Tom Nies: Putting the burden down

Thomas M. Nies, Founder and CEO, Cincom Systems Inc.

There was once a professor lecturing his students on stress management. He raised a glass of water and asked the audience, “How heavy do you think this glass of water is?”

The students’ answers ranged from 50g to 200g. The fact of the matter is that the absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long you hold it.

“If I hold it for a minute, it is OK,” he said. “If I hold it for an hour, I will have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you will have to call an ambulance. It is the exact same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

We carry our burdens with us all of the time; sooner or later we will not be able to carry on as the burden becomes increasingly heavier.

“We have to put down the burden periodically, so that we can be refreshed and are able to carry on,” the professor warned his students. “When you return home from work, put the burden of work down. Don’t carry it into your home. You can pick it up tomorrow.”

In this useful story we see two types of stress — eustress and distress.

Eustress is a type of stress that builds, strengthens, enriches, enlightens and improves. It is good for us and helps us to produce positive results and outcomes. The type of stress that weakens and debilitates, the kind that would force the classroom to call an ambulance if the professor held the glass of water for 24 hours, is called distress.

The key point is that certain types of stress are very good for us. For many of us, these pressures provide the stimulation for our achievement far beyond what we might accomplish without such stresses.

In our story, one type of stress is stated, while the other is only implied. Holding the glass extended wearied the muscles. But, it is not mentioned that in the process this stress also strengthened those muscles if, in this instance, only to a very tiny degree. Our various mental and psychological burdens, challenges and difficulties can work in precisely the same way upon our intellectual and our character construction and development.

Little by little, every challenge can help to strengthen us. So, a lot of even small stresses and challenges can be quite helpful to us, because they may serve to energize, enrich and enlarge us if our responses to the challenges and stresses are proper and effective.

However, if these stresses are not quickly resolved, they can and do eventually gather together over time to weary, if not even break down, the best and strongest of us. So we must not let stresses, which could strengthen us, linger so long unresolved that they collectively fester and grow to become serious distresses.

Does your job still weigh on your mind when you walk out of the office and into your home? Set aside one day a week where you leave work at work. Turn off your technology, stay away from your e-mail. Leave it there.

If your burden is coming from the other side and home is stressful, focus on work when you’re at work. Let it go and commit yourself fully to your job, putting the burden down for a while at work.

We must put the burden down periodically to gain respite that can be used for constructive thought and action in order to properly and successfully move forward once we pick the burden up again. Have you managed to put your burden down recently?  If not, why not?

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, healthcare and insurance. For more info visit