For years, “PR executive” has been listed high among the most-stressful occupations—No. 2, in fact
Yes, I know; take that
, neurosurgeons and air traffic controllers!
This year, somehow, it dropped all the way down to No. 7
, behind soldiers, firefighters, cops and, um, event planners
. (One of those things is not
like the other.)
I imagine there’s a group of PR people conspiring to get that ranking back up next year, because here’s a dirty little secret in this profession: People take perverse pride in how stressed out they are. The “We’re No. 2!” factoid has been touted by industry people for as long as I can remember.
I suppose it provides a kind of validation that the work we do is vitally important. Or maybe it’s a defense we use for all of those missed dinners and soccer games for whatever crisis has arisen at the office. “Sorry, honey, you knew when we got married that I work in the second-most-stressful profession!”
But here’s the thing: We are only as stressed out as we choose to be.
Yes, we face a lot of pressures—demanding bosses, mercurial clients, cranky reporters, and the need to bill, bill, bill
. As a result, much of what we do is beyond our control. A (literal) tsunami steps on our story.
Our client’s product is recalled. The printer is out of ink.
I threw that last one in there because I find the people in this industry who claim to be the most stressed out react with equal alarm to all three of these events. Everything is set on 11.
Stress is self-perpetuating. The more we act stressed and talk about being stressed and promote our rankings among the most-stressful occupations, the more those around us become stressed out.
It creates an image problem for us. The perennial complaint among PR people is that we don’t get invited into the boardroom or the C-Suite. There are probably many reasons we may not get a seat at the table, but part of the explanation is the image we project. Think of the chief counsel or CFO or CIO—are they running down the halls screaming about how stressed out they are?
Probably not. They’re cool, calm, composed. Not because they have no stress in their lives, but because they know that composure is a sign of leadership.
One of the most effective and respected people I’ve ever worked with was a vision of grace and ease. (They even named an award after her—the Grace and Ease award!) She was unflappable, and that attitude—like being stressed to the max—was contagious. It made you aspire to be as composed as she was. (And to be as different as possible from the vice president flipping out in the hallway because the printer is jammed.)
So buck up, PR people. If we’re being muscled aside in the stress rankings, that’s probably a good thing. Be happy that, unlike those near the top of the list, you’re not being shot at on a regular basis.
If it does trouble you, take comfort in the fact that at least we’re the second-most-caffeinated profession
Rob Biesenbach is a Chicago-based communications consultant, actor and author of the book “ACT LIKE YOU MEAN BUSINESS: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen,” published by Brigantine Media.