Rasheed was enjoying a quick rise to corporate leadership at a young age. He had gotten into his company at the right moment, and his managers had promoted him as part of their expansion initiatives because they saw a bright hard worker who was dedicated and flexible. Rasheed was loving his career and the places it brought him.
However, a few years into it, he also began to realize that there were some trade offs that came with his success and position.
Recently, he’d begun to feel worried because the long work hours and weekly travel were taking a toll on his body and his overall well-being. One day he was recovering from a migraine he suspected had come on from exhaustion.
Rasheed called in for his coaching session and shared his concerns. “I’m really dedicated to my work, so I’m forming bad habits, and I’m worried these may develop into health issues. In order to keep up with my work trips and deadlines, I find myself drinking cups of coffee all day and a nightcap before bed. On other days I take high doses of Advil to push through a long day with a migraine or illness – and both conditions are happening more often these days. I used to jog regularly for exercise, but I can’t find the time or energy to even walk in the park most days now. I’ve also been a healthy eater my whole life and have been into holistic health and healing practices, Now, with one deadline and work trip after another, I’m letting my practices slip, as I see myself gaining weight and feeling run down.”
Rasheed was feeling what many people experience at some point in their lives. This kind of values conflict can happen when we have a busy work schedule, or when we have other demanding priorities like caring for children or a sick relative. Luckily, Rasheed caught this unhealthy trend early, so we could address it before stress-induced, chronic illness and exhaustion set in.
Usually when people feel like they don’t have time to be healthy and well-balanced, it’s because they are having trouble saying “no” to the other things that seem like a higher priority in their lives.
So the first question for Rasheed was this:
Why is health and personal wellness important to you?
He had a decisive answer:
“It’s always been an integral part of who I am. My whole life, I have been a long-distance runner, and training for races has been even more important to me than the competitions. I do a lot of great thinking out on the trail, so the health of my body and mind are been linked through exercise. Also, since childhood, I have had stomach sensitivities, so I learned early that making healthy food choices pays off in numerous ways. Maybe because of this, I have always believed in holistic wellness and prioritizing my body. Plus, I feel so much better about myself when I’m fit and taking care of my body. It’s energizing and confidence-building.”
Rasheed had a very clear commitment to being fit and healthy, so it wasn’t lack of desire that kept him from prioritizing it. Next we looked at his schedule since he said he was putting in long hours. He had clearly not been exaggerating about this– sometimes he tallied over 80 hours in a single week, with the average being closer to 60 working hours, plus travel time.
Since we couldn’t say he was prioritizing much of anything above work, we had to hone in on why his job always won out over his other top priority– his wellness– when he cared so deeply about both. We did an exercise to dig in and identify what fear was driving his actions to pursue work when he might normally exercise or cook a healthy meal.
Write a few “If… , then…” sentences that express what you fear will happen if you prioritize wellness over work.
- If I don’t put in as many hours as the other people in the company, people will think I’m not as dedicated to my work.
- If I make time for exercise, then I’ll get behind on all my work, respond late to inquiries and issues, and perform poorly overall.
- If I don’t perform at my highest possible level because I put more time into my personal life, then we could lose clients, which could have ripple effects throughout the company.
Rasheed’s fears painted a picture of a competitive environment, where he perceived that high quality work and timely action were valued and even crucial to success. He also seemed to be working within a culture where overtime hours were standard. In his mind, being successful in this environment and taking good care of himself were mutually exclusive. He needed to shift his paradigm in order to feel like he could pursue wellness and remain a respected executive in this environment. We did one more exercise to uncover a possible new outlook for his situation.
Write a few sentences using the word “but” to express what you wish you could do (for your health) and why you can’t (because of a work obligation).
- I would go to the hotel gym on trips instead of happy hour, but I need to make social connections that lead to effective networking.
- I would leave work at 5pm and go for a run, but I need to be as dedicated as the other executives on my team.
- I’d like to try a new healthy recipe a few times a week, but I need to have polished presentations and be organized for meetings each day.
- I would love to go to bed by 10pm most nights so that I’d feel more rested, but I need to answer emails in a timely fashion so that clients feel we are responsive.
Now change the “but” to “and” in each sentence. Try saying the sentence a few times to see if it seems possible that these two wishes could actually co-exist.
- I want to go to the hotel gym on trips instead of happy hour, and I want to make social connections that lead to effective networking.
- I would like to leave work at 5pm and go for a run, and I want to be/appear as dedicated as the other executives on my team.
- I’d like to try a new healthy recipe a few times a week, and I need to have polished presentations and be organized for meetings each day.
- I would love to go to bed by 10pm most nights so that I’d feel more rested, and I need to answer emails in a timely fashion so that clients feel we are responsive.
