Book Chapter - Investing in Yourself (Issue #11)
Enjoy your life journey and avoid burnout along the way
Many years ago, my appendix almost burst at work.
I still remember that Thursday when I knew something was wrong. I had been feeling increasingly worse as my afternoon in the office dragged on. But, like a good little trooper, I tried to push through it.
Walking down the hall into my last meeting of the day was excruciating. I carefully eased myself into a chair as pain shot through my abdomen. I felt a cold sweat break out on my forehead.
A colleague (thank you, John!) noticed my behavior and said, “You don’t look so good. You ok?”
I brushed it off. “I’m fine. It’ll be ok. I can go home after this meeting.”
He frowned. “No, something’s wrong. You should go home now. Your face is literally green!”
Grudgingly, I agreed that maybe I should wrap it up for the day. So, I slowly made my way downstairs and out to my car in the parking lot. With one arm pressed tight against my stomach to control the pain, I carefully drove myself home.
My wife could immediately tell that something was wrong and wanted to take me to the ER. I resisted, but the pain was getting worse. But I still didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so she drove me to an urgent care center instead.
They performed a few tests and said that it seemed like a case of acute appendicitis. They referred me to a nearby hospital for emergency surgery.
The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember lying on a gurney in a dark hallway, waiting for the surgeon. By that time, it was pretty late, and the anesthesiologist had left for the evening. So, they had to call him back to the hospital to assist with the surgery.
I heard him coming down the hallway, cursing up a storm, and throwing a clipboard against the wall before he noticed I was there. He grumbled, “Damn Silicon Valley types! Why do they always wait until the last minute before coming in?” Let’s just say this didn’t put my mind at ease. 😂
So, I had the surgery around midnight, went into recovery, and they discharged me the next morning. I took Friday off to rest at home on the couch with ice packs on my stomach.
However, I was afraid to miss too much work. So, I went back into the office on Monday, hobbling around and taking forever to painfully lower myself into chairs. I remember that my employee, who sat next to me, was horrified that I felt like I couldn’t take time off from work.
It sounds ridiculous now. But I was so focused on my career that I didn’t want to risk being away, because the tech industry can be pretty ruthless. Someone is always waiting for you to falter or fail, so they can seize the opportunity.
“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22
If you’re not familiar with this type of corporate environment, let me share one example. I was in an All Hands meeting when the CEO bragged to the thousands of employees in the audience that she had swooped in while her boss was on vacation and stole his job. She was quite proud of her ruthless political maneuver.
These stories are more common than you might think. Researchers estimate that 4-12% of CEOs exhibit psychopathic traits. Unfortunately, people with psychopathic tendencies are slightly more likely to become leaders, and they create corporate cultures that encourage cutthroat behavior.
So, maybe my actions make a little more sense now. I’m not the only one who has sacrificed health, happiness, and family to focus on a career. Many of us risk burnout to “exceed expectations” in our jobs and keep climbing the ladder.
But that still doesn’t make it right. It’s a slippery slope and a dangerous trap to fall into.
What’s the point of success if you lose your health to achieve it? Reaching a goal won’t matter much if you die before you can enjoy it.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Yes, I will encourage you to be ambitious and strategically pursue your goals so you can live the life of your dreams. But, balance is necessary.
You need to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. And, to ensure that happens, you must take care of yourself along the way, each and every day.
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I love camping, and I enjoy hot springs like the one in the photo above. We have a few that aren’t too far away. We’ve also enjoyed hot springs on road trips.
Sometimes, I just relax, let my mind wander, and enjoy the scenery. Sometimes, I read a book while I’m soaking. If that sounds like an unproductive waste of time, you’d be wrong.
I used to think that, too. Years ago, I would feel guilty when I took a break for some self-care. I thought I should always be “on” and working, working, working.
But I was burning out. I wasn’t taking care of myself at all. I wasn’t exercising, eating well, or getting enough sleep.
