Decision Making

Why Self-Care Sometimes Needs to Be Your No. 1 Strategy

Why Self-Care Sometimes Needs to Be Your No. 1 Strategy
Image credit: craig Cloutier | Flickr

Sometimes your career should be your last priority. As in, dead last. But before you write me off as some la-di-da, head-in-the-clouds, reckless wacko, let me reassure you: I’m a career coach and someone who believes strongly in career as a pillar of happiness, fulfillment, stability and even health.

Related: 7 Keys to Making the Right Decision the First Time and Every Time

Yet, sometimes I believe that your career should be your last priority; and self-care should be your first. I recently worked with a woman, who had had the year from hell and was dealing with grief, legal issues and major health concerns. She needed to heal. But she felt it was irresponsible and even a little bit selfish to focus on herself and her healing before progressing in her career.

In fact it was exactly what she needed to focus on. And not just because self-care is important, which it is, but because self-care is often the best strategic priority -- not just for your personal life, but for your career.

Self care as strategy. Chew on that for a minute.

Think back to the last time that you were hanging by a thread -- when you were burned out, sick or struggling with your mental or emotional health. Maybe you were racked with anxiety, or deep in a depression, lost in a debilitating brain fog or struggling with exhaustion.

Would you say you were at your best, mentally, during this time? Super-sharp? Bringing your A Game to all of your work? Probably not. In fact, recent research confirms what we already know: We don’t make good decisions when we’re burned out. Not surprising.

In fact, it’s not unusual to strike out at work when you’re in this state, when you’re barely holding it together. It’s hard enough to get up to bat when you’re in a haze like that, let alone hit a home run. It’s way more likely that you’ll hit a home run when you can actually see clearly, when you feel strong, when you have your wits about you.

And yet those who are Type A (and here I include myself), super-ambitious, out to conquer the world (and often self-critical) try to push through and move forward at a time that makes the least sense to do so.

But we want to keep going! Keep climbing! Keep moving! We have the will! We have the grit! Just not . . . you know . . . the mental bandwidth. Not while everything else is going to hell in a handbasket.

Related: 3 Steps to Becoming a Better Decision Maker

This is where self-care as strategy comes in. Because it’s nearly impossible to make good long-term decisions for yourself -- for your work, your business, anything -- when you’re dealing with more urgent issues. I’m not suggesting that you tell all of your colleagues to shove it, take your life savings and move to Bali. I’m just talking about slowing down, taking smaller bites, pressing "pause."

Maybe you don’t push for partner at the firm while grieving the loss of your father. Maybe you don’t go for the promotion while negotiating custody of your kids. Maybe you don’t pitch to business investors during your first week of chemo.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t do those things if they feel good to you. I’m saying think about it, and let yourself off the hook a little. You might be more equipped to make better, clearer decisions in a few weeks, a few months, a year from now.

Related: The 9 Characteristics of a Good Decision

The message here is, take care of yourself. If it’s hard to give yourself permission to do that for the sake of healing and restoration, know that taking care of yourself is also one of the strongest strategic moves you can make.