Greedy Goblin

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Manager's heart

Today's post is really essential. You surely heard about the cardiovascular diseases of middle aged men. Google drops over half million results for these words.

It's the No1 death cause in the USA (not just for middle aged men, but all).

Of course this is not the place for some medical stuff, especially since I'm no expert. I could copy&paste or link some texts but there is no point, you can find the same or better if you want. I'd like to focus on one cause that leads to cardiovascular diseases, a cause that's common among businessmen: manager stress. Surprisingly it's not stranger to gamers too, and for the very same reason.

I've never understood this "stress-thing" until I had a personal experience recently. The things I've learned first-handed helped me understand the problem and might help you too.

The stress is the activation of the "fight-or-flight" subroutines of our brain. These are even more ancient than the social "ape-subroutines" as simpler animals have it too. It prepares the body for fighting (by fangs and teeth) or running away (literally).

This is completely inadequate as the stress in our life is not biological. The threat is not something we can beat with our fists or run away on our legs. The threat is in our career or personal relationship. Actually we should live in the peace of Buddha since our life and health is more secure than any time before in history. But we can't.

I did not know such stress before as I've chosen my real world workplace smartly/luckily. I'm a development engineer with absolutely zero management job. I don't have to herd cats, I only have to herd fluids and fluids are quite reliable. They never-ever behave differently than chemistry/physics laws tell them.

While several people blame WoW for college dropouts and "addiction", I found them stupid as the WoW-world is persistent. I cannot miss anything I don't want to. Every monster, quest and item will be just as available tomorrow as today. I have no bills to pay, no jobs to do in time. I can play completely in my own pace therefore without any stress. I never understood people who played like it was a second job, grinding for hours or leveling to 80 in a day or raiding 12 hours a day. I saw no point.

Same thing about real job. I make enough money not only to pay my bills but also to have an increasing deposit in the bank. I could not imagine why my managers are always in a stress. They make more than me. Much more. So if I'm fine, they should be perfectly happy. They are not.

The event that made me understand stress was a recent gaming issue in the other game I play, Ikariam. For some unforeseen reason I couldn't log in to manage my empire. I couldn't focus on anything else, upsetting my girlfriend. I couldn't sleep, I woke up like 6 times the last night, upsetting her even more. Finished the night on the couch. (note: upsetting all the "friendly helpfull ppl" is one thing, upsetting my GF is quite different) I could only think of what can happen to my cities. Stupid isn't it?

Of course I made decisive action to solve the problem: I've completely abandoned that game.

However the question remains: how could this happen. After all that's just a stupid game with no real world consequences. But then it hit me: does the manager's problems have real world consequences? The first answer is obviously yes: they could lose their job and even destroy a company.

However these things are not real. I mean it's not something that directly affects you. The end of the civil war in Sri-Lanka does happened but it does not affects you. It's not real in the sense that if it would be just a media hack, your life would be no different.

But losing my job makes my life different! - you say. Well, I haven't heard of starving unemployed in the USA, Europe or Japan. If I'd lose my job, I could find another and in the meantime I could live on savings for two years. And there is also welfare (how much I hate it). Does losing my job would really affect me? Is is a life-threatening thing?

Our brain considers everything we focus on "real". While I spent more time in WoW than Ikariam, I was more focused on the latter as it was a PvP game. I could lose resources I already "had", unlike in WoW. If I log in WoW a week later, my buffs would have the same time remaining as they had last time. In Ikariam, my army could be destroyed, my resources stolen, my people deserted. It felt important to manage my cities, although it was absolutely not.

Managers focus on their job, try to defeat competitors, boost statistics, be the "worker of the year", get a raise, be a partner and so on. They consider it crucial, while it's just as important as my non-existent cities in a video game.

I think the solution is setting goals and evaluating every step's utility towards this goal.
- Why do I work?
- To get money to pay the bills.
- Are my bills paid?
- Yes.
- Do I have savings for a couple months if something would go wrong?
- I have savings for years.
- Then I'm fine.