Eventually, it all catches up with you. Even if you don’t burn out, you’re not your most creative or productive, even if you think nothing is wrong.
I discovered this myself. I did reach the point of burning out, and my health was terrible. So, I forced myself to change my habits and make time for me.
I started treating my physical, mental, and emotional “machine” better, just as I did with my vehicles, tools, and home. Everything requires preventative maintenance so that it performs its best and doesn’t break down.
Why should your mind and body be any different?
Make time for you
I want to challenge you to schedule dedicated time for self-care. It doesn’t have to be every day. But it should be at least once a week.
Do you already do this? If so, congrats! You’re a step ahead.
If you don’t — and most people don’t — I can hear you protesting. You’re too busy to take time off. You feel guilty about making time to read, listen to podcasts, exercise, meditate, etc.
What if I told you that the time you invest in yourself would more than pay for itself? The benefits you will experience are worth it, and they aren’t just personal. I’ve experienced professional benefits from my self-care routines.
Still don’t believe me? Ok, I get it. I’m a skeptic too. So, let me share how my self-care investments have a positive return on that investment.
For example, I now make time to exercise almost every day. My weekly commitment to working out probably takes about 6-10 hours/week. That sounds like a crazy amount of time, doesn’t it? Past me would hate giving up 10 hours that could be used for work.
I started doing it about 14 years ago. Before it became a daily habit, I was overweight and tired all the time. I needed multiple cups of coffee throughout the day to keep my energy levels up. I’d come home late, eat dinner, and fall asleep on the couch. I rarely had the energy to stay up and work on anything.
That all changed with a consistent exercise plan.
Now, I no longer feel tired in the evenings. I wake up early too. I don’t have an afternoon slump with low creativity and no energy.
That 10 hours/week that I invest in exercise gives me at least 20+ hours more time in productive, creative energy. I can get more done in one hour than I used to get done in three. It boosts my mood, too.
I haven’t even mentioned that it improved my health and probably saved my life. You know, that little side benefit. 😉
Oh, the hot springs thing? How can that have a positive ROI?
Well, I’ve discovered that I always have wild, creative, and new ideas when I take hot baths or showers. I guess I’m not the only one. Plus, I often read books that are useful for my professional development, which I never seem to find time for unless I’m alone like that.
I come away from those moments of relaxation with more knowledge and new ideas — every time. That investment of time pays for itself in making me a little smarter and a lot more effective.
Don’t feel guilty
It’s time for you to stop feeling guilty about taking care of yourself. None of us are immortal. Invest in your health — in all forms — to avoid burning out and to be more effective in all aspects of your life.
You’ll reduce your anxiety and stress.
You’ll feel happier and more positive.
You’ll have more energy.
You’ll become more creative.
You’ll be more productive.
You’ll become healthier.
You’ll be better at keeping things in perspective.
I know it sounds funny, but if you work a little less and play a little more, you’ll actually get more impactful work done later.
It’s a long journey
The road to success is a long and bumpy journey. Actually, I should restate that. It's not a road "to" success. It's the road "of" success.
There is no final "success destination" you can reach and declare that you've crossed the finish line. When people say that life is a marathon, not a sprint, they’re only partly correct.
Marathons still have a finish line you can cross and then rest and recover. Your life does not. There will never be some obvious break when you can relax and say, "Whew! Ok, now I can take a breather!" No one else is going to remind you that you need a break, either.
You need to take care of you! So, that's the point of this chapter. I'll be the one to remind you that you have to invest in yourself and nurture your well-being on this lifelong journey.
Also, I'm going to ask you to forget about the strategy of working yourself to death and trying to squeeze in rest and recovery with a few days of annual vacation (or "holiday" as my European friends call it). That's a losing strategy for your long-term health and wellness.
I want to build on the recommendations in chapter 10 about creating habits. But these habits are about investing in you as that wonderful "biological machine" that carries your beautiful mind around every day as it works, plays, and dreams.
