Many of my recent speeches have been on the topic of self-care. Most recently I spoke to over 200 caregivers at the Alzheimer Association of Central New York conference on this very topic. As I shared my experiences as a caregiver, I realized I too needed to practice continuous improvement in the area of self-care.
Confession – I am a recovering workaholic. I love my work and have no problems staying up all night to get it done. To me, there is great joy and challenge in being the President/CEO of a leadership development corporation. The joy – every day I support leaders in finding the way to authentic leadership. The challenge is every day I say something that causes me to reflect on how I support myself in my ongoing quest to be an authentic leader. However, I learned the hard way that ignoring self-care, engaging in all work with no play makes for a very sick and tired leader. One particular incident put me on the path to recovery.
My daughter was treated for cancer from 1995 – 2000. I was a new entrepreneur and there was a lot of buzz around the business I owned with my partner. I was the typical self deluded Superwoman. In partnership with my husband, I took care of my daughter, her little brother, served clients, and continued to serve on a number of boards. I did some of my very best work during this challenging era for “Team Webber-McLeod.” I was a skilled workaholic who proudly operated on 2-3 hours of sleep a night. But I never acknowledged the toll being a workaholic took on my life. Publicly I was on a professional roll. Privately I was a hot mess and lied to myself about this daily. Does this scenario resonate with any of my sister and brother leaders out there?
I had the opportunity to meet with a therapist during this time. I needed help holding up in the midst of pediatric cancer. She asked how I was doing. With the arrogance of a true workaholic, I told her how successful I was operating on 2-3 hours of sleep a night. She looked me square in the eye and said, “Gwen, do you think this is normal?” I was shocked. Why ask this question? Doesn’t every successful leader operate without sleep? The scary part – I did think this was normal.
In that moment I realized that like me, far too many leaders are fueled by anxiety, fear and exhaustion. Shortly after this conversation, I committed to fuel the balance of my career with rest, reflection, and rejuvenation. My primary professional goal is to be calm. To focus on this I adopted a mantra, Work hard. Play harder!
Being a workaholic is harmful to effective leadership. It causes rushed judgment, foggy memory, stressed relationships and lack-luster decision-making. None of these things contribute to effective leadership. I believe leaders need to play harder. I am so passionate about this that Gwen, Inc. executive coaching clients include leadership goals for self-care in their coaching plans.
Playing hard comes in the form of big and small activities. Take a ten-minute mental trip to the Bahamas. Give yourself the gift of wellness via massage or exercise. Meet friends for dinner, drinks and dancing. Guess what? Leaders can and should take their full vacation time and work survives without you.
Today’s leaders must engage in rest, reflection and rejuvenation to keep pace with everything happening in their companies. They are successful only when they manage work in ways that leave time to work hard and play harder. Are you a workaholic? If yes, I invite you to join me in recovery. Something amazing happens in the life of a leader when they are intentional about self-care. Open your calendar and schedule some play time today.