Being good when you aren’t doing well.

“You cannot consistently hit your ‘A’ game if the whole you isn’t on point.” My executive coach preaches this, but to be honest, I probably didn’t buy it until recently. There were plenty of times where I leaned into work to cover for other things going on in my “real” life. And it worked. In fact, one of my biggest professional accomplishments ever occurred while I was in the process of ending a relationship. I gave every bit of my energy to that project as a way to keep my head above water, and I did a damned good job. That project saved me, in many ways. That version of me cannot believe what I’m saying now.

Here’s the difference … that example was a three-month sprint. You can put almost anything aside for a short period of time. Two years later, I realize performance (for me) isn’t sustainable if my “real” life isn’t in order and balanced. And hasn’t been for a while. The last eighteen months have been a rollercoaster, with the last six months tapping me out completely because of a number of things in my personal life. It sucks. Not sleeping, eating or being happy severely limits the energy and creativity I can bring to work, which normally energizes me and adds a lot of satisfaction to my life.

Part of what makes me really good at my job is that I generally am a happy optimist who cares and feels really hard. When I tap into that energy, I can be very perceptive, patient, diplomatic, empathetic, anticipatory and create an awesome experience. When I propose something, I’m able to sell it because of my passion. At my best, my workplace gets the whole ‘me’ that my friends get. When I lose that part of me and my energy is tapped, I am not able to bring my best. I can be productive, but not awesome.

So People Opsers out there, what advice do I have for you?

  • Be aware of your non-work energy. If it’s dipping, know it’s eventually going to catch up with you at work. Our job can be more emotionally draining than many roles in the workforce, so we need to be even more diligent about minding to our own needs. When HR people burn out, they burn out hard and become caricatures (see: the angry HR person).
  • Figure out the main drain on your non-work energy and try to take it on. I didn’t. Many of us get into this field because we like giving of ourself to others, so it’s easier said than done. I refused to address or process some of what life threw at me and tried to cover it up with work. Unproductive behaviors popped out in work and life and I really wasn’t great at anything. Sometimes you really need to just put your oxygen mask on first before focusing on others.
  • Say “no” to things. You need to focus on restoring balance in your life, and you’ll need time to commit to that. That means making choices about the most important things, and cutting out items and people that aren’t adding to your life. For me, it’s hard to let people down. Learning that it was ok to choose myself sometimes was a hard but invaluable lesson. It took me a while to start to grasp it because it’s a really hard lesson for givers to learn, and super hard to teach others.
  • Think about what you enjoy most. It may seem counterintuitive, but make time for those things. I found myself working first thing in the morning, all day, then all night. It didn’t help get me back to normal. I quit doing the things I loved. My dog started shooting me dirty looks. In hindsight, I should have been actively spending my free time with friends, my dog and in nature, versus holding out for things to get better on their own. I should have allowed myself moments of silence and joy. I’ve tried doing more of that lately.
  • Exercise. The movement is good for you all around. Also, I tend to have some of my more productive and creative thinking moments when I’m tuned out from work. Whether it’s walking, boxing, biking, or boot camp, do something that turns your brain off entirely for an hour and gets your juices flowing. The endorphins aren’t half bad, either. When the fog clears, things get a little easier.

Two years ago, I didn’t appreciate the value of balance in my life. I didn’t realize that sometimes I needed to put life before work to be better in my job, in my relationships, and in my friendships. I think I’ve learned that lesson and know that to have any chance of delivering the value I want to bring to my job, it’s time to focus on getting the whole me back to a really great place again.

If I can save some others learning this the hard way, I’d love to. Trust me … putting your happiness first and focusing on yourself sometimes will help you bring your best self to the job, your relationships and your friendships! I mean, you are reading this on the internet; it must be true!