follow that hunch. She explains that we all have underlying needs and primary rechargers, but we often ignore them and instead gravitate towards social expectations. “People can do something they are not suited to for a period of time, but it will take a toll,” says Birkman. “You need to identify the kinds of roles that play to your temperament” and serve to recharge you at the end of the day.   

Are Your Interests Driving Your Opportunities?

Most people tend to chase opportunities as they arise giving little thought to how they play to their genuine strengths and long term interests. This can hurt you in the long run. According to Birkman, “Interests do impact the way we see our various opportunities” and The Birkman Method helps reconnect people to those genuine interests. Our goal is to help you “recognize who you really are and develop and own that in a way that is positive.” By focusing your energy on your positive attributes and interests you can better recognize the kinds of opportunities that will not only be best suited for you but also give you the most fulfilment.  

This is not to say that all stress can be eliminated and it’s important to point out that not all stress is bad. Research has shown that a little anxiety can be very beneficial to performance. The challenge is reducing our exposure to the negative stress that unnecessarily plagues us. The kind of stress that often comes from our early choices. Birkman believes we all have the power to rethink those choices no matter what our age. It’s merely a matter of taking the initiative to really re-examine our strengths and interests, so that we can reset and put our best foot forward. 

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