For Rasheed, at first these statements didn’t all seem feasible to put into practice. He had some pretty ingrained ideas about how mutually-exclusive wellness and career success had to be. But after sitting on them for a few days and practicing saying them, he warmed up to the idea that there was almost always a way to accomplish both goals. For example, after thinking it over, he realized it was silly to think that his networking success in his profession depended on attending happy hours on his work trips. In fact, there were many ways to network that didn’t take away from his health.
What Rasheed Did
Now that Rasheed had remembered why health and personal balance were so important to him, he felt newly energized to dedicate time to restoring some balance. He took a few concrete actions that would make it easier for him to prioritize wellness more often. Since he was truly very busy, he focused on tasks that wouldn’t take a lot of extra time and would ideally meet two needs at once.
He identified existing pockets of time when he could work on his health goals without giving anything else up:
- Traveling provided ample opportunity to read articles about wellness that inspired him, so instead of zoning out at the airport tv monitors, he used this time to recharge.
- Commuting to work was a great time to listen to podcasts. He subscribed to a number of channels that he enjoyed and queued them up before the drive into work.
- Since he really liked watching TV at night, he put some workout equipment in his living room so that it was more fun to work out and part of his relaxation ritual.
He found a few workout and cooking buddies:
- It was lonely working out and cooking without anyone to spend the time with, especially since he was alone a lot when traveling. This had contributed to him dragging his feet and going out to eat with friends instead of walking. Finding people to work out and cook with helped Rasheed feel like he could get social time along with his needed health time.
- Having work out and cooking buddies was also motivating because these friends provided accountability.
- Rasheed subscribed to a few magazines and online communities that fed him information he wanted without having to go out and look for it. He could bring these on the plane when traveling or listen on his commute or during workouts.
Rasheed changed a few basic habits that would make meeting his goals easier:
- He switched his grocery store to one that supplied more healthy food choices, including prepared foods for those nights when he was too tired to cook.
- He signed up for a grocery delivery service to save time shopping and to curb impulsive snack purchases. He found that he could order his groceries from the plane and they would be delivered as soon as he got home.
- As an experiment, he also tried a subscription to a monthly cooking basket program, where fresh ingredients were shipped to him with their recipes. This was a fun way to try out new food and cook simple recipes with friends who weren’t great in the kitchen.
- Lastly, Rasheed focused on getting crucial work done first thing in the morning at work, before everyone else came in and the many interruptions began. This helped boost his efficiency, but it still wasn’t enough. So he committed to bringing work home two nights a week after his workouts. He felt more rested answering emails from the comfort of home, and he also felt more focused and energized after a workout break.
What Rasheed Learned and How He Changed Because of It
Rasheed realized that he had been limiting himself with unrealistic ideas of what success in his job looked like. He had fallen into the trap of thinking that more work hours meant more success and respect, and that prioritizing work over everything else was more honorable than taking some time for himself. When his body retaliated with migraines and fatigue, he realized that something was not working. By shifting his paradigm slightly to make room for both career success and personal wellness, he freed himself up to dedicate more energy to being fit and healthy without feeling like he was compromising his values of hard work and dedication.
Since Rasheed started dedicating more time to his personal balance, he has remembered what he always knew– that working out actually gives him energy and relieves stress, which boosts his overall performance and efficiency. He is also sleeping better because his mind is focused on more relaxing things at night. Eating healthfully has been his biggest challenge, but he is at least content that he’s on a path to becoming more dedicated to this part of his overall wellness. He loves eating socially, so by maintaining a group of friends who getting together and cooking, this helps him eat better and have enjoy quality dining time. And he’s giving himself a pass for now while he travels to eat whatever is closest to his ideals without worrying too much if it’s not perfect.
The demands of our highly-connected age are putting even more pressure on professionals to stay on top of work 24-7. Yet ironically, we are often better off when we take breaks and prioritize our own nourishment and health alongside our careers. These priorities don’t need to be mutually exclusive, but our paradigms can keep us stuck thinking we’d be more fit and healthier “if only…”
I find some of my clients harbor old fears or beliefs that prevent them from moving beyond values conflicts like Rasheed shared. Yet when we walk through a few exercises like the ones we describe here, we can uncover the “what’s stopping you” from fulfilling your goals and vision — and replace it with new thinking an positive action.
If you find yourself wishing you were feeling more balanced and healthy, contact Nahid for a coaching session. There are usually fears blocking us from taking action, and you can use simple exercises like the ones Rasheed did to uncover what’s stopping you from fulfilling your dreams.
Note: This article was written as a collaboration from the Aspyrre career coaching team members – Heather Rice and Nahid Casazza