By: Judy Gray

Judy Gray is the President/CEO of CEO on Call in Tallahassee. Contact her at or by calling 850-322-3802.

It’s the real test of character, how we react when we’re tired and stressed. How we treat others, how we treat ourselves.  We all want to be known for keeping our heads when all around us are losing theirs. A crisis reveals character.  Exhibiting grace under pressure will never show up on your resume but it will be one of the lovely things that people remember about you.        We’re under so much pressure and stress, whether it’s internally or externally produced. Uncertainty about the economy, about liability, pet owners who are demanding, and the bottom-line business that you and your team are responsible for.

The good news is that with all the stress we have, we get multiple opportunities to practice being gracious! Clients and employees challenge our good nature regularly.  Well, those pet owners from hell are still our clients. And employees from hell are still our employees.

We have to meet people where they are. And that requires a lot of perspective and grace.

A real art is to be able to get through rough situations without having to pin difficult people to the wall and make them say they’re wrong or sorry. Finding a way to be right while allowing the other person to save face is a talent that will make you widely respected.

First, we want to identify what causes stress in our lives – the things like anxiety and fear and conflict that rob us of graciousness. Then we’ll address the need for courage and fairness and perspective.

Grace comes more easily when we forgive ourselves and when we give ourselves permission to stop letting what other people think drive what we do and say. It helps if we are coming from a good place so I’ll also offer about some simple things we can do to change how we deal with stressful situations. There is no doubt in my mind that we all strive to have an integrated, balanced life. We talk to ourselves about needing it all the time.

Domingo Ortega wrote:

               Bullfight critics ranked in rows

               Crowd the enormous Plaza full;

               But only one is there who knows—

               And he’s the man who fights the bull.

You are the toreador in your life. You know the reality of your situation and you are responsible for changes that can enrich it. A key question that we don’t often stop to ask is “What’s going on here?” Many times we’re so busy reacting and keeping focused (momentum or the situation) that we don’t take a moment to press “pause”, step back and ask: What’s going on here? Why isn’t the staff getting along? Why hasn’t my cough gone away? Why is our revenue projection so much better than we expected? Why do I feel so sad?

When you work a lot of hours and your work is filled with problems, you run the risk of thinking of your life as a problem. It’s time to ask yourself, “What’s going on here?”

As you try to figure out what to do, ask yourself, “Even if my work reality does not change, what would it take for me to feel like I have some quality of life?

So here is Life Tip #1:  Before you jump back into an environment where you might be feeling overwhelmed, take a moment and make a list of what would it take – once a week, once every two weeks, once a month to make you feel like you’re getting to do the things you like to do.  What would be on your list?

Surprising my lists were simple. Once a week stuff like: Go to the library, have dinner with friends; go to a movie, read a book, write a letter…..every other week, a manicure and pedicure, learn something new on computer, stuff like that. You’ll find most are doable if you are aware and plan ahead.

Life Tip #2: Introduce a dose of perspective when you’re caught up in a demanding, stressful lifestyle.

We spend so much of our lives at work; it’s no wonder that our experiences in our professional lives continually shape who we are. And we do spend a lot of time at work, don’t we?

Here are some signs that you are working too much.

  1. You get all excited when it’s Sunday so you can wear sweats to work.
  2. You have some form of animal hair on everything you own.
  3. Domino’s Pizza delivery number is on your speed dial at the office.
  4. Your fantasies aren’t about wild sex; they’re about getting eight hours of continuous sleep.

Work smart. Don’t confuse being busy with being productive or important. I live by grandmother’s rule: do what you have to do before you do what you want to do. It prevents anxiety and stress. Tackle the tough stuff first (eat the frog first) and get it behind you

As you shuffle your priorities, you may relate to this poem that I wrote when my daughter was young and I was busy building my career.


No time to stop and play just now, Child,

Not that I don’t care.

I was busy dusting dust away.

You’re gone and it’s still there.

Some of these techniques for incorporating more grace into your life are about learning different ways to help yourself. You may consider them “soft skills” or head games but if a head game works for you, why not?  Play along as you read and be open to some things that can actually make a difference in your well-being.

Life Tip #3: Consider being kinder to yourself. You’re so good at doing that with others!

We spend a lot of time thinking about what we don’t like about ourselves; others don’t. And we get stressed when we think we don’t meet someone else’s expectations. To be kinder to yourself, give yourself permission to not be perfect.

Best is the enemy of better. We can’t be the best at everything but we can get better at many things if we don’t get paralyzed because we can’t be perfect.

So what CAN we do? Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and try to stay with situations where it’s a natural fit for your strengths…and vow to make enough money to hire someone to handle the stuff you agonize over because you’re not good at it. Like your taxes. Like plumbing and electricity.

Develop systems to save yourself …set up auto pay on your bills; electronic calendar alerts to assure you keep my commitments, set the alarm on your phone to remember to breathe. Take time now to save time later.

Procrastinators are perfectionists at heart and that they postpone decisions and actions because they fear they can’t do it perfectly. In dealing with difficult or demanding situations, are you a procrastinator? Remember about eating the frog first? Everything is easier after that.  It doesn’t get any better/easier by waiting.  I spur myself on by asking myself – Do you need a supervisor?

So – Quit trying to be perfect. If it were going to work, it would have by now. What is one small decision or change that you can make today that will make a difference in reducing your stress and anxiety?

Life Tip #4:  Don’t play along when someone is not playing fair.

