Two weeks ago, I was in Paris for meetings and the kick-off of the League of Legends World Championships. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip in a beautiful city, but on my last night there recognized that I was picking up a cold. My eleven-hour flight the next day was one of the most arduous I’ve taken, and by the time I crawled into bed I had developed a 102-degree fever. I spent the next day in bed.
Yet a day later I was on a plane again, and throwing myself into work. I then flew back home, and on the flight back my ears hurt. A lot. By the time I’d landed, I couldn’t hear out of my right ear at all. That night, half-deaf, I went to an event at my son’s school. Thankfully I’d regained my hearing when I woke up the next morning, so I proceeded to have a normal day of work, and then a weekend of early-morning soccer games (a warning to any parent whose kids play competitive soccer… your weekends are not your own).
Nearly two weeks since I first noticed my stuffy nose, I’m still dragging myself around. I’ve got a hacking cough and at various times throughout the day want to curl under the table and fall asleep. I’m drinking a lot of water, using a neti pot, and having a lot of Vitamin C. But for the most part I’m pushing myself just as hard as before my trip to Paris.
In this way, I am absolutely a “do as I say, not as I do” leader. If anyone on my team was showing signs of being sick, I would send her home and not expect her to participate in meetings even via phone. I would tell her that it’s better to lose a couple of days of productivity and fully recover than to prolong whatever nasty bug she’s got and work at 60% for several weeks. I would also remind her that being in the office means exposing everyone else to her nasty cooties, so all the more reason to stay away and recoup.
What’s frustrating about this is that I don’t actually admire leaders like me. When I see someone pushing themselves to exhaustion or through an illness, I think ungenerous thoughts. I think the person doesn’t have his priorities straight and should set a better example. I mentally wag my finger.
And, dangit, I know better. I’ve taken a sleep seminar by Dr. James Maas. I’ve done week-long energy management workshops by both The Energy Project and The Human Performance Institute. I’ve read two full books on nutrition. I am a firm believer that we can’t manufacture more time into our days, but we can absolutely get more energy out of the time we get. And, of course, the primary source of energy is our physical body–taking care of it is an important and first step towards thriving as a human. I so firmly believe these things, in fact, that I think they’re necessary elements of any good leadership development course.
Despite all of this knowledge, my habits and routines are… average. I sleep okay, but probably short myself 1-2 hours per night compared to what I need. I eat okay, but certainly not in the ways I know are best. I exercise sporadically. And when I’m sick, I clearly do exactly as I would advise others not to do, jumping back into my frenetic schedule as soon as I’m able instead of as soon as I’m healthy.
While I’m fine being average at many things, I ask myself, why would I choose to be average at taking care of myself? Seems like, oh I don’t know… maybe I should have my priorities straight and should set a better example.
There’s a certain arrogance to my current approach, as much as I hate to admit it. Maybe I think that I don’t need to be as diligent about health because I’m tougher, or more capable. Or maybe I think that I’m too important to miss time, that the world can’t function without me, even for that extra hour of sleep or exercise. These statements are all silly when I write them down, but then not stopping to recover and not doing what I know to do when taking care of myself is sort of silly too.
I know these things are hard. Getting enough sleep is tough. Eating healthy–especially in the United States, where fatty foods and sugar are everywhere–is tough. Exercising regularly is tough. And, when sick, staying in bed instead of tackling the growing pile of “to do”s is tough too. The more responsibilities you add into your life–from bigger jobs, to spouse and children, to volunteer activities–the harder these things get. It’s so easy for the urgent to crowd out the important.
Would anyone argue that health isn’t important, though? Don’t we all agree that the best way to thrive, and to be capable of tackling big responsibilities year after year, is on a foundation of a healthy body? Easy to say, hard to do.
I would love to say that I’ve learned my lesson. Almost having my eardrum burst on a plane was my body rattling its sabre at my brain. But, as I say, these things are hard. I’m working on it, trying to remind myself of what’s important and trying to build increasingly healthy habits. It’s a lifelong journey for me, and something that will clearly require a lot more attention from me. Writing today’s blog is pretty much just a reminder to myself.
So, do as I say, not as I do. Build a foundation in your life to thrive.
Take care of yourself.