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You want to build a career that supports your life. And build a life that supports your career. And hope that both ultimately support your happiness.
That’s what I’m after, anyway. I think that’s what most of us want.
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Building something takes a while. So, I like to think of careers as buildings that are under construction. Maybe you’re at the blueprint stage, or maybe you’re sweating it out laying brick, or maybe you’re already strong and steady and working on the finishes. Or maybe you’re doing a reno, or maybe you want to knock that sucker down so you can build something better.
If your career is under construction, think of the daily habits and practices in your life as the scaffolding around it — the steady, supportive platform that allows you to build what you want to build (or tear down what you want to tear down).
So, let’s talk about self-care. Because it’s the scaffolding around all areas of your life, including your career. Here are some questions to keep self-care front of mind even when you’re busy building:
1. What do you actually care about?
Have trouble prioritizing? If you can get a sense of what you care about on a deep and meaningful level, you can decide what things you should say yes to and what things you should say no to. This is the idea behind Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” TED talk, which applies not only to leadership, but also to self-motivation.
For example, I’m all about freedom. It’s the driving mission behind my work. So, I’m constantly asking myself, Does this make me feel free? Will it help others to feel free? If you can get clear on the driving force that motivates you (maybe you have more than one), where you should spend your time and energy will become obvious. Everything will be either a “hell, yes” or a “hell, no.”
2. What is your relationship with striving?
I have a love/hate relationship with ambition. I think many of us are striving too much. (Um, or maybe I’m just projecting?) Regardless, I think we’d be happier if we did a little less, and focused on fewer things in a more aligned and focused way. Greg McKeown calls this essentialism, which he says, “isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done.”
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He calls essentialism “the disciplined pursuit of less.”
I started aiming for this myself in a serious, intentional way about six months ago, and my life is better for it. I’m doing fewer things, with fiercer focus, and creating and protecting lots of time for rest and play. I haven’t lost my edge (this is the secret fear, right?). I’m still productive, and more importantly, my life feels good. So, the question is, are there things you’re striving for that you can let go of so you can focus more fiercely on the things you care about most?
3. Where are you on your list?
There’s an analogy that drives me nuts — the one about putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help other people better. This analogy is sold almost exclusively to women. On the one hand, it’s a nice sentiment; on the other, it still frames women taking care of themselves as a means to the (apparently more important) end of helping others. I hate that.
Put yourself first! Full stop. And not so you can better serve others. This goes for both women and men. (But ladies, seriously, your self-care needn’t be in the service of others.)
4. What are you not so great at but working on?
Beating yourself up because you still haven’t mastered the art of self-care? Raking yourself over the coals because you haven’t set healthy boundaries with your work yet? Yeah. Don’t do that. It’s going to make your attempts to embrace self-care feel crappy (which is kind of the opposite of what we’re going for).
Give yourself credit for identifying an area you can work on, and for trying. Even if you suck at it. Which you probably will. Especially if self-care is something you’ve struggled with for a long time. You know why? You’re human. And these things take time.
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Ask yourself these questions (and give honest answers, and then do something about it), and you’ll find yourself upping your self-care game in no time. Which undoubtedly means upping your career game, too. And your happiness.
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