Your Job is a Matter of Life and Death

Ann HollierBy E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.

We all know we’re going to die someday, but most of us act as though a special exception will be made in our case. Business professionals in high-pressure jobs are especially guilty. They work long hours, sleeping and exercising too little, eating junk food, and ignoring the down time necessary to recharge.

Ignoring self-care adds to the stress of a high-performance job, eventually destroying productivity. Many common chronic illnesses are linked to stress and bad habits. Disregard your need for work/life balance and eventually life will hand you a lesson that requires it. An incredible number of otherwise top performers are suddenly brought to their knees by burnout, divorce, addiction, or a heart attack.

There is a huge risk factor for health issues alone. For example, a company called Body View in Boca Raton, Fla. offered free CT scans to 155 CEO’s.  38% had evidence of coronary disease, 10% had serious heart disease, and 6% needed surgery.  By comparison, for all men in that age group, just 6% had serious problems. The Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas specializes in counseling executives on stress reduction.  Their executive director states that stress may contribute to 85% of all medical problems, and that 52% of executives will die of diseases related to stress. Think about it. If you work in a leadership position, the chance that your job will eventually kill you is pretty much the flip of a coin.

You don’t have to choose between having a career and having a life.

If this were easy to do we would all be much better at it than we are. One of the most important lessons I learned for creating a more balanced life came from a time management consultant at a workshop. He put a big glass container on the table and started putting fist-sized rocks into it. He told the audience to stop him when it was full. After eight or ten rocks, there wasn’t room for any more and we told him to stop.

Then he pulled out a bucket of gravel and started to pour that into the container. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks and he was able to fit in quite a bit before again we told him to stop.

Then he brought out a pitcher of water and filled the container to the brim.

He asked us, “What can you learn from this about how you manage your time?”

Some wiseacre said, “You can always find room for one more thing in your day?”  We all laughed. That was the way most of us operated.

Then he pointed out something that fundamentally changed the way I plan my life:

If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.

Your big rocks are all the things in your life that are incredibly important but not urgent. It’s easy to allow them to get pushed aside by today’s brush fire. If a regular workout, play time with your spouse or children, a vacation or a personal retreat are important to keeping you grounded and recharging your batteries, put them in your calendar. Treat them as seriously as appointments with your most important client. Which, in fact, they are. Make everything else flow around them.

This simple concept can be incredibly hard to put into action. Your best strategy for success is an accountability partner whose opinion really matters: A spouse, coach or mentor, or a good friend. Regularly share your “big rock” goals and your progress in keeping your commitments so that they don’t get pushed aside. Or if they do, you have the structure you need to get back in the saddle and try again.

Marathon runners are trained to maintain a pace that feels easy until well into the race. After they cross the finish line, they rest. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Make sure you build in a sustainable pace, and that you include down time as a reward after a big push. You’ll be more effective, productive, and happy. And your job won’t kill you.

Ann Hollier provides performance coaching and consulting to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Self-care is one of the pillars of her coaching philosophy. Learn more at

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