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Stress Management


Event pros are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades, but they must be masters of those trades as well.
Exhibit and event marketers are no strangers to stress. I was recently reminded of this while reading through CareerCast's annual list of the year's most stressful jobs. Per usual, event coordinator scored an unenviable spot among the top 10. In fact, it was ranked the sixth most stressful occupation behind enlisted military personnel, firefighter, airline pilot, police officer, and broadcaster. On the one hand, I question the methodology of these rankings, considering waging war on a banner stand that simply won't stay taut is a far cry from literally waging war. But I digress.

Regardless of the stress chasm I imagine exists between the top occupations on the list, there's no denying that this can be an anxiety-inducing industry. I often describe the beginning of any big event as that moment you get strapped into a roller coaster you've never ridden before: You have no idea exactly what to expect or how long it might last, but there's no getting off until the ride is over.

Additionally, event pros are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades, but they must be masters of those trades as well. And the only thing that outnumbers all the hats they're forced to wear is the quantity of internal and external stakeholders they're expected to please. The kicker is, of course, that each of those stakeholders always believes his or her concern is of pinnacle importance. In other words, each person's problem must be treated as the event's top priority, even when it's not.

Given that, how can you continue to manage both your organization's events and your stress level at the same time? Sadly, there's no magic wand to wave that will substantively reduce the expectations placed on you. And no matter how many self-help books you read or work/life balancing acts you attempt, there will always be brush fires and full-blown event-related infernos to put out. But being mindful of the difference is key to keeping your anxiety in check. And while this simple truth won't eliminate the stressors in your life, I believe it allows you to curtail the negative effects of that aforementioned anxiety without abdicating your responsibilities.

As author Natalie Goldberg put it, "Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency." Too often we forget that just because we need to take internal stakeholders' needs seriously, we don't need to approach all of their concerns with a sense of the-sky-is-falling urgency.

Earlier this year, my 90-year-old grandmother passed away. It's ironic that it requires a loss of life for us to take stock of our own, but her passing underscored that half of the things keeping me up at night are absolutely insignificant to my personal happiness or professional success. And while I think I've always been conscious of that, it wasn't until the weeks following her funeral that I realized exactly what all the unnecessary stress had cost me in terms of days not fully seized.

Despite owning her own business – which is a pretty stressful job as well – Grandma Born never missed a school concert, a family meal, or a chance to beat me at cards. She faced challenges I can't imagine, yet always had time for my sister and me because she understood that sometimes to-dos could wait until tomorrow. So next time you're 62 hours into the 40-hour workweek you're actually paid for, take a break (or even just a breath) and ask yourself whether or not what you're doing truly warrants the anxiety it's causing. Few trade show troubles are tantamount to true tragedy, and no event pro's stress level should ever trump that of a trauma surgeon (which, for the record, didn't even make CareerCast's top 10). If we remain fully committed to our careers yet equally mindful of the reality that nobody will perish if our custom carpet isn't an identical match to our corporate Pantone color, we'll all be better off and stress a little less. E



Travis Stanton, editor;
@StantonTravis
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