If building a successful career is important to you, I think you should work ridiculously hard in your twenties.
I also think you should have a ton of fun. Be young. Live it up. Travel. Meet people. It shouldn’t be all work and no play.
In your twenties, you have more time and less responsibilities. You have more energy, less constraints. Use that to your advantage. Put your youthful energy and drive into your career. Seek out fun and interesting experiences. Work and fun are not mutually exclusive, you can have both.
If you are going to work hard and play hard, you shouldn’t completely ignore your health and wellbeing. Practice some self-care along the way.
Right out of college, I worked as an outside sales rep, then quickly got promoted to be a sales manager. I was working 60-70 hours per week, and the hard work was paying off.
By my third year with the company, I was one of the top managers and nominated for Manager of the Year. By my sixth year with the company, I was a Vice President, overseeing about 100 sales reps.
I loved my job. I loved training, developing, and inspiring young sales talent. I was surrounded by amazing people, working alongside my best friends. When you’re working hard at something that you actually like, it doesn’t feel like work.
Sure, I was stressed often. I had sales goals to hit and they started back at zero every week, quarter, and year. I saw it as good stress, I was learning, and growing, and chasing after my goals. I was winning.
Despite the long work hours, I felt like I had pretty good work-life balance. To me work-life balance meant “work hard, play hard.”
I was living it up. Through work, there was fancy dinners, President’s Club trips, quarterly retreats that were essentially big ragers. Outside of work, it was basically the same — big bar tabs, crazy trips to Cabo, Vegas, pool parties and bottle service. It was wild.
I felt like I was living the dream life. I remember posting a picture on Facebook of one of the Cabo villas we stayed at, with the caption, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”
Everything seemed great, I was young and invincible, until I wasn't. I was living life in the fast lane, but then I crashed.
I went through a messy breakup that was all my fault. I had personal credit card debt that was piling up out of control. A blood test revealed that my liver was pretty damaged. It was a harsh wake-up call.
Here I was, thinking I was so smart and successful, but I sure didn’t have much to show for it once you took away the veil of job title and good times.
The positive was that this was a catalyst for change. I made some small changes that grew into big changes over time.
I cut back on the drinking. I made a plan to get out of debt, which took 3 years. I started focusing on healthy habits.
I started surfing and snowboarding again. I traded the bars and nightclubs for the beach and mountains, and was actually having way more fun.
I watched nearly every health documentary on Netflix. I started juicing and eating more vegetables. I experimented with a plant-based diet.
I kept experimenting. I changed my sleeping habits and started doing yoga. I started running.
Then my fitness goals got bigger. I ran my first half marathon in 2016, my first full marathon in 2017, my first ultramarathon in 2018, and my first Ironman in 2019.
I felt like I was accomplishing bigger goals than before, and happier doing it. I was still working hard and having fun. The biggest difference was that now I was also prioritizing self-care.
I don’t regret working so hard. I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I regret not taking better care of myself as I was working hard to build my career.
I knew health was important, doesn't everyone? So why wouldn’t I take my own health and wellbeing more seriously?
Lots of reasons I guess. I just wanted to work and have fun. Everyone around me was doing the same thing I was doing. I wasn’t thinking long-term. I just didn’t get it.
Through my mid-twenties, I viewed success as the result of hard work and grit. But after years of burning the candle at both ends, having bad financial habits and non-existent health habits, I learned that the recipe for success must also include self-care.
I’ll be honest, I used to not like the term “self-care.” #selfcare on social media usually means a face mask selfie, spa day, or some other kind of beauty routine. Many blog articles about self-care talk about self-worth, self-love, and mind-body-soul connection. That kind of stuff never resonated with me.
What does resonate with me is long-term performance, and now I’ve learned that I perform at my best when I throw some health habits into the mix.
Self-care is, simply, taking care of yourself. It’s the practice of taking action to preserve or improve your health. It’s something that refuels you rather than depletes you. It’s intentional.
It’s getting good sleep and eating nutritious food. It’s breaking a sweat and getting the blood pumping, especially if you’re in a more sedentary job like me. It’s taking breaks and disconnecting from work to recharge. It’s removing things that drain you, like in my case, credit card debt and being hungover all the time.
Self-care is also having fun. We are energized by doing things we love. The worst thing I could do is lose the fun in life.
