You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve got hustle — and probably some (cash) flow — and you’re working your way into the life you want. Rarely do concerns for your own health make it onto your radar, let alone your daily agenda. After all, you want this dream more than anything else, and we can all sleep when we’re dead.
The trouble is, if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you may end up dead sooner than you ever thought possible. And I don’t just mean the six-feet-under kind, either (though that’s an actual but extreme worst-case possibility). I’m referring to an internal death. It looks like blood-shot, tired eyes, a permanent hunch, loads of guilt any time you do something other than work, soul-crushing isolation, extreme irritability and maybe even an existential crisis or two.
Not that I’ve been there or anything.
The thing is, when you’ve got your health, you have everything. But when you ignore your health, you lose it — and then you have nothing. Worse than nothing.
So when the pressure’s on and you’re the only one who can make the magic happen, the last thing you need to do is ignore your health. Sure, you need to work long hours and make sacrifices at times, but you can’t ditch everything else for the sake of your business for very long without some serious repercussions. Here’s a breakdown of the seven types of health and what you can do to keep them in good shape.
Mental health is gaining more ground in the public awareness, but there’s more to it than just avoiding tragedies. Mental health is relevant for everyone — our minds are the crux of everything we do and how we do it.
Keep tabs on your behavior, your attitudes and the way you’re talking. If you can barely recognize yourself based on some party foul you keep committing (such as screaming at your kids, spending loads of money you don’t have or pounding down junk food that you don’t even like), that’s a red flag. You’ve pushed yourself too far and you may be in a mental health dip known as a depression. Know the signs of depression and do whatever it takes to fight them.
You’re a professional, and you need to treat yourself like one. Don’t neglect your career development, and don’t downplay yourself as “just a geek-pop crafter” or “just a starving artist” or “just a part-time mommy blogger.” Give yourself the help you need, whether it’s a VA, an accountant, a babysitter or even a subscription.
You could do it all, but should you? (The answer to that is: probably not.)
As a professional, you can also give back to your profession. One great way to do this is to be a mentor — even if you think you’re still kind of a beginner, you’re doing it, which means you’ve got knowledge to share. Pour into someone who doesn’t know as much as you do. If nothing else, it’s a great way to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, even when you aren’t “there” yet.
We all know the importance of maintaining physical health and staying active. We also know how easy it is to let this fall by the wayside when something — anything — more pressing (or less taxing) crops up. But you don’t need to spend two hours at the gym, slave over a hot stove for 45 minutes every day or adhere to a rigid nine-hour sleep schedule to be healthy.
Taking care of physical health is actually pretty easy. To sum it up: eat well, move and sleep. Drink a lot of water. Eat brightly colored food that doesn’t come in a hermetically sealed package — real food isn’t hard or expensive, and it’s easily cheaper than pre-packaged stuff and takeout (which matters a lot if your bottom line is seeing shades of red). If you spend your lunch or dinner time (or both!) wolfing down a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch while tapping out emails with two fingers, try preparing a proper meal and eating it mindfully (i.e. not multitasking) once a day for three days in a row, and see if your body feels different.
Go outside and breathe, even if it’s for five minutes on your balcony. Move your body in whatever way you like, on a fairly regular basis. You don’t even necessarily need to leave your living room. DVR a 30-minute fitness program you’re curious about, borrow exercise DVDs from the library or do the 30-Day Shred, a perennial favorite that takes 20 minutes and actually makes a difference.
Have an aspirational bedtime and a hardline bedtime, and honor at least one of them, no matter what. Keep your sleeping area clear of clutter and pleasant enough to, you know, use. If you’re eating well and moving on a semi-regular basis, you’ll probably also be getting enough sleep. And that right there is the trifecta of physical health.
One of my biggest challenges as a freelancer and single mom is isolation. I know that beast very well, and it’s not pleasant company. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to isolation. Seek out and surround yourself with like-minded, forward-moving people.
If your hustle takes you online at any point, whether by social media, online groups or just blog-reading, then you’ve probably already met some of “your people.” Reach out to folks who are doing what you’re doing in some way, shape or form, and who appear to be at or near your level. Send an email, join a forum, connect on Twitter, ask people to form a mastermind group with you — connect however it makes sense.
Do this in real life, too, with people you’ve got something in common with. Meet people at your house of worship, while volunteering, during a young professionals group, at a children’s event (if you have kids participating — don’t be a creeper) or even while staring, dumbfounded, at the Great Wall of Shampoo Options at the drug store. Wherever you are, reach out. Many will reach back.
The people closest to us are the first to get shafted when we’re under pressure, and they’re also the easiest to take for granted. Don’t let your freelance career make a liar out of you. When you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something, be there and do the thing.
Do something restorative with your family or other loved ones once a week if you can, or once a month at the very, very least. Yes, even you can afford to take half a day away from work once a week. Spend time with people who know (or care) nothing of hustling, and just have some freaking fun (whether that’s doing something awesome or doing nothing at all).
One “cheat” method I’ve used with great success is to have a monthly potluck and game night. Everybody else brings the food; I just have to open a bottle of wine and clear the kitchen table. Figure out what your people like to do (mine like to eat and goof off), and make it a regular thing.
Money pressure is like no other pressure. If it’s on your shoulders to keep the roof up, you feel that pressure in every cell of your being. When cash is flowing, you’re OK; when it’s not, you’re thisclose to red alert status, which is not conducive to good health.
If you can, stay in your regular job until you have three to six months of living expenses socked away. If that’s not an option, be smart. Take stock, put on your big-kid underpants and get to work.
If you can swing it, open your wallet and buy one carefully chosen course that will teach you whatever you need to hit the ground running. If that’s tough, maybe you need a subscription to an industry community, forum or job board. Set boundaries on your work time (you can’t make every hour a billable hour, nor should you try to). And if your risk-meter is through the roof and you need a paycheck yesterday, pick up a part-time job to put food on the table and keep the walls up. Do whatever it takes for you to be able to sleep at night (hint: that includes actually going to bed).
Spiritual health is something that looks different from person to person. Whether it’s your church, nature, yoga, the Sunday Assembly or something else entirely, spiritual health isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing. But we do all need to find our way “upstairs” if we’re going to be truly healthy.
Meditate. Learn a yoga series and do it while your coffee brews. Pick up a prayer book and see how people talk to and about the divine (my personal favorite is the 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which contains some of the most beautifully written prayers I’ve ever come across). Sign up for daily emails from a spiritual leader or practice, such as Henri Nouwen, the Daily Om, the Enneagram Institute or Native American Elders; take up an age-old daily spiritual practice like the Daily Examen (or its baby sister, the gratitude journal); or pick up a book of readings by someone whose faith or thoughts you admire and would like to learn more about.
Make time for whatever feeds your spirit, and don’t give it up. If nothing has fed you yet, try something else.
Ultimately, when you’re running your own business of any size, you are your single greatest asset. Hustle is important and ambition needs to be leveraged, but you can only do so much for so long before your body and soul begin to give out. Treat yourself as the most important part of your work — have regular check-ins, take your thought life seriously, take care of your body and set up a support network online and offline.
If you don’t, you may be out of business. And it’s way too soon for that.
This post originally appeared at CareerMeh.
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