- But you could get more if you'd do one more project! - says the little devil on my shoulder.
Bad answer 1: - Yes, let's go for it, after all, I can do a couple hours overtime!
Bad answer 2: - No, I can't because I couldn't bear it. (creating negative feelings of inferiority and fear from being fired)
Good answer: - Yes I could, but I don't want to. My bills are paid. I'm fine.

Typical bad, self-stressing thinking is what I find in comments on this blog, saying that: "I need this or that alt or this or that grind to prepare for some disaster like my class becomes totally unplayable". You can always make up some impending disaster, forcing you to work hard to avoid it. Too bad that the utility of your action cannot be evaluated as you have no metrics. So no matter how much you do, you still feel you didn't do enough.

"I need 100G/week for repairs" have metrics. If you made 20G today, you're fine, if you made 10, you are not. However "I need a raid-ready alt" has no metrics as you cannot quantify raid-readiness. No matter how much gear you get you still could get more.

You can do two things to eliminate the stress of such "disasters".
  • Prove to yourself that they are not real. It's quite unlikely that Blizzard will ever make a class unplayeable. And if they would, you could still start an alt then, so there is no disaster here, just annoyance.
  • Find an expert who quantifies the disaster for you. For example if you afraid that your home burn down, you can turn to an insurance agent, who professionally (over)estimate the risk and give you a contract. If you pay $X every month (X: quantity), they insure your home, paying for fire losses. As long as you pay X, you are fine.
Be fine!

Finally: why middle-aged men are most affected by stress disease? Because the traditional thinking expect them to be the head of their family, support wife, kids, parents, workplace, community, country, everything! That's way too much for most of them. It's not for me, because I'd never even try to do it. I can support myself, and strongly believe that the others can do it too, so I don't have to worry about them. Of course to do so, I have to accept that I'm not so special, I'm not an alpha-male, a shining example of the community or a girl's dream. I'm fine with that.

I'm fine.

PS: I did not have defined purpose with playing Ikariam, so I could not measure the utility of my actions. I just got sucked into it without noticing. I have a purpose with WoW, spreading the goblinish ideas on this blog. The metrics is the visitor count of this blog. My WoW actions are measured against these. As I can recall, I play much less now than I did before bloging.


Anonymous said...

that's really excellent, I haven't ever posted here, but for once I completely agree with you.

Sven said...

A wise post Gevlon. The impact of stress is one of the reasons why some people make bad decisions; that "fight or fight" response is great for fighting leopards, but poor for strategic planning.

Any chance of persuading you to amend that M&S category that you use for those who perform badly in some aspect of the game to MSS?

Sweetcherrie said...

I'm wondering how much the Mazlov pyramid has to do with what you're saying here.

The problem is that most people are not satisfied with 'Fine' they want 'Great'.

So once they have the basic needs fulfilled, like food and a place to live safely they will start looking at the next tier of the pyramid.

I think that often the drive of a manager is not the money, because they too realize that there's only so much you can spend on stuff you want/need before it becomes silly. But it's the absolute need to become better, better at what they do. Better than the others. The drive of food and a home and security is long past.

Looking at WoW. You could be satisfied with taking it easy and levelling quietly on your own. But instead you want to raid. Why? Not because your character wouldn't survive without, but because you've started at the next tier of the pyramid.

Jorad said...

It's social status - almost always.
No matter where you are in society - you are part of some group and in a kind of hierachical structure therein.
So the manager works harder and harder because he wants enough money to play with his tennis and golf buddies and buy a new car every two years because thats what you do if you want to belong.
So even if you have enough savings so that you could retire right now if you wanted to - and live comfortably enough for your own tastes - you can't stand the thought of being fired because it would destroy your social standing.

