I had my first job when I was eleven years old, babysitting for six kids under the age of nine, including an infant. (I think my activism dates back to this job because I asked for a raise, and got it!) I haven’t stopped working since. Sixty-three years. Whoa. What a lot I’ve learned.
My work experience has included waiting on customers in a bakery, waitressing (for many years), acting as a nurses’ aide in a hospital, at different times being a social worker/psychotherapist/teacher, and for the last thirty-three years having my own business as a career and professional development coach. I’ve worked both inside companies and with the general public. The breadth and depth of this experience has granted me a perspective on how we manage, and often mismanage, our work/lives.
Four common mistakes
1. When work demands accelerate, the first thing we let go of is exercise. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Our health becomes secondary despite the fact that exercise not only keeps us in good shape, it also reduces stress. I can hear you saying, “I know, I know I should do it” but what you may not realize is that you pay a huge price when you’re older if you neglect your health when you’re younger. Just look around. Many older people struggle with health issues that might have been prevented if they had taken care of their bodies. Exercise is one activity to maintain throughout your life. I would add to that, regular visits to the dentist, finding a way to manage your weight, and practicing Yoga.
2. Many of us do not take real vacations. We may go on trips but we take computers and smart phones with us and never get a complete break. Our ego insists that everything will fall apart if we don’t stay connected. When you discover that’s a myth, it’s humbling and a huge relief. And if it is true, then you need to question if you’ve unintentionally disempowered your co-workers and employees. We need to vacate fully because our brain needs to rest equally as much as our body does.
3. We don’t sock money away because we don’t think we’re going to be laid off, or fired, or that our company will go under, or that we’ll have the boss from hell and have to leave in order to maintain our physical and mental health, but it happens often and then we feel panicked or trapped. Setting aside whatever you can for times like these will provide security and freedom. A lack of savings is like handcuffs that keep you mired in a job you should leave or paralyzed with fear if you’re unemployed.
4. We choose work on the basis of where the pay is best, not where we will blossom using our talents and growing interests into passions. Work should never be our whole life, but every job is more than the obvious stated hours: we carry it inside us beyond quitting time; it’s a large part of our identity; and it’s the source of much unhappiness or pleasure in our lives. We owe it to ourselves to find a good fit, the key ingredient for thriving at work. Alison, a recent client, put it well: “I cannot thank you enough for helping me find a sense of purpose again. For the first time in years, I feel excited and motivated about my future!” Everything changes when we clarify the work we love and set the steps in motion to make it happen.
Unusual career advice
Perhaps this career advice surprises you. It’s clearly not about climbing the ladder. Up is the right way for a few people but opportunities are limited at the top and I’ve worked with many clients who reached it and then wanted to get off the ladder. Instead, we should focus on how to thrive in our work each day so we can look forward to a long, healthy work/life. Maybe sixty-three years, or more.