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One of my mentors, Pastor Ray Stedman, used to quote this little ditty that describes the stressful way we live these days:

The age of the half-read page
And the quick hash and the mad dash.
The bright night and the nerves tight,
The plan hop, the brief stop,
The brain strain and the heart pain.
The catnaps till the spring snaps,
And the fun's done.

Not all stress is bad. Scientists tell us there are two kinds of stress. Eustress is the positive side of stress. When the body encounters manageable stress such as exercise, muscles grow and lung capacity increases.

Weight lifters know that after stressing the muscles, they need to rest in order to repair; without it, muscles become damaged and injury results.

Likewise, when we encounter a difficult leadership challenge, our character and skills can grow. When we go through periods where there is no opportunity to rest and repair, distress is the result.

Distress is the negative side of stress. When stress causes strain we begin to suffer. Some experience headaches, others chest pains, some stomach problems, still others sleeplessness. All are the warning signs of too much distress in our lives. If we ignore them long enough, permanent damage results.

Stress management is partly about learning to set limits, physical, spiritual, and emotional. But it is also about learning to identify and clarify attitudes of the heart that make us prone to distress.

As I watch leaders around the world, I find these attitudes bring about more distress than actual workload. Let me briefly identify five of these.

1. Being overly sensitive to criticism.
The secret of becoming a leader who lasts is learning to toughen your hide without hardening your heart. If you lead anything you will be criticized. If you can't get used to that reality and get over it, you can look forward to years of distressful living.

2. Being too focused on your weaknesses or inadequacies.
You will always benefit from focusing on your strengths, and be sidetracked and doomed to mediocrity by keeping track of your weaknesses. Hire good people to compensate for the areas where you are weak and you'll avoid a great deal of distress.

3. Taking too much pride in your achievements.
Pride quenches both a desire to grow and a desire to learn, both essential ingredients for reaching new levels of excellence. Ever wonder why there are so many "one-hit-wonders" in music, or why it is so difficult for sports teams to repeat a championship? The distress brought on by pride lingers for a long time.

4. Allowing your ambition to overreach your abilities.
Part of maturation is learning to assess your strengths and gifts honestly.

Ambition without ability is wishful thinking. Ability without ambition is a wasted life. A recreational athlete whose earnest ambition is an Olympic gold medal will live with a high level of distress.

5. Harboring jealousy over the achievements of others.
There are few more destructive emotions than jealousy. Jealousy is based on faulty thinking that says there is only so much success in this world to go around, and someone else just got what should have been mine.

Trust me, there's enough success out there for anyone who is willing to live the examined life and work their way out of self-inflicted distress. Here's hoping you allow the inevitable stress of life to strengthen you, both in mind, spirit, and body.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free
monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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