For most people it is:
1. surviving - food&shelter
2. social standing - belongig to some peer group

Thats also why all these singles in their twenties and thirties who are hip have no savings. Because they buy a 120$ haircut every two weeks, go clubbing for 100+$ every weekend, buy 5$ coffees in their breaks and wear 300$ jeans.
Cost of surviving: 400$ per month - cost of belonging to your peer group: no limit.

ARES said...

fully agree there mr Gevlon. As a matter of fact, I was in a managerial position until a year ago, and at some point when things were becoming unbearably stressful, I decided I should take a few steps back and go back to my software development career instead of management. It was because of expectations that other people had of me, but also because I had created my own expectations of me, which were simply way higher than in my current position. I left that company anyway, and after 6 months of living off my previous savings, I got another job now, database admin ;) It's way less stressful, there aren't many urgent deadlines, no more 5 meetings a day wasting time etc.

offtopic: now about WoW, I play a resto Druid as main on [emerald dream EU] but I simply can't understand how people like you and a lot more can make such ridiculous amounts of money with the least of effort invested. I mean, myself, for example, got about 4 chars at lvl 80, but only the druid and dk have gathering professions, and I haven't got any char with any crafting profession whatsoever. Maybe that's what I'm doing wrong, amirite? I mean I can only sell that much leather, minerals and herbs on the AH.
Also, as a total noob, I maxed herbalism on my dk instead of my drood (insta swift flight with no necessity to drop it to herb). and my drood (due to poor entreprenorial skills of mine) is the only one that has fast flying, rest of chars only fly at 60% speed lol, so...

do you have any pointers how should I start making some serious money from my current described state?

btw, grats on a very good blog, I like the information as well as your personal opinions on stuff. stay cool :)

Inquisitor said...

@ARES: Suggest you read through his archives. There is plenty of relevant advice.

If you can't or won't do that... well, you're probably not worth his time to answer.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I could put into how much I needed to hear just that today.

I have never posted before but thought I had to just to say one thing.

Thank you.

Zeno said...

Excellent post!

Having been through a few stressful managerial positions in the past, I can defintely attest to the fact that the greatest pressure is self-generated. Most external stress (pressure from the boss, unexpected screw-ups etc) can be mitigated with good communication and processes. However, if you have unrealistic expectations of your own responsibilities or capabilities it WILL catch up with you one day!

The best way I have found to handle this in both my business and personal life (wow included) is a simple 3-step process.

1. Work out what makes you happy (insert own unit of success here).
2. Achieve this.

Ironically, the hardest part is 3 then 1 then 2. I've seen several friends move from disaster to disaster becuase they never worked out what they want from life or when they've reached that stage, destroyed it all in an attempt to reach the "next level".

On the flip side, I would never recommend that someone limit their goals and ambitions just to be "safe". Happiness is vastly different for each person but it does require a level of realism in your expectations.

Me said...

Very nice post Gev.

I work for a company where a promotion will give you more work and lose the right to be paid for overtime (and you do overtime as a manager her). My supervisor was asking if I want to move to one of these positions and I said no. I told him the title was not enough to make up for the increased stress. Also, I became a chemist because I enjoy doing lab work. Once you get a promotion you don't get to work in the lab anymore. You sit at a desk all day.

My lab partner retired recently and my boss said I could do overtime if need be to keep up with the workload and make some extra cash. I told him the extra money was not worth losing my free time or driving through more traffic by leaving later. I will do it if something very important comes up, but not just for money.

I guess I am the same with WoW though. I mainly like to raid. I have no titles. I wanted titles, but then I realized I only wanted them because others had them. I even boycotted the last 2 holidays. As a paladin I'm *supposed* to be a JC'er because of the nice strength gems, but the idea of re-leveling a craft is just too annoying to me and I'm not going to do it. And just as in my real life, I have enough gold to be comfortable. When I start running low I play the auction house, but I otherwise don't feel the need.

Anonymous said...