My realization of the importance of this personal investment almost came too late for me. I was on the fast track to premature death. Luckily, a health scare woke me up, and I changed my lifestyle habits forever.
If you're like me, some of my recommendations may seem selfish. If you haven't embraced this modern concept of "self-care," the thought of doing it may make you feel a little guilty. Who has time for this?
Well, you'd better make time for it. If you lose your health, nothing else matters. If you lose your life, your dreams will die with you.
Your physical body is the vehicle that makes the rest possible. So, take care of it just like you take your vehicle to a mechanic for regular maintenance and services. You wouldn't want your car to break down on a long road trip, right? Well, you don't want to break down on this long road trip of life, either.
Pay yourself first
Make time for yourself and what you need. You should allocate the precious time on your calendar for yourself first.
Not your boss.
Not your coworkers.
Not some stranger who wants to pick your brain.
Schedule recurring appointments to block off time on your calendar for what matters most to you. For example, allocate time for the daily habits that maintain your health and wellness (e.g., morning journaling, taking a walk, exercise, meditation).
Before I used this calendar strategy, my job would consume my entire workday (Mon-Fri) and sometimes the weekends, too. The things that personally mattered to me got pushed aside and never seemed to happen (e.g., working out, writing a book, starting a podcast, time with my family).
So, “pay yourself first” by dedicating daily time to your health, wellness, and relationships. Don’t let work fully consume you. I know this might be hard to accept, but jobs come and go. Heck, careers come and go, too.
I’ve pivoted my career and changed professions about every 10 years. Even if it feels like it now, nothing is forever and no job is more important than your well-being.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should shirk responsibility at work. I’m also not saying that you should be completely selfish and not take care of your loved ones. But you can’t do your best work if you’re not at your best. You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.
Pay yourself first. Then, you can dedicate yourself to other people and tasks.
That’s why I recommended you define and live your “invincible mornings” every day in chapter 10. Start your day with what you need to be happy and whole, then move on to focus on your work for the day.
Take care of your “vehicle”
Your mind and body make everything possible in your life. It’s the vehicle that carries you forward day after day.
“If I had known I was going to live so long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
— Billy Noonan
Without your health, you will struggle to succeed. I sacrificed my health for years. It caught up with me and my life and career both suffered as a result.
If you break down, it all breaks down. You won’t achieve your goals.
Whatever recharges your batteries and refuels your energy, do it often. Don’t wait until you're completely drained and stalled on the side of the road.
In career-focused cultures, we act like we can work like crazy for 90% of the year and then take a two-week vacation to rest and recover. We push ourselves to the brink of failure before we stop for a breather. Or, we stumble right into the pit of burnout, quit our job — or get fired — and require months to recover and jump back into the arms of our next employer.
There is a better way.
Invest in yourself a little every day and you’ll stay at the top of your game. You won’t need drastic “lifesaving measures” if you're monitoring and nurturing the ebb and flow of your energy. Your continued health, wellness, and well-being are worth the time commitment it takes to create and follow daily habits to maintain them
Invest in your health
If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. Nothing else will seem to matter.
Despite being vaccinated, boosted, and taking precautions, my luck with COVID ran out a few weeks ago. My family escaped it for the past 2 1/2 years, but four of us caught COVID and were miserable for weeks.
Believe me, it’s pretty unpleasant, even if you’re vaccinated. It was 5x worse than the worst flu or cold I’ve ever had. Being so sick also impacted my productivity in a big way. I struggled to write, get work done, and take calls with my clients.
Now, can you imagine feeling that terrible all the time? I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. Yet, I remember coworkers who seemed to be sick constantly. They didn’t take care of their health, and they kept trying to push through it with tons of over-the-counter medication to keep going.
I don’t care how important work is or how productive you want to be. You’ll sacrifice all of it if you lose your health. So, to ensure that you keep yourself in tip-top shape, focus on:
Eating a healthy diet (I think we all know what this means by now).
Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation.
Getting a good night’s sleep as consistently as possible (7 or more hours for most of us).
Reducing stress in your life as much as possible.
Taking reasonable safety precautions (e.g., seat belts, bike helmets, sunscreen, appropriate vaccinations
Scheduling regular physical checkups, dental appointments, and eye exams (I’m guilty of putting these off).
Having a conversation with your physician about what being healthy means for you.
However, if you want to take your health and physical capabilities to the next level, make time for daily exercise, too.
Invest in your fitness
About 14 years ago, I was overweight, in poor health, and heading for an early grave. I wanted to see my children grow up. I wanted to play with my grandchildren someday. So, I made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy, and it actually stuck!
The very first thing I did to save my life was starting a habit of evening walks with my wife. After dinner, we would walk up the steep hills in our neighborhood to the summit and back down. It took about an hour, which felt like a luxury of time that I couldn’t afford with my busy work schedule (I was an executive at Yahoo then).
However, the truth was it was a time investment that I had to “afford” or I would pay an unacceptable price later. I already had friends and acquaintances who had died from heart disease, sudden strokes, and cancer.
Don't worry about intensity or distance if you’re just getting started with making walking part of your daily life. Just make time for some walking every day. Just do it!
The best physical activity is the one you won’t give up. So, take your time and ease into it.
Do you know how many times I started and stopped running in my lifetime? I’ve lost track. I can’t even remember how many times I started and gave up lifting weights for the first 40+ years of my life. I tried to begin with way too much intensity.
My journey to where I am today with my fitness and activity levels started with a simple and easy evening walk. Now, I can’t imagine a day without it.
But, I didn’t stop there. I joined CrossFit with my wife, and we started trail running on the weekends. I lost over 40 pounds! Now, I’m in my 50s and in the best shape of my life.
The key for me has been accountability and consistency. I follow a program and I work out every day, rain or shine. I share my workouts with others, so they can help hold me accountable. I also used to work out with peers led by a coach.
Finding the right coach can make all the difference in the world. They ensure you perform exercises and movements correctly to get the most out of your workouts and avoid injuries. You may be able to find a great local coach near you. But, if that’s not possible, the world of online coaching has improved over the past few years. For example:
Future - Bringing human connection to digital personal training.
Noom - We’re changing how the world thinks about weight loss.
Caliber - Transform your fitness with science-based training.
Born Fitness - A coach in your corner who teaches you how to overcome the biggest barriers to your success.
Daily Burn - Thousands of different workout videos so you can mix it up every day right from your own home.
Fitness takes many forms. Just find a sport or physical activity that you love and stick with it. It could be yoga, swimming, biking, weightlifting, tennis, basketball, running, or whatever! Find something you enjoy and make it a part of your everyday life.
Invest in your wellness
Wellness goes beyond physical health. If you’ve ever experienced depression or anxiety, you know what I’m talking about.
I’ve discovered that my physical activity does indeed help me keep my mental and emotional wellness in balance. It’s kind of a 2-for-1 benefit! I always feel better after a heavy lifting session. I always feel happier and more hopeful after a long hike or walk.
However, there are many other types of investments you can make to maintain your mental and emotional wellness. For example, research has found many benefits from:
Therapy and counseling (e.g., 7 Cups, BetterHelp, Talkspace)
Spending time with friends
Community (e.g., my Invincible Career community)
Volunteering and helping others
Listening to music
However, another excellent technique for enhancing your wellness is to treat yourself the same way you would treat a loved one or a close friend. You deserve it!
I’m often a little too hard on myself. I sometimes engage in negative self-talk. Do you ever say something like this in your head?
“Way to go, you idiot.”
“Why are you like this?”
“That was really stupid.”
“What in the heck are you thinking?”
“I’m a failure if this doesn’t work out.”
If so, I want you to consider a different approach. View yourself as a good friend and ask yourself this:
“Would I talk this way to my best friend when they are struggling with a problem?”
