On the heels of my last post, I thought I would inject a little personality into this blog by giving a story about me. Not a lot of people know this, but a while I ago I made some significant lifestyle changes that have not only improved my health and well-being, but also how I look and feel about the world, my work, and my relationships. I’ve become an example of the “Zen” part of Leadership Zen, and I’m sharing my story.
For those of you that read this blog from time to time, you’ll know I often gravitate between writing personal stories that I hope show we are all on similar journeys, and perspective stories that either comment on the news or some leadership dynamic that I am interested in that day. Today is the former, because a lot of what Leadership Zen is has to do with my belief that one cannot become great without first taking care of business at home – as in taking care of you first. I am not too ashamed to admit that until recently, I didn’t do that very well. Despite having transitioned at least physically into a “different life stage,” I clearly missed the memo explaining that neither my mind nor my body were keeping up any longer, even if my spirit remains grounded in a time when they did.
I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t eat right, drink right, exercise right, or worst of all, sleep right. I was known for drinking ten twenty-ounce Diet Mountain Dews a day. I ate more bad food than I care to admit, and didn’t do that regularly. Worst part is I didn’t sleep, and when I say “insomnia”, I mean three, four hours a night, every night, for weeks on end. I couldn’t turn my mind off, always turning over business problems in my head, trying to find solutions. I was playing a dangerous game with my health and well-being that I didn’t realize was taking its toll on me every day.
When we talk about leadership, we tend to talk about the work side of the equation. That’s a natural reaction to the common belief that leadership is position or role based – a belief I am trying to change through my work here. What we don’t always understand is that in order to be an effective leader, we need to be able to strike a balance between three places most of us play in every day – your work life, your personal life, and yourself. The self is by far the most important of these three, but is often overlooked because we don’t get paid from it. Work pays our salaries. Our personal lives pay us in other dividends that we as social beings, crave. But the self pays you in a much harder currency – health, well-being, and vitality, which makes your performance much better in the other areas of your life.
I didn’t realize it, but I was killing myself. Perhaps more literally than the flippant way I use the term here. My blood pressure had gotten out of control again, my cholesterol was getting high, and I put on weight. The most telling thing however was the lack of sleep. I realized that my mind was not as crisp as it was when I was younger, and its not a matter of being older, it had everything to do with the fact I didn’t allow it to renew. That is a dangerous thing to do to yourself.
For me, the path to healthiness or relative healthiness was to follow the cycle of self I spoke about in my last blog. I had to find Balance, between the roles in my life, and I forced myself to adhere to certain personal rules about when I would be a Vice President, when I would be a father or a friend (always both thank you but I had to create some boundaries), and when I would focus bits of time one hundred percent on me – cycle, read a book, maybe even write one. I had to find a path to Renewal, including how I eat, drink, exercise and sleep – and yes hat latter one required some self-acceptance and humility that I wasn’t personally very good at enforcing it on my own. Finally, I had to focus on Sustainability to remind myself that like everything else Leadership Zen, this couldn’t be a moment in time. I couldn’t go back to the old ways once my lab panels showed an uptick from my previous state.
As I mentioned though, three months in and the results have been stunning. I have lost weight, seventeen pounds and two inches. I look and feel good again. I am a little over the top with my diet, but I focus on the right things and allow myself to cheat when I earn it, because it isn’t a “diet” it’s a lifestyle change. And I am sleeping, deep good sleep that makes me feel refreshed.
A lot of authors preach what you should do. I’m living proof that I believe in what I write in these pages, and living proof that it works. For May, the focus is going to be a little heavier on the Zen part. I’d like more of you on this journey with me.
Take time for yourself, and treat yourself right. You deserve it.