Great post, I know how it is with some of these free multiplayer games which come out, I played Travian for a bit during a small stage of redudency, I played it for 3 days then realised I had done nothing in those days, I quit those and got a job 2 days after that.

Some people never become fine though, this fits into the need for some of pointless vanity objects in real life which sucks up all their funds, I've never understood it myself.

Though management stress can be managed, but this all depends if you care about it, for me since i had a life threatening illness a few years ago I don't really care about small things and job losses, I know I will get another one in a relitively short space of time and I have enough backup funds in the bank to keep me going.

Way I see it, lifes too short, but you may as well make the most of it by not being stressed about things, because 'things' don't make you happy in the long run.

*vlad* said...

The need to be better than your peers is a major driving force in people's lives:

Better house
Larger salary
Hot wife/husband
Better schools for your kids
Bigger/more expensive house
Bigger/more expensive (insert any item here)

The 'I've got enough money to live and a few more gold pieces in the bank, so I'm ok' viewpoint would be seen by many people as a lack of ambition.

Whatsmymain said...

You are missing out on one major point when it comes to manager stress... and that is that the managers job depends on the work of the people below him. This isn't something he can allways control and often times he must balance being critical and caring. If he is overly critical people will see him as an ass and rebel. If he is overly caring people will see him as a doormat.

While you are correct that if he loses his job he can find another, this doesn't mean that the pay will be the same. If he continually seeks management there is the possibility that if he has a high turn over rate that he won't be able to find a job.

So he lies awake at night hoping that the peole under him do their job properly so that he can present their work to the people above him.

Unless the company is totally successfull then he will allways be worried about whether people are pulling their weight.

Me said...

The 'I've got enough money to live and a few more gold pieces in the bank, so I'm ok' viewpoint would be seen by many people as a lack of ambition.

I always find this view very amusing. Maybe my ambition isn't to be "better" than my peers? Maybe if that is your ambition, then you are not living for you but for other people? You are trying to impress other people, so therefore you are actually doing all this for them, not yourself! I left grad school when I realized I was there because it was what my family expected, but that I was miserable.

As for the material possessions, getting a bigger house only means you'll have to spend more time cleaning it! Or you'll have to make even more money to pay someone else to clean it. My ambition is not become a slave to material possessions or to what other people *think* I should have/do. Many people only think of ambition in their own terms (and I don't assume this is what you were doing).

Yaggle said...

What I think is funny(in a sad way) is that the alpha-males that accept the high-stress manager jobs go through hell at work, and at home worrying about work, but they feel that they must be better than the people who are smart enough to avoid this awful type of job. They often make sure that people who work under them suffer in similar ways because they feel that is the only way that the world is fair. My bosses at work suffer endlessly for a few extra dollars and I have never understood it. I think the company treats them like garbage. On top of all the stress at work and worrying at home, they are expected to be on call 24/7 to come in if there are any "emergencies", of course those emergencies are usually caused by understaffing. I guess those alpha-males can only live their life one way, and that way is to be above the pack. So they basically lock themselves in a stress torture-chamber and throw away the key.

RocknOats said...


Don't forget sucking. If the manager sucks himself, and is just smart enough to know that, he will worry endlessly about being exposed as a fraud and removed. I'd have to say this could apply in about 90-95% of the cases. I've only known about 2-3 truly effective managers(or leaders) in my life, and that's a lot. If they are good, and smart enough to know how good, they will just go do something better.

Zamboni said...


This is a variation of the Peter Principle. If someone is competent in their job, they will be promoted. If they are competent in that job, they will be promoted again. They are eventually promoted to a job that they are incompetent at, where they are stuck. Over time, every position in the company is filled with incompetent people who were promoted one time too many.

(So far, I've successfully fought off every attempt to promote to me to management. I know I'm not a good manager, and I'd rather not be put in a position to prove it.)

Bristal said...

I think the salient point of Gevlon's extremely well written post is that "being fine" is about "feeling fine". Stress, insecurity, dissatisfacion, they're so much a state of mind.