One of the biggest things for me was finding new hobbies that didn't revolve around getting completely smashed. Travel became more about outdoor adventure and less about pub crawling through a city. Endurance sports eventually became my “play hard.”
Through endurance sports, I learned that as I increase my goals and push myself harder, the more I need to practice self-care. As the work levels up, the self-care must level up with it.
The same should apply to my career. The harder I work, the more important it is to take care of myself outside of work.
My whole perspective has changed.
Work hard, play hard, self-care.
The Impact of Self-Care
When I think back to my twenties, when it was all “work hard play hard,” everyone around me was doing the same thing, bosses and peers.
Working 60–70 hours/week was normal. Going to the bars on weekdays was normal.
We took pride in our ability to go out, rage it, and show up early and perform the next day. We might have felt like crap, but we could always put on our game faces.
I received so many positive benefits from working at a company where I was surrounded by people who were ambitious and competitive. My ambition increased because of it. My work ethic did as well. My teammates and I would read the same leadership books and talk about business all the time. We climbed the ranks of the company together.
Today I’m so grateful to have an amazing friend group, and a strong professional network. Many of them I met in my twenties, through work.
However, there was a downside of having a big friend group comprised of workaholics whose love of work was second only to our love of good times. It’s always someone’s birthday. I was usually the one rallying the troops to the bars.
When I burned out and started to think more about my personal health and wellbeing, there were strong forces pulling me back into the party.
Our environment and relationships highly impact our values and habits, often subconsciously. It’s important that we pay attention to these factors when trying to make a change to prioritize self-care.
Maybe the solution is to recruit a friend to get on the self-care train with you.
Some of the clients I’ve coached started to prioritize self-care more when they joined a new community — a yoga-teacher class, a Crossfit gym, a running group — where healthy behavior was the normal behavior.
James Clear talks about this in his book Atomic Habits. He says that one of the most effective things you can do to build better habits is join a culture where your desired behavior is the normal behavior.
Surround yourself with people who have the habits that you want to have yourself. Nothing sustains motivation better than belonging to a tribe. It transforms a personal quest into a shared one. Friendship and community help behaviors last over the long run.
When I made the shift towards getting healthy, the books and podcasts I listened to shifted. The business leaders that I looked up to shifted. And of course, my mindset also shifted.
We care a lot about the habits of highly effective people. We try to copy the behavior of successful people because we desire success ourselves. Many of our daily habits are imitations of people we admire.
Elon Musk is badass. His relentless pursuit of world-changing goals is inspiring.
Yvon Chouinard is also badass. As the founder of Patagonia, he built a massive, mission-driven outdoor clothing brand while also living an active outdoor lifestyle and letting his people go surfing.
We should surround ourselves with people who have the habits that we want to have ourselves.
We should look up to people who have the habits that we want to have ourselves.
We should become the person that has the habits that others should want to have.
You are career-focused. You are a hard worker. You are probably an influential top performer, or maybe you are already a manager or leader in your company.
If you decide to take care of yourself, get healthy, practice self-care, what do you think the people around you will do?
As a Vice President at my last company, when I got healthy it signaled to my team that it’s okay to prioritize their life outside of work too. And guess what, since I was the boss we started ordering food for our reps from healthier restaurants, retreats were in Tahoe instead of Vegas. I would still wine and dine them, but everyone really enjoyed and appreciated the variety.
We thrive on making a positive impact. We have a chance to set a good example and positively impact our friends, family, co-workers, and others who look up to us, by the way that we approach work, our wellbeing, and life outside of work.
It’s not about preaching. It’s about being a good example.
If we are all the average of our 5 closest friends, it’s worth asking ourselves if we are pulling our friends in a positive direction.
Over-investing in our careers, and under-investing in our health is a mistake.
Similarly, over-investing in our careers, and under-investing in our relationships is also a mistake.
Unfortunately, these mistakes are all too common.
Maybe it’s because career achievements are tangible — close a deal, crush a quota, ship a product, complete a project, earn a promotion — and health and relationships offer fewer short-term tangible rewards. But what actually makes us happier in the long-run?
Our careers, our relationships, and our health and happiness are highly interconnected.
By caring for ourselves, we can perform better in our careers and maintain better relationships. By nurturing our important relationships, we are caring for ourselves.
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