“Stress doesn’t kill us – but it makes everything that does kill us much worse.” Jonah Lehrer
This month’s Wired magazine (US version) includes a fascinating article, “Under Pressure” by Jonah Lehrer which explores different aspects of stress. The article is not on the online copy yet but is well worth a look when it appears (or go buy the paper version).
The article looks at Robert Sapolsky’s research on stress and, as well as discussing the long-term physiological impact of stress and the presence of stress chemicals in the body, it looks at experience of stress within hierarchical structures and societies, starting with Sapolsky’s research on baboon troops in Kenya. As also seen in a long term research project on Whitehall civil servants at all levels, the real damage is done less by having a typically high-pressure, long hours executive job and more by having a role at the bottom of the hierarchy. Whether you are the lowest-ranking male baboon in a troop (females inherit rank from their mothers) or an operator in a call-centre, damaging, long-term stress arises most from the feeling of having no control over your environment.
Maybe this sheds some further light on why executives would contemplate giving up the “security” of a good job with a blue-chip company, for all the “stress, worry and uncertainty” of running your own business. It’s not about the stress, it’s about the freedom.