Less Stress More Success

"Don't eat the pizza": How to survive a high-stress job

According to a man who ran Obama’s digital campaign in 2012.

HARPER REED KNOWS about stress.

The instantly recognisable tech hipster was CTO for Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, charged with building a system to track and distribute information on the Democrat’s entire network of supporters.

“It was hard,” Reed told Business Insider.

There was a certain point where I went to a party three-fourths of the way through and there was a friend of ours who we tried to hire but he actually couldn’t do it. He was at the party and he was like, ‘You all seem different.’ We were all a little shell-shocked.

“It’s like a Sunday afternoon party in the park and we’re all like, ‘Well, I guess I gotta go back and do work.’”

This type of scenario will sound familiar to anyone who has worked in an investment bank or a fast-growing startup. Reed says: “Anytime you talk to people who’ve been at a very early stage company that’s gone like that or any other kind of really gruelling experience, they’ll have that camaraderie.”

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So how did he survive this pressure cooker environment?

“The advice I used to give to engineers I hired was don’t eat the pizza,” Reed says. “Sometimes when you walk into these high-pressure environments it’s like doughnuts everywhere and all these little cakes.”

“If it was just a month, maybe pizza month. But when you’re there for 18 months, you just can’t do that. It really is the difference between a sprint and a marathon.”

The point he’s making is that you’ve got to look after yourself so you can bring your “A-game” to work. Too often it’s easy to just grab snack instead of have lunch or do crazy long hours that run you down. But often it can be more productive to call it a day, go home and have a healthy dinner, and come back tomorrow to attack the problem fresh.

Reed says: “Don’t eat the pizza, get lots of sleep — you have to take care of yourself. It’s about being your tip top self at all times and if you are unhealthy or your sick or you don’t feel good, even it’s just because you’re sluggish, you’re not going to make it because you’re not going to be able to react to things.”

One of the things that I used to make sure I’d do was to always make sure I’d have dinner at home because I needed that disconnect from work. Even when it was crazy, I’d go home at like 10 o’clock and have dinner. That way I had time where I could decompress a little bit, and then go back in.

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Reed says you have to find “little tricks like that” to help you cope with demanding and high-pressure jobs.

There’s another thing that Reed learned working for Obama too — the importance of teamwork.

He says: “Often times in tech people think, ‘I’m the only one that has this.’ I call them the Atlas People. They’re like ‘The weight of the world is on the shoulders. I’m the only person who can solve this problem.’

But you can’t do that. It’s the same advice I would give to anyone we would hire today but it was really important then because the job is so big. You have to share and work with your peers.

Reed now works as head of commerce at Braintree, a division of PayPal that builds tools for developers to help take payments. Modest, the mobile payments company Reed co-founded, was bought by PayPal earlier this year.

Read: Here’s nine things you may do that make people instantly dislike you

Read: Stress is making a lot of you take time off work

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