By the time one is getting out of the struggles of the beginning of the career, there is hope of a more stable life. Many things are taken care of. One gets a good handle on the job demands. The hard work of initial years seems to be paying back. The company or the organisation respects the value addition being done by you and does worry about losing you (well, in most cases). From the company’s perspective, this is the most valuable phase in your career. The financial cost of employees in mid-management is low but their skills are high and they are still willing to get their hands dirty. All these things are not true about the juniors as well as the senior management.
When I was in this zone, I received many awards like “Young Achiever’s Award” and once even a Champagne bottle from none other than our divisional head – Anshu Jain (who later became the global CEO of Deutsche Bank). This was followed by a congratulatory note from Josef Ackerman (Global CEO of Deutsche Bank) next year on my promotion. One of my friends in consulting business was sent to Harvard Business School for an executive program. These were nothing but the ways to show that the company valued these people, without paying a large bundle of cash in addition to regular compensation. So, most of us going through this period feel really motivated and driven to put in our best into the projects assigned to us. The steps going up towards senior management (when supposedly we will be able to put our feet on table and direct others) are visible and very much within reach. Even if one is not doing or feeling great at work, the pressure to hang on to dear job is immense. There are horror stories of people getting fired due to recession, non-performance or a simple change of strategy. All these things give rise to tremendous amount of stress in our lives and we don’t know what to do about it.
However, the personal life is also pushing you towards more senior level around this time. Though, I was already married earlier, many of my friends got married around early thirties. Those who were married earlier were having kids at a seemingly fast pace. Every other day, we used to get news of a friend having a baby. There were baby-showers and babies were being showered by God. We used to keep an inventory of infant related gifts like clothes, baby-sets and toys at home which used to be consumed rapidly. This lasted for about five-six years. We ourselves produced two in quick succession. Some call it immaculate planning, I call it baptism by fire. So, in short, the demands of life at a personal level multiply very fast. There is just no time for things like looking after yourself. If you thought you had no time when you started your job, this phase catapults you in a different orbit.
At one time, it was normal for my wife and I to wake up four to five times every night to change diapers, bring milk bottles or just to comfort our kids. We were virtually not getting any sleep. Then, one has to run to work and perform as if there is an unlimited fountain of energy within. Unlimited cups of coffee and tea do the trick.
The financial stress is also very high in this phase relative to the start of the career. Initially, the person lives alone, the expenses are generally not very high but slowly the standard of living catches up. One tries to maintain a decent house in a good locality. There is pressure to buy one’s own house. Due to the run up in asset prices during last sixteen years of my working life, I have seen the affordability of property for junior or mid-level managers is very poor. When I started my job and bought a property little later, the property was valued five times my annual income. Today, someone starting in the same company at the same level is expected to shell out ten times the annual income for similar property. If the person buys the property, there is constant tension of servicing the home loan. If one doesn’t buy, there is constant tension of home prices running away further. End result is same – more stress.
This is also the time when your “Youth Dividend” (a term coined by your truly) starts to wear off. Youth Dividend is nothing but the buffer of good health that you carry from your youth. This refers to your once trim waistline, physical stamina, bone strength, ability to handle stress without getting your blood pressure high, normal blood sugar etc. I can go on but most of us are aware of what I am talking about. Most people see a sharp deterioration in their health indicators during first five to seven years of starting their job or business but the effects are not seen till early thirties (sometimes even earlier depending on how bad one exploits the body). Little later, but for sure, one is jolted by a crude warning from the body. It may come in the form of a bout of hypertension (high BP), high blood sugar, high cholesterol, a panic attack or even a heart attack.
By now, you would have figured where this story is headed. Either you take charge of what matters most in my view – your life and health or go down the path of perpetually ill health and dependence on fancy pills. Very quickly – what are few basic things that one can do to stop this downward spiral?
1. Understand the importance of work-life balance. Don’t accept this situation as fate accompli. If you do, years will roll by and you may have done irreversible damage to your health and well-being. Internalise the thought that you want to improve your quality of life outside work. Any physical or material achievement cannot compensate for your lost health. Your only chance is to preserve your health, peace and well-being in order to enjoy life (whatever it is!).
