One Workplace Habit that Took Me to the Next Level

A few tears were shed in the creation of this habit.

Photo: Danielle MacInnes/Unsplash

I cried at work on Monday.

While I was on call with senior leadership, something snapped inside of me, and with infinite gratitude for the Zoom mute button, I muted myself to sob onto my keypad. As I choked up my next sentence, doing my best to hide my recent outburst, the two leaders paused in awkward silence. My mind racing — will I get fired? — I quickly muted myself again. After a hesitant “are you ok?” from one of the leaders, I assured them I was — I was not — and excused myself for the rest of the night to reflect.

I immediately felt embarrassed and guilty, because I associated this display of emotion as “weak,” and certainly didn’t want to be perceived this way at work. As someone who strives for excellence in work quality, personal brand, and self-management, I was afraid that this incident would be a roadblock in my career.

As these thoughts ran through my head, I found solace in my current read: Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, which mentioned that Jobs would frequently shed tears in workplace settings. If someone as daring as Steve Jobs cried, maybe my path to becoming a business leader wasn’t completely ruined by the incident.

I remember when I first started working, my bright-eyed, bushy-tailed colleagues and I would try to “one-up” each other by telling each other how much we worked. I remember feeling so important after bragging about my weekend hours and late nights, because I equated workplace relevance and value to long hours.

All the hard for the first two years of my career boiled down to one dispiriting, but jarring true piece of wisdom: “everyone is replaceable.” My well-being ambitions that I wrote about earlier were slowly forgotten as I got caught up in a pandemic-induced, stationary 16-hour days sitting in my pajamas and gulfing down my meals when one of my meetings ended, to my delight, five minutes early.

After the Monday episode (now one week ago), I received calls from other leaders on my team, encouraging me to take a few days off to recharge. It was sweet to see that they cared (albeit unfortunately only after I was pushed to the breaking point), but I knew that a few days taken off wouldn’t change the callow mindset I had beginning to harbor again.

Thus, I began to practice the one workplace habit that took me to the next level. I set aside one hour during the day, and committed to actually taking this time off. I put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my calendar and felt protected and empowered at the same time, like a teenager sitting behind the closed door of their first own room. I read, cooked an awesome lunch, actually ate on my dining table instead of in front of my computer, or went for a quick jog around during the one hour. The result? An appreciation of how many things can be done in 60 minutes, a happier afternoon, and best yet, no sign of being fired!

Here’s what I would like to encourage — don’t wait until you’re at the point of breaking down to set boundaries. No one is going to give a crap about your well-being, so it’s up to you to take full ownership of it.

Change your mindset: it is not a sign of weakness to take a break. In fact, at what point in our lives were we taught to sit, unmoving, for 12 hours a day? We were conditioned since our schooldays to take a break in the middle of the day (every school has a built-in lunch period and break period), so why do we expect anything than what we learned from our education, in our careers? Review your state lunch rules here, and own that hour — you’re legally empowered to do so. Make this a habit early in your career, so you can own your schedule for the rest of your life.

I guess it turns out a that good cry does really solve some problems.

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Jackie Kim

Jackie Kim

Life philosophies: ambition, diligence, and selflessness. Daughter, immigrant, and consultant dedicated to becoming her personal best, while elevating others.

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