I’ve observed that at this time of year and especially this year people seemed to be at their most exhausted level in their jobs. There are many possible reasons for this—hitting the ground running after time off during the holidays, trying to meet all their personal New Year’s goals, and the long winter months. I think the biggest reason is that too many people are not prioritizing taking care of themselves and their health. To be at your best in your work, you must invest in your physical and mental health. Again, in our current environment, it’s even more critical.
I rarely see goals around mental and physical health appear in people’s “Top 12 lists” when they are in career transition and considering what they want in their next career move. I realize it is challenging to carve out time for your own health when the demands of the job are over the top. Our culture tends to be all about working yourself to death. We die—literally—for our jobs, despite the fact that we see time and again that companies will continue without us, no matter how many sacrifices you made and the hours you invested in it.
You must make intentional, conscious decisions to live counter to that culture in your own life. You cannot expect to sacrifice your wellness over decades and have a flourishing career and fulfilling life. After the challenges of 2020, we’re seeing burnout like never before. But I’ll warn you that I’ve seen the mental anguish of burnout transform into physical distress too many times. This is a dangerous situation, but one that can be avoided.
For this next year, I challenge you to build self-care into your program and be committed to it. I am not talking about a total life overhaul. We think we have to put hours and hours into a health and wellness plan to make it worthwhile. But even a few minutes a day will make an impact and build habits.
Here are few practical thoughts to help you find a place to start:
- Don’t commit yourself to a whole lot of time in the beginning. If you make your goals too big at the beginning, you’ll inevitably fail, making it more likely that you’ll abandon your efforts altogether. To start, commit to 10 minutes a day. Do yoga. Walk around your block. Breathe deeply. 10-minute workouts are all over YouTube. Whatever you choose to start with, pay attention to the impact it has on you.
- Determine what you want to improve. Do you want to develop your ability to focus? Try meditation. Does your physical health and energy need a boost? Eat a greater variety of healthy foods. Do you need more stamina? Focus on endurance training. Do you need some tools to manage stress? Talk with a mental health professional. Keep in mind that all this is connected! Small steps in one area will help you make progress in all the others.
- Invest in relationships. It’s the people in our lives who make them worth living. No one calls their office to say goodbye when they’re dying. Prioritize what’s most important to you right now, not at the end of your life.
- When you’re looking for the next step in your career, pay attention to what a potential new company values. Do they genuinely care about their employees as much as they care about results and profits? Do they offer mental and physical health resources? Put yourself in a healthy environment that will empower you to prioritize wellness.
Your mental and physical health is essential to a long, fulfilling career. You cannot be at your best if you don’t make your health a priority. Choose to let your overall wellness matter to you because if you don’t value it, you won’t make the personal and professional progress you desire.