2. Get organised better. For a person working, travelling or busy fifteen hours a day, this may seem like a lame piece of advice. I agree. But what is the option? Till the time you are in this situation, there is no option but to be extra careful on how you use your remaining nine hours. Six hours of sleep on week days (which is not sufficient by the way, you need seven at least, so try to sleep well over the weekend), still leaves three hours on a weekday. Devote one hour every workday to your own physical and mental wellbeing. There is a wide range of things you can do within one hour like running, gymming, yoga, meditation. Do at least three types of activities for twenty minutes each without wasting much time. Efficiency is important for a person running short of time.
3. Devote two hours every holiday (including both days of weekend) to take care of yourself. Make use of holidays and vacations to detox, exercise, relax and unwind. The exotic locations and properties that we use for our holidays are perfect places for your well-being activities. You can do yoga and meditation by the poolside, on a hill, in a forest and so on. Go for a run outdoors. The tourist places are explore well on foot and you get glimpses of the real life of that place while running. Jogging on the beach is one of my favourites while holidaying in Goa. I did the same at the white sand beach in Miami. The vacation is not the time to drown in booze or to break the bed sleeping. Excess of anything is bad and it will come back to haunt you. There is no excuse for not taking care of yourself during holidays.
4. Improve your quality of sleep. For a person in this phase of career, the quality of the sleep (whatever and wherever you get) is extra important. The sleep can be improved by quite meditation for five minutes before hitting the bed, having dinner two hours before you hit the bed, avoiding stimulants like tea-coffee post 6PM (ok, make it 7PM) and not having alcohol at all during weekdays at least. If you want to party, do it but without much alcohol (not more than a small drink). Lack of sleep and alcohol consumption don’t go well together.
5. Keep a tight control over what you eat. It is very easy to hide behind the excuse of time-crunch to have whatever junk is placed in front of you. Few of my friends in consulting were deployed in Jamshedpur while I was studying in XLRI. They used to routinely land up in our night canteen (sorry, early morning canteen) and lap up things like instant noodles and othe fried stuff. If you are getting paid so well, use some of that money to carry healthy stuff with you all the time. In India, at least, you can hire a good cook who can prepare healthy meals for you. Carry them with you and shamelessly take it out to eat when others devour the burgers and fries.
6. Socialise with friends and family whenever you get an opportunity. And in real world please. There is nothing like a firm handshake or a warm hug from a friend or relative. Human beings need to see other humans to remain emotionally and mentally healthy. Any amount of virtual socialising cannot compensate for this. Many of us shy away from attending family events (even when we can if we try little hard) and blame our jobs for it. These events can provide welcome breaks and emotional rebalancing. If you market the event well internally (as my best friend’s wedding or my parent silver jubilee anniversary) your boss will have tough time declining your leave request. You need to keep pushing boundaries and not sacrifice more than what is required. If you do ok on the whole, no one will fire you for extra couple of days of leave. A very bad boss (unfortunately) may fire you anyway. There is a limit to which someone should be able to exploit your insecurity.
7. Keep your social media, smartphone and TV activities to bare minimum. Figure out what is most important for you among these and don’t spend more than thirty minutes a day on this. Try catching up on FB, WhatsApp etc while you are commuting. Use travel time for entertainment and reading. Sorry, this doesn’t apply to my consulting and investment banking friends as they are expected to work on laptops while in transit.
8. Stop taking your job as the end of the world and loosen up. Maybe you are exhausting yourself more than what is required under an unknown fear. Try to take out small windows to stretch, relax or to make a phone call. Close your eyes for ten minutes during car rides or flights. Twenty or thirty years later when you see your medical reports, how would you want to feel? Constantly think about the price you are paying for work. Whatever you may be getting in return is not enough. For more clarity on how to be happy on your job refer this: 5 ways to be happy on your job!
If you follow these tips regularly and commit to take care of your life in addition to work, you may be amazed that in few months or may be an year, these things will become very well intertwined with your routine. Be flexible and fit in whatever works, wherever. You will be more productive in same amount of time and may have lesser issues later in life vis-à-vis someone who leaves his or her own life unattended.
Please feel free to leave a comment and write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A seeker and explorer in the quest for lasting happiness, health and well-being. An MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur and a Mechanical Engineer from IIT Delhi. Has been a senior banker with large global banks like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and ANZ Bank. Working in these demanding global institutions with a gruelling schedule and plenty of business travel. Was fortunate to realise the importance of health and wellbeing early on. Learnt and practiced many wellbeing tools and techniques to focus on his own well-being while balancing the demands of a high-profile career and a lovely family.