It's that time of year when a new class of college graduates eagerly enters the workforce. Ambitious young professionals, just starting out it in their careers want to go above and beyond the job description, stand out to their employers, and establish themselves as superstars.
A go-getter attitude is absolutely appreciated by employers; however, it should not come at the expense of your own personal health and happiness. I mentor many young women and I always emphasize the importance of prioritizing personal wellness. In order to be their most effective at work and in their personal lives, new grads need to be realistic about the time and energy they're putting into their work, or they'll be on a path to early burnout.
Wellness isn't the absence of disease or illness. It's the set of active choices you make each day to enhance the emotional, social, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of life. Ultimately, entry level employees and seasoned professionals alike need to be mentally and physically fit in order to work at their peak effectiveness.
I learned this the hard way after neglecting my own personal wellness early on in my career. I would regularly put in long hours, work entire weekends, get by on too little sleep, and either skip meals or eat out of vending machines. I felt guilty taking time for myself to recharge my batteries and was worried about getting ahead. It wasn't until years later, when I took a much needed sabbatical from executive positions in the tech world, that I realized how crucial my personal well-being was to my ability to succeed in my work and manage my personal commitments. This insight was a key part of my decision to found the online wellness video network Grokker.
Wellness is essential to sustainable career success and it's important that graduates entering the workforce make it a priority. Here's how:
1. No More Guilt: Hardworking young professionals often prioritize company tasks above their own personal needs, telling themselves, "How can I take a break when there are a million emails to answer...?" They may experience feelings of guilt for leaving the office to run to an exercise class or make it home at a decent hour to cook themselves a healthy dinner. Yet the reality is that employees who exercise regularly and eat nutritiously perform better than those who don't. Making the conscious decision to invest time and energy into your own wellness, and letting go of any feelings of guilt for doing so, is vital to your success at work and in the other areas of your life.
2. Learn to Manage Your Stress: Stress will inevitably come up at work. While you will never be able to avoid stress, you do have the power to minimize its impact on you. Studies have shown that we can reduce the negative effects of stress - through decreasing levels of cortisol, the body's stress hormone - by controlling our personal reactions with meditation.
Another effective stress management tool is exercise. Dr. Sharon Toker, of Tel Aviv University's Recanati Faculty of Management, and Michal Biron, of the University of Haifa, conducted a study which showed that workers who participated in at least 150 minutes of exercise per week operated at their peak in the workplace. In addition, the study concluded that work burnout rates and depression were highest in the group that did not exercise at all. It's important to remember that setting aside some time - even just a few minutes - each day for "me time" can go a long way in maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life.
3. Schedule wellness like a meeting: With a lot to learn and a lot to prove as you start out in your career, it may seem impossible to devote time to your "personal wellness." I suggest scheduling time in your calendar for workouts or meditation as if it were a work-related meeting. Of course there will be days when something urgent comes up last minute or you have a pressing deadline and you simply must forego that scheduled time. When this happens, it's important to remember that wellness can be available in different forms. Not making it to the gym is not an excuse to neglect yourself. Instead of that 90-minute hot yoga class you were going to take after work, do a 15-minute yoga or HIIT video on a site like Grokker when you get home. Or, simply go for a 10-minute walk around the block, take the stairs, or spend a few minutes indulging in a blog you love. So book it and be prepared with your backup plan. There are many ways to quickly clear your mind and care for yourself even if you only have a few minutes.
4. Devote time to passions outside of work: It's wonderful to settle into a career you are passionate about where the long hours and sacrifices don't feel like work. Unfortunately, passion for your work is not enough to keep you happy and healthy. Pursuing outside interests will fuel your soul and provide perspective you can bring back to the office to tackle your work in a new way. Generous doses of external stimulation and sufficient rest are vital to stimulating creativity, restoring energy, and maintaining productivity. Keeping your mind fresh will allow you to deal with the inevitable speed bumps of your work life and improve your performance.
Young professionals just starting out face a lot of uncertainty even after they receive that coveted first job offer. One crucial element to career success, even at the entry level, is investing time into personal wellness. It will not only help new grads build a sense of work-life balance right out of the gate, it will also build a habit that will benefit them once they are executives and leaders. I encourage all college graduates to focus on how making wellness a priority will make them feel strong, centered, confident, and resilient - all things that will ensure they bring their best to all areas of their life.