What do I do to ensure my success as a public health professional?
I write in my journal. I read for pleasure. I watch my favorite shows and listen to my favorite songs.
I take naps. I travel. I cook and bake.
And I spend lots of time with the people I love.
On June 7, 2014, I co-led a workshop with two of my colleagues from Girls Health Ed on healthy living skills for future success to four middle school girls. This workshop was part of Washington DC’s annual Millennial Day of Service. The theme of Millennial Day of Service was career readiness.
We began the workshop by giving the girls a sheet of paper that had a mirror on it. We asked them to imagine that this mirror could see 20 years into the future, and to draw what they saw when they looked into this “magic mirror.” We told them that nothing was standing in their way. These ambitious young girls had some amazing goals, including opening a restaurant and building a community center.
After having the girls visualize and reflect on their long-term goals, we asked them what they should be doing now in order to achieve these goals in the future. Naturally, the first thing that came to mind was doing well in school.
We spent the rest of the workshop teaching the girls breathing exercises and discussing fitness and nutrition. You might be wondering what abdominal breathing, healthy eating, and exercise all have to do with career readiness. The answer is simple. Self-care is essential for professional success. Engaging in healthy behaviors from a young age sets the foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits and of overall physical and emotional wellbeing.
As ambitious professionals, it is all too easy to get so caught up in our work that we forget to take care of ourselves. In order to do our work to the best of our ability, however, it is critical to be healthy—physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is especially important in professions in which our primary goal is to serve others. Taking care of ourselves helps to ensure that we are sharing all of what we can offer with the people we serve.
Earlier this year, I decided to try doing yoga as a way to cope with the negative energy I had been experiencing. I immediately fell in love with this practice, feeling myself become a better person with each breath and each asana. I made yoga part of my daily routine. About two months later, I started a new job. Many people claim that they do not have time to take care of themselves, given all of their personal and professional demands. I, too, was worried that once I started my new job, I would not have time to continue my daily yoga ritual.
I’m proud to have proven myself wrong. I do a yoga routine every single day either before or after work. On days when I’m feeling especially tired or stressed, I might do two routines. It might seem counterintuitive to take more time to do what we enjoy and engage in healthy habits when our demands are highest, but I believe that it is in our most stressful of circumstances that we must take extra time to care for ourselves.
When I served as Youth Coordinator at The Sikh Coalition, my supervisor gave me the analogy that when you are sick, you take a larger dose of medication. So when you are stressed or overwhelmed, it follows that you need to give yourself a larger dose of self-care. These days, yoga is just as important to my daily routine as brushing my teeth, combing my hair, eating breakfast, and taking my medications. In the past, my other essential self-care practices have included journaling, baking, and listening to spiritual hymns while falling asleep.
My supervisor at the Sikh Coalition always made it a point to offer opportunities for self-care in the workplace. For example, we began and ended our team meetings with one minute of breathing and meditation, and took the time at least once a week to check-in as a group and discuss whatever we were feeling. I also appreciate the self-care opportunities that my current workplace culture offers.
Our small team of 13 has family-style lunch together every day, talking about our lives outside of work. We also have “Employee Art Gallery Unveilings” once a month. During these gatherings, employees have the chance to bring in their personal artwork for display at the office. I love this tradition because it encourages us to pursue creative activities that might be unrelated to our work. At least once every two months, we all go out for dinner or drinks after work. These outings remind us that we are more than just our 9 to 5 jobs, and that we should not define ourselves as such.
Furthermore, I never bring my work home with me at the end of the day.
My self-care practices have undoubtedly changed over time, and that’s okay. This evolution has allowed me to explore a variety of interests and to figure out what works best for me at different phases in my life. I would encourage all professionals (as well as students and stay-at-home parents) to do the same, creating a personalized self-care ritual that energizes you. My advice for professional success, therefore, is to remember your greater purpose and all the people whose lives you will be making a difference in through your work.
To take care of oneself and to carve out some “me time” each day is not selfish. Rather, self-care is a means to carrying out your work with as much energy, productivity, and passion as you can, thereby making the greatest impact possible.
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Renée Picard