Why so hard to have difficult conversations? How can we resolve conflict in ways that don’t involve yelling and meanness? How can we do our part in not escalating unpleasant situations?

It takes courage, my friends, and discipline to not be caught up into someone else’s loud and downward spiral.

If we do not address unprofessional or unethical behavior that’s going on in our office, other employees get a message that says, there’s no hope of this getting better, or she’s just going to let this very wrong thing go on. They lose respect for us and our ability to lead is harmed.  There is no magic potion that will fix bad situations. Sometimes the best we can hope for is that it won’t be quite as bad as it could have been.

Do you know about Scripts?  It’s how conversations with some people on some topics are going to go because there’s a pattern. It’s as though we were reading and rereading scripts. You do or say this, and they will do or say that, and then all hell breaks loose again. Can you think of this being true about your conversations with your teenager? Your partner? Your difficult employee?

Life Tip #5: Avoid trigger words like “you should, you ought, you must, you never, you always”. They guarantee disconnection and end efforts at authentic conversation.

Unresolved conflict can generate another pitfall that will rob you of grace; it’s called passive aggressiveness. When situations and discussions are not satisfactorily resolved, many people say they are fine when they are not really. They might go along to get along but bad mouth you to your friends. Or sabotage your project or ….. It will eat you alive, whether you are on the giving or the receiving end. Find a way to ease the urge.

What elements need to be present for successfully addressing difficult situations? It helps if you are already known as being a fair and reasonable person. It’s not too late. It helps if you are respected by others. If others think of you as being a problem solver. It helps if you are the boss. Not impossible for others, just harder.

Life Tip #6: Choose your battles. Think through whether you’re taking the risk of intervening will have a chance of changing the situation. Don’t expose yourself to danger. Sometimes we just have to walk away or let it go rather than jeopardize our safety or wellbeing.

When people approach you and want you to do something you may not want to do:

You might be thinking “Oh, no” when someone approaches you about an important business opportunity or yet another leadership role but take a careful inventory of the skills and talents that got you this far; they are transferable to lots of situations…go for it.

Now that’s different from just saying yes every time someone comes to you with an “opportunity”. If you are truly over-committed, learn to say “no”. Firmly. With a smile.  Stretching yourself too thin doesn’t benefit anyone. They’ll find someone else if you say no.  And you’ll resent giving the time if you don’t have the time. Tell them that if they press you. When people use guilt to try to get me to do something, I just look at them and say, “Guilt doesn’t work with me. What else ya got?”

Here are two quick tips that can help you stay in control of whatever someone’s trying to pull over on you: 1) If someone is pressing you for a quick decision before you are ready, tell them that if they want an answer right now, it’s “no”. 2) When someone presents you with a flimsy alibi, excuse or reason for why they have disappointed you, look them in the eye and say, “That’s unacceptable. Try again.” And then wait for them to speak. If you are the one doing the apology, don’t taint apology with an excuse.

Life Tip #7: Decide what you want to be known for.

May I start with the assumption that we all want to bring our best selves to the table? Not our perfect self, but our best self? What do you want to be known for? Ideally we do this when we’re young our decisions toward our goals are second nature and subconsciously helping us move toward becoming that. It’s not too late!

Practice exhibiting grace under pressure. Don’t get a reputation for being difficult. Get a reputation for being a problem solver, a motivator, a visionary. Give yourself permission. You don’t need anyone else’s.

We need to think about these things. They affect what we are known for.  What do you want to be known for? What will your personal legacy be?  None of us starts out early in life thinking “Oh, I think I’ll become a power hungry prima donna” or “I think I’ll be a nice but ineffective employee” or “I want a reputation for being VERY difficult.” Unless we decide very early what we want to be known for, we’ll become whatever circumstance happens to shape us and we wake up full of regret when we’re 60 thinking, “that’s not what I wanted my personal legacy to be”. So, what do you want to be known for?

How would your friends describe you? Your colleagues at work? Is this what you wish it were?

On a related note, what do you want your practice or your business to be known for? That’s a great discussion to have with staff and to integrate into your website and communication with clients.

            Life Tip # 8:  One of the best stress relievers is to have more fun. When’s the last time you really had fun? What were you doing? Why aren’t you doing more of it?  I was going down the water slide in Orlando with my grandson – not caring about my dignity or my hair – just enjoying the tiny thrills that make precious memories.

Surprise yourself and your friends and family once in a while. Jump out of your rut.

The great thing about growing older is that we don’t have to lose all of the people we have ever been…a playful kid, a charming ingénue, the curious student, the young person in love, and the eager manager anxious to learn.  Today we are grown up professional people. It doesn’t detract from all we have become to be a little like we once were. So consider saying “yes” more.

Life Tip #9: Expect the best.  The success of most of the jobs I’ve had in my 30 year career has been built on long term professional relationships. The philosophy that has guided my personal and professional life reflects that. It’s very simple but it works for me. Here tis….  “I like and respect everyone till they give me reason not to and I assume they like and respect me till I give them reason not to.”  I recommend it. It starts every relationship at a very high level of expecting the best. It allows graciousness in our personal and professional situations. And we all want more of that.

What I know for sure    Regrets? Your will be the same but older if you don’t take first step now.  Look for ways to enrich your job and your personal life; this may be as good as it gets. TFGINC (The fairy godmother is not coming.) We have to save ourselves.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life, I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

If I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up having simply visited this world.

– Poet Mary Oliver

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