What do you think of when you hear the words, “self-care”? A little exercise to care for your mind and body? Are you a member of Peloton Nation? Are you a living room yogi? Or do a few quiet minutes alone before the house wakes up do the trick?
It turns out that the same rituals we use to ground us and replenish us also have the same effect on our worklives. And doesn’t your career deserve the same kind of attention? Minda Zetlin thinks so.
Minda Zetlin is the author of the book Career Self-Care: Simple Ways to Increase Your Happiness, Success, and Fulfillment at Work (New World Library, 2022) and a columnist at Inc.com. She spoke with us about what career self-care means in the post-COVID era, why it’s essential for work and life, and how to cultivate it. Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What is career self-care, and why does it matter?
If you’re not taking care of something, it’s not going to work. That’s true if that something is a fruit tree. That’s true if that something is your car. And that’s true if that something is yourself. The more you take proper care of yourself — the more you take time off when you need it, make sure you get the rest, nutrition, and sleep you need — the better you’ll work. You also need the mental stimulation of doing interesting and fun things outside your normal routine, even when they have absolutely nothing to do with work.
How has that picture changed in the last two years?
A lot of people have broken through their assumptions about what they were going to do with their lives — what’s important in life and how to best make use of the knowledge that you only have one. To me, that change is as powerful as the economic factors in the Great Resignation. The framework of striving to get to a certain point and retiring with plenty of money is not so automatic anymore. Also, the boundary between work and life has come down. But it’s important to preserve those boundaries.
How have things changed for tech workers?
There’s been a shift to remote or hybrid work that will probably not immediately shift back, particularly for technology people. It’s an interesting moment because there’s an expectation that people, especially in technology, will decide for themselves how much they want to work in the office and how much they want to work at home. I think a lot of tech people are going to insist on that because they can; their skills are in demand.
What about small and midsize businesses?
Some of these changes favor small businesses because they tend to be more informal and more flexible to begin with. So, if the line between life and work is vanishing, maybe that’s easier to handle if you’re a small tech startup than if you’re IBM. But one of the dark sides of this is that if you’re bringing more of your whole self to work, you’re also bringing work more into your whole life. Surveys have shown that since people have been working more at home, they’re spending more time working than they were before. If you’re in a small company — especially when being squeezed by inflation — it’s easy to do a ridiculous amount of work and expect the people around you to do a ridiculous amount of work. If you’re a small company, you’re less likely to have policies that say things like, “I will not send an email to my employees on a Saturday.” But if you’re running a small company or a department within a company, not sending emails to your employees on a Saturday is a bloody good idea. Because — and I say this from bitter personal experience — you need that separation. For brain function and productivity — never mind mental and emotional health, family life, physical health, and all that — you need that separation from work at least one day a week.
You say in your book that if readers gain only one lesson from it, it should be that success in work and life requires community. Why?
The more I learn about success, and the more I look at what makes particular people successful, the more I see it comes from connecting with other people and getting advice or information. For example, when you get to a certain point in your career at a large corporation, your move up to a higher level of management will come from the connections you’ve made with other people. In so many ways, having those connections, having networks, having people you can ask for an introduction or a piece of advice when you’re confused about something really does make the difference between success and failure.
How can we get the community we need in the context of remote work?
You have to get creative about how you connect with other people. And the venues for doing so are many. There are local gardening clubs, parents’ groups, political movements. There are groups and opportunities for groups around every profession, political position, and everything else. Take yourself out of your shell, find those connections, and keep trying until you find the ones that nourish you. It’s an effort worth making.
You also say in the book that thinking a successful career and a happy life are incompatible is “one of the most destructive myths plaguing us today.” Why?
If you can’t do your job and get an appropriate amount of rest to be happy and fun to be around, then something has to change. You can’t say, “Oh, well, it’s a really tough job, and I’ll be pleasant when I retire,” because you never know. The pandemic reminded us of this. You never know that you’re going to get there. Work is a significant enough portion of your life that it shouldn’t be miserable. No, not everything will be great in work or personal life for anybody. But there is no excuse not to go in that direction. At least start by imagining what you could change that would make you a little bit happier.
Career Self-Care arrives wherever books are sold on June 14.