Whether you’re starting your working life or just starting a new job, deliberately thinking through how you’ll take care of yourself is a must-have part of your professional development plan. A former boss put it this way: “Put yourself first, your family second, and your job third. If you aren’t healthy, you can’t be at your best.” How do you do that? Begin by making self-care a priority.
1. Plan Your Trip
The first time I heard the term “self-care”, I was well on my way to burnout. I was a third grade teacher at a small school in New England. I was living alone for the first time, had no social life beyond my fellow teachers at the school, and it was taking everything I had to manage a particularly difficult class that year. I will always be grateful to the colleague who gently asked, “How are you taking care of yourself?” The truth was, I wasn’t. I had let Me get taken over by Everyone Else. I started hesitantly- a hot bubble bath and candles every night; “Orange Food Nights,” consisting of mac-n-cheese and Cheetos, when things were particularly stressful.
ACTION TIP: Do an inventory of the following things: What makes you happy? When do you feel most at peace? What is your toolbox of activities that bring you back to you? Going for a run? Dancing in your kitchen? Meeting up with friends? Making art? Meditating? Massages? The point is not to lose yourself. The point is to reconnect with yourself.
2. Pay Attention to Your Check Engine Light
I formed some bad self-care habits early. Growing up, it was very difficult for my mother, a high school teacher, to take time off from work, so unless I was bleeding from a major wound or throwing up, I went to school. “Bleeding or throwing up” is a terrible baseline for self-care.
ACTION TIP: When you feel yourself careening toward the edge, take a mental health day (you don’t even have to be bleeding or throwing up to do it!). See a movie matinee. Surprise your kids by picking them up from school and getting ice cream. Leave your work email be for now. You aren’t being truant. You’re being responsible to your life.
As a self-employed entrepreneur, this is more challenging but also even more important. After a meeting the other day, I stepped out into the Manhattan winter sunshine and turned the grocery shopping I had planned to do on the way home into a grand adventure. It took hours longer than I’d planned, but when I returned home, the joy of the day was like oxygen for my soul. I’m learning that “Saturdays” happen at various times- not just on Saturday. Saturday is a feeling, not a day on the calendar.
3. Get Regular Inspections
Make the time to be with people who feed your soul. I have a standing coffee meeting that is mostly work-focused, but our conversations inevitably drift off into the rest of our lives, too. I leave our coffee shop refreshed and filled with renewed creativity and focus. This person could be a mentor, or just someone who provides perspective. Getting out of your head is one of the most important things you can do as you find your way.
4. Enjoy the Drive
“Work/life balance” is a mythical goal. You don’t want “work/life balance”. You want flow between the two. So respect the flow. Sometimes, you’re going to be in such a good groove that you’re going to work 12 or 14 hours at a time. Work at its best feels like art- immersive and creative. Honor that. This, too, is a part of self-care.
Knowing how to care for yourself is a critical part of being a successful professional. Invest the time to understand how you best nurture yourself.