Dr. Heather Penny is a leadership coach, trusted advisor, speaker, and author. Using her 3C Living program, she guides people into finding their clarity, growing their confidence, and engaging their courage so they can step into their best life using the unique strengths only they can offer. She is the author of The Life You’re Made For and the workbook, The Life You’re Made For: Coaching Companion. Heather enjoys living in Northern California with her husband and two children. Find out more at www.heatherpenny.com
The topic of work/life balance is perennially discussed in the business world and, I have to admit, it isn’t my favorite because there seems to be much discussion around it, but less about what lies at the heart of it. Although there is great value in discussing how we can do better at not letting the stress of work creep into our homelife and vice versa, we need to take the discussion deeper. Because when our personal lives are suffering, we can bring our emotional needs to the professional realm. This creates some unhealthy patterns that are difficult to break and can hinder our potential success. Work/life balance is challenging. And the more successful we are, the more challenging it can be. Our goal is to create a harmony between our professional and personal lives that supports us living out the life we want. But to do this, it requires showing up with our whole self.
Leadership begins from within. Great leaders take a holistic approach to living and leading by addressing the body, mind, heart, and spirit. We can’t ask our team members to conduct themselves in ways we ourselves aren’t willing to model. How we care for ourselves influences how we show up in the workplace and at home.
Although it might feel initially selfish and counterintuitive, self-care is a critical component to ensuring that we offer the world our best selves. One of the mistakes I see leaders make is, because the tyrant of productivity is always driving us, self-care increasingly falls off the calendar. What started as a lunch break morphs into a protein bar at our desks, morphs into a caffeine-only diet and eating once we get home.
We do this with good intent. We want to serve our people and lead well. But it will eventually catch up to us and cause us to be frustrated, fatigued, worn-out leaders. Let’s be honest, no one wants to follow that person.
Self-care not only supports us in our leadership, but it helps us keep a pulse on what’s going on in our personal and professional lives. For example, when I push too hard in my personal life, I can become anxious and frustrated, and the people I care about suffer. What I have to offer them is less than ideal.
Some signs that tell me I’m approaching this minefield are if I begin to feel irritable, having less patience for the process of growth and change. Or I may feel the urge to “push” my clients in ways that aren’t fair to them. This doesn’t serve them and, when I see them taking on stress and anxiety, I have to look at myself in the mirror and ask, is my stress robbing them of finding peace and direction? As leaders, we want to project a posture of peace and active listening, so by being self-aware, we can strive to cultivate that feeling with our people. But this begins with how we care for ourselves.
Self-Care Keeps Us in Healthy Balance
Self-care looks different for everyone; and it changes over time. I cannot overstate the importance of starting each day with a routine that leaves you feeling strong, focused, grounded, and energized.
I hear from clients many inspiring ways they start their day. What I find fascinating is that everyone’s routine is different, and it often changes depending on the season of life we’re in. For instance, my current practice involves starting the day with quiet time, usually it’s reading a book that is inspiring or encouraging, exercising, and eating a healthy breakfast. Later I might tend to my heart and spirit by relaxing with friends over coffee, joining my husband on a hike, or doing something solo. These activities help me be prepared so when I meet with clientele, and lead my coaching company, I am fueled up to offer my best.
As leaders, we are often called into intense situations and are expected to bring calm discernment. We cannot do that if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. I know from experience, if I’m not engaging in my peace practices, a client or team’s stress can be contagious for me. When we feel that emotional pull, it’s usually because we’ve stopped taking the time to do things that refuel us. Try to recognize the signs.
Unfortunately, when we’re under pressure and schedules get hectic, the time we set aside for ourselves is usually the first to go. It may feel awkward at first, but I encourage you to take a few moments to reevaluate your practices around self care in your day.
I recently gave a keynote in Florida. I flew across three time zones, and the next day, went onstage at 9 a.m. That made it 6 a.m. according to my body. Can you imagine speaking to hundreds of people at that hour? To prepare, that morning I got up several hours earlier, knowing I would be able to rest after the event. I listened to a great podcast, exercised, and ate some clean food. I’d already politely declined all the activities I was invited to afterward, knowing I’d be exhausted. After the talk, I came back to the hotel and gave myself permission to nap for a couple hours, knowing I’d given my all. I know from experience that for these larger, more intense events, I have to step up my level of self care so I can show up ready and do my best. We set ourselves up for success when we pay attention to what our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits are telling us.
Make a Thrive Plan
What do you need to lower your stress levels and feel a sense of peace? I work with high-powered, intelligent leaders around the world. I tell them “Thriving versus Surviving takes intentionality.” We gotta get strategic if we want to thrive, otherwise we continue to drift into a life of survival. So, we develop a Thrive Plan. Think about this in four categories: daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.
Daily: I’ve already shared some daily practices you might try. Find your own routine and don’t be afraid to try new things or change it up if you’re feeling bored.
Weekly: What do you need on a weekly basis? For me, I try to have one day during the week that requires no productivity. Having unscheduled time lets my brain take a break from back-to-back meetings and offers me the freedom to do things I enjoy, like nature walks, painting, reading, taking a yoga class, or laying around in my comfy clothes getting lost in a good story.
Monthly: What time can you give to yourself that looks different from daily or weekly self-care? It could be engaging in a hobby, taking an overnighter with a friend, starting a garden…Think of something unusual that fills up your cup.
Annually: Plan a week away that allows you a reset. Visit a new town, or maybe even a new place like a museum or a monastery, go on a friend-adventure to the beach or sight-seeing. Rent an RV with your partner and explore some national monuments. Lie on a tropical beach or hike a new mountain. You know what you need and how hard you’ve been working. Sometimes we have the energy for an active getaway and sometimes we just need to rest. But you know you’re doing this well when you come back from this time feeling like you have a newfound energy to give to your work and home.
How you do it is all up to you. Stay curious with yourself and create your own Thrive Plan. This is what creates more balance in our work and home life. Take it seriously. If you want to learn more about a thrive plan and other practices that help you live the life of your dreams, check out my book The Life You’re Made For. You’re worth it and the people you live and work with are counting on it.
I’m cheering you on!
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