Work Hard, Rest Hard: The Real Formula for Sustained Success

In 2012 I was flying high as a sales executive: landing big accounts, hitting huge numbers, and impressing everyone with my ability to juggle a seemingly endless number of simultaneous projects. In 2013, I was diagnosed with a heart condition that required surgery and while genetic in nature, it was most certainly exacerbated by stress and hard living.

After surgery I did what most confused, stressed-out white girls do: I quit my job and became a yoga teacher. This shocked a lot of people — my family, coworkers, and clients — but at that time I really didn’t think I had a choice. How could I be “me”- the me of consecutive 18 hour work days, who had coffee and mini Kit Kats for lunch because I didn’t have time to leave my desk. The me who slept with my blackberry in hand and was often described as a machine. I didn’t want to be a half-assed version of my former self and had absolutely no boundaries. If working myself to death might actually kill me, I was either going to retire or die.

So I dove into my new life. I studied asana, meditation, essential oil therapy, anatomy and even got certified as an Holistic Health Coach. All told I got 800 hours of yoga training and became a full time teacher. I taught others how to take care of themselves and took damn good care of myself too. I realized that sleep is awesome. I started to listen to my body. Hunger. Fatigue. Anxiety. I noticed when these sensations popped up and instead of pushing through them, medicating them with stimulants or dulling them with alcohol, I listened. I rested. I meditated. I took a day off. I was living my god damn best life. I wanted to also say I had found my life’s work…helping others is a “calling” and sales is just a desk job, right? But after a year full time in Spandex I found myself thinking… is this it?

I missed my old life. I missed having clients, and deadlines, and sealing deals. I would read about my old company in the paper and feel major FOMO. This sucked because man… I had really turned my life upside down to get where I was, but I knew it just wasn’t right.

My journey back to corporate America is not so interesting, but the lessons I learned during my time out of it are. I truly believe now that although the, “Balls to the wall I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach can work for some people longer than others, it doesn’t work for anyone forever and there IS a better way. So what did this former stress addict learn? How can you avoid burnout and still be a bad ass?

  1. WORK HARD. When you are at work, do not mess around. Focus, prioritize, keep the social media to a minimum and bust your ass. Taking care of yourself does not mean taking a two hour lunch or letting your colleagues pick up the slack while you’re finding your center.
  2. SLEEP HARD. There is a reason why Arianna Huffington can’t stop talking about sleep. It is the magic elixir or life that keeps you happy, healthy, focused, friendly and sane.

3. SAY NO. Don’t overcommit to social events or personal obligations. If you want to be a star at work and a healthy, happy human, you might not be able to be the queen of the party scene as well and that has to be OK.

4. FEEL THE FEELINGS. When you start feeling anxious, exhausted, or agitated put down the laptop and take a timeout. Pause. Breathe. If meditation is your thing, meditate. If you are a jogger, jog. Avoid over caffeinating or numbing with drugs and alcohol. These little tingly feelings of unease are our bodies way of telling us we are heading towards a total meltdown. When you ignore these subtle signals, you accelerate the burnout process. And yes, you CAN ignore them for years but then you end up like me… 28 and in the cardiologist’s office.

5. LEARN SELF CARE. You can’t walk outside without tripping over a yoga teacher these days. There are dozens of apps for meditation and at least ten of your Facebook friends are selling essential oils. Take a few classes, drop into a workshop, and find out what works for you. Yoga isn’t for everyone. Maybe taking a long walk or reading science fiction helps you unwind. Maybe you need an hour a day or one day a week where you turn off your phone and tune out. Whatever it is, it’s your job to find it out and commit to it. You are solely responsible for your self-care and solely to blame when you crash and burn.

6. ASK FOR HELP. My job wasn’t killing me. Me doing my job, MY way was killing me. I could have asked for help. I could have asked for another teammate or an assistant or a mental health day. If you are pulling your weight at work, more than likely your boss will be willing to accommodate one or more of these requests.

I had to learn all of these lessons the hard way. I had to spend thousands of dollars on training to become a self-care teacher just to figure out that I needed to take care of myself. What I previously thought of as two completely different paths are just the two pieces of being a whole person. I’ll close with an Abraham Hicks quote that sums up what I have learned perfectly:

“Just do your best to keep yourself in balance. One of the first things that causes Energy misalignment, is asking or demanding too much of yourself in terms of time and effort.In other words, you just cannot burn the candle at both ends, so that you are physically tired, and then expect yourself to have a cheerful attitude.

So, the rule of thumb has to be: “I’m going to be very, very, very happy, and then do everything I have time to do after that.”