Different things sustain each of us, but most of us work better when we are more physically fit.
Some time ago I had a conversation on a bar stool with a former colleague. He was clearly exhausted from a lot of travel, had put on weight and was not enjoying it. He told me he did not have time to exercise to which I replied my travel schedule was equally onerous and it was just a matter of developing some good habits. (Empathy is not always my strongest attribute).
I ran into him about a year later and didn’t recognise his new fit body. He laughed saying, yes, my unsympathetic reaction a year earlier had started him thinking.
I do know what it is like to be unwell, to struggle to get upstairs, and to sustain the level of activity to which I am accustomed. In my early 30s I had to have a major operation in February one year. Basically, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I learnt about the fragilities of the human body, many of which I had taken for granted.
I can still remember the day in November of that year when I realised that the medical issues had finally run their course. I took a deep breath and from that day determined that I would try to retain this feeling of ‘being well’.
The result was I did two things immediately to contribute to my career development plan: I went out a bought a new bike so that I could go riding with our kids on the weekend; and I started swimming regularly. If for some reason I can’t swim, I go for a brisk walk.
It is a matter of finding out what works for you—it might be yoga, running, rowing or tennis. If you are a single parent and can’t get out so much, get an exercise bike to put in the bedroom or the back room. It is just really hard to pretend to have energy when you don’t have it.
Maintaining a reasonable sense of mental well-being is also important.
Something most leaders do is to pick their battles and ‘not sweat the small stuff’.
You can do this too by taking ‘time out’ in stressful situations to rethink the context—to consider why is this happening? What is my role in it? And can—or should—I be doing something about it? Is it within my control, or do I have to just deal with the consequences as well as I can?
Don’t take things personally—clearly separate the issue from the person.
A dedicated staff member I worked with a few years ago tended to take a lot of things personally. There were some members of staff who, under stress and with pressing timelines, became very task oriented (a trait I have been known to exhibit also). She would get quite upset if communications seemed a bit terse, or there were decisions made in which she was not included, but thought that she at least should have been consulted.
Assuming ‘good intent’ on the part of others helps you to deal with your colleagues. We have all had the experience of a team member sending an email that appeared to be a bit insulting, presumptuous or even undermining.
My advice is to take the time to read it again, and reframe your own context for reading it assuming that they had good intent—and just phrased things in a clumsy way.
Often, if we do not have a good view of person, we have already set up a negative ‘mesh’ around anything they say or do.
Ratcheting up my level of impulse control in more recent years has saved me quite a bit heartache and bad karma.
Taking holidays—and being serious about taking holidays—should become one of your personal survival mechanisms.
Our summer holidays tend to be family holidays then at other times, as ‘empty nesters’, Rob and I will take one or two weeks on our own.
In my first year at Gartner, Rob and I took some remote desert trips, usually each year, for two weeks at a time.
I well remember mentioning to my American boss that I was going to take two weeks off and he commented that that was fine as he could always reach me by email. This was 1998 and there were few areas where mobile phones worked, let alone Wi-Fi!
When I explained that that would be difficult he suggested I leave the number of the hotels we were staying at. I then had to explain that we would be sleeping in things called ‘swags’ under the stars.
In the end I gave him our home number and suggested if there were any terrible personal emergencies he could call our home and the kids had an emergency number for us. It was the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
To my astonishment, he did call home and explain he had an emergency but my older-teenage son who answered the phone explained to him it was not an emergency, so he would instead, pass the message on when we got home.
The good side of this though was that a few others in Gartner then started to take ‘real’ holidays and not do half a day’s work every day they were away with their families. I got a few personal ‘thank you’s’ over the years, including one from a very driven youngish male who said it had made all the difference to his wife and family.
Sometimes you do have to attend to things while on holidays. But it helps to start out with expectations that you will minimise this.
‘Time out’ is really important for both your mental well-being as well as your personal relationships.
On the spiritual side we each need to find what works for us too.
I was raised a Catholic, though only one grandparent was originally a Catholic and that was on my mother’s side. It was a looser form of French-influenced Catholicism from my maternal grandmother, and not the more orthodox Irish-influenced strand usually evident in Australia. My mother was largely self-educated and really got into philosophy as an adult and started to question lots of things. As she and my father aged though, they became a bit more orthodox in their beliefs.
As a teenager I questioned many of the Church’s teaching while still being a regular mass goer. These days, like many Catholics, I have my own informed views, and there are some significant tangents from what passes for ‘official teaching’.
When Rob and I travelled throughout remote Australian desert locations, I found the stillness, the red earth and great expanses uplifting.
Revise your career development plan regularly. Think about what renews you. If you can, take yourself out of your current way of doing things, and experience other lenses. Those other ways can help you to really gain, or regain, your sense of perspective.