I’m guessing that you would not. You would be more compassionate and supportive. You would listen to their problems. You’d probably offer ideas and suggestions that might help.
So, do the same for yourself. After all, who is going to be with you for 100% of your life journey? The only guaranteed “partner” in your life is you. Treat yourself better. You deserve it!
That also includes being good company for yourself. I sometimes refer to this as “dating yourself,” which I know sounds a bit strange. But it’s not as creepy as it sounds.
It just means that you shouldn’t reserve nice experiences for the times you are with someone else. For example, when I travel:
I take myself out for delightful meals.
I visit museums.
I explore art galleries.
I enjoy bookstores.
I’ve even taken myself to movies.
Why would you only do fun and enjoyable things with or for other people? You deserve it too! Treat yourself the same way you would treat a good friend. Speaking of friends…
Invest in your relationships
Research into longevity uncovered a powerful predictor of healthy aging. Friendships. They followed nearly 1,500 people over the age of 70 for 10 years and found that people with the strongest network of good friends lived longer than those with the fewest close friends.
Long-term friendships are so valuable. But we sometimes forget to nurture them as we grow older, our responsibilities increase, and life gets in the way. I know that moving has negatively impacted some of my friendships. It just gets harder to make new friends as you get older.
We’ve also experienced a global pandemic and saw how that affected our socialization. I’ve increasingly turned to online friendships to fill the gap, and it has pleasantly surprised me to discover how strong these friendships can be.
I have friends and family all over the world. I don’t get to see people very frequently when they live far away. With the pandemic, I haven’t even been able to see my local friends like I used to (e.g., meeting at a coffee shop).
So, my social interaction in this brave new remote world consists of sending texts, messages, and memes throughout the day. It’s a quick and lightweight way to stay connected, let someone know that you are thinking of them, and put a smile on someone’s face. These messages literally only take a few seconds, but it keeps the relationships active.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most important relationships in your life. The person you choose to be your life partner matters so much. I’ve been fortunate to have a spouse in my life for over 31 years who is my best friend as well.
I wrote a three-part series about the lessons I’ve learned from 30 years of marriage, so I won’t repeat it all here. Let me just say, choose wisely and make time for this incredibly important relationship.
It’s easy to get caught up in work and busy with life. But, investing in your relationships will help you stay emotionally healthy. The time it takes is well worth it.
Invest in your personal development
One of the most obvious investments you can make in yourself is to invest in your personal development. Your employer may already spend time and money on your professional development. But, I’m talking about working on things that you want to do for yourself. How do you want to improve you?
This could include activities such as:
Reading to learn new things.
Continuing your education.
Developing new skills.
Creating instead consuming (e.g., art, writing, crafts).
Traveling to broaden your mind.
Practicing public speaking.
Yes, many of these activities may also be an investment in your professional development. It will help you succeed in your career. But, it's also an investment in keeping your mind sharp and engaged.
Lifelong learners stay young at heart — and mind. One of the most valuable gifts one of my favorite professors gave me was a passion for learning. He said, “I can’t teach you everything you will need to know. But the most important thing I can teach you is to learn how to learn.”
Identify some goals for your personal development. What are the gaps between where you are today and where you want to be in terms of your skills, knowledge, and experience? Then, make a development plan to close those gaps.
However, don’t overload yourself. Just make some personal development activities part of your daily and weekly life. You have a lifetime to enjoy this learning journey! No need to rush things. 😊
Another benefit of investing in your personal development is what it will do for your confidence. That’s a big topic, so let’s talk more about it in the next chapter.
I’m looking forward to sharing more of my book with you this year! Become a subscriber today to keep reading the draft chapters as I complete them.
Larry Cornett received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Rice University. He spent decades in the Silicon Valley tech industry as a designer, Design leader, Product executive, and startup founder. He eventually left the corporate world to start a coaching practice and now lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others create their own invincible lives. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.