There should be an achievement for American's record poor perceived quality of life with off-the-charts standard of living.

I took a month off of raiding and it really reset my priorities. I'm back to gardening, playing with the dog, watching baseball, and playing WoW when I'm in the mood, not because I have to do 12 dailies today or because I feel guilty not raiding.

If WoW is consuming your life or is causing work-type stress, stop raiding.

LarĂ­sa said...

There are moments when I just have to love you Gevlon. This is one of those. I don't know what made this post so great. I think it's not only that it's well thought out and well written, you're also showing some flaws of yourself, admitting that you're not untouchable and perfect, but a bit vulnerable like anyone else. That you have a gf that can get annoyed with you, that you can do silly things and that you care. You have a heart (sic!), either people believe it or not.

I doubt that you would feel very much connected to the classic US thinker Thoreau. But I come to think about one of the things he writes in his Walden book that I've recalled many times in my life when I've become lost on track, starting to chase for things that only will make me unhappy. He reflects on the burden of ownership, pitying the owners of big real estates with huge houses and lands that the owners have to tend to. He says that the owners of those places become like slaves to it, getting all stressed out, all tied up, constantly serving and worrying about their property. The passer-by can on the other hand enjoy the scenery as well as the owner, and all for free.

I think Thoreau tried to fight the ape-subroutines in his own way, making us think for ourselves. Just as you do. Thank you!

*vlad* said...

@ Barrista. No in fact I don't hold that viewpoint at all, but many people do.

Anonymous said...

nicely wrote

Eric-Wubbo said...

My compliments for your posts, I find them extremely interesting to read and ponder.

I would agree that most current stress in developed countries is an unfortunate consequence of ape subroutines and inflated social pressures resulting from those.

Stress is biologically however not a matter of survival of your body, but of survival of your genes (though your genes do need your body for a while).

There will always be a drive to produce more and higher-quality children. To create high-quality children, there is competition about high-quality mates. Those high-quality mates will of course also seek high-quality partners to enhance survival/procreation of THEIR genes, so much of the buzz is trying to prove the quality of your DNA with social status and displays of wealth (as well as good looks, preferably). It is not an accident why the mentioned 20-somethings spend much more money on being cool than the average senior citizen, whose chances on procreation would be extremely low for men, and zero for women.

While the heart disease and premature deaths caused by stress are tragic enough for those whose lives have been cut short, and also of their family, I would also argue that being stressed all the time and working extremely hard may not even be good for your genes; there are many career-minded women who forego having children, even though the reason that men have careers is probably to distinguish themselves and get mates and hence kids. Anyway, I think stress is bad for your health, bad for your free time, bad for your happiness, and certainly bad for your decision-making. So even from a 'breeding'-point of view we should do our best to eliminate it.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog earlier tonight, and I have been reading it ever since. I'm currently up late, finding it hard to log off and all in all being an addict, so it might sound hypocritical when I say this, but your advice matters to me, and especially this advice. I'm not sure I know why the thinking you display in your blog resonates this much with me, especially seeing as I'm a terrible example of a foolishly nice social player who's also somewhat of an addict (knowing full well the idiocy of it, no less), and I'll likely stay up another hour to find out why, but I just wanted to say thank you for writing this. I'm not sure I'll help myself with it in any way, as I haven't applied any of it yet, but I think I can use it. I'm also very glad I read it.

I almost wish I could say I did not know exactly why I'm currently commenting on a six months old post, but there would be no point in such a blatant lie - I am hoping that someone will read the comment so that I can feel good about myself because someone read what I had to type. It is perhaps pointless, but I'll do it anyway on the off chance you read this. Is it rational to spend time writing a long-winded thank you you'll probably never read, pointing out my own stupidity while displaying it prominently? Does it even matter to you one bit? Possibly not. Hopefully, though, this will make you slightly happy. I know your blog made me very happy as I read it.

Thank you for writing.