You’re at the beginning of a months-long project at work and the dull pinch at the back of your throat has become a searing, roar of a cough. And when you ignore it, your cold expands to include a 102-degree fever. Do you call in sick or keep pushing? If you do decide to cancel the meetings you’ve had scheduled for weeks, should you medicate and sleep, or medicate and work from home?
I’ve been in this position more times than I believe is fair. Once at the beginning of very busy work season, and as recently as last month when everyone in my house was battling the daycare super germs my baby boy brought home with him. Whether it was cancelling a meeting with a potential business partner at the beginning of a new quarter, or cancelling a class at the beginning of the semester, I’ve always felt guilty when illness disrupts my schedule.
There are at least two things to blame for my illness denial syndrome, one internal and the other external. I’ve acknowledged before that as a recovering perfectionist I tend to interpret any deviation from my plans as a personal failure—even if the incident was beyond my control. Read more about how I’m working on that here. Alas, even when illness compels me to take time away from my work I struggle with accepting this as a human reality, rather than a personal shortcoming. Just as dangerous as this prison of perfection, however, is the mental trap of “grind now-live later” that I picked up during my graduate training.
You may not have gone to graduate school, but I’m sure you have been exposed to this faulty logic which situates success at the top of a ridiculously tall mountain that you can only climb by activating your superpower. When fatigue, emotional upsets, important family days, and even illness emerge along your journey the faulty logic of success says that you should stop feeling the need to tend to these human things.
Here are three legend tips to help you (and me) develop a healthier attitude about self-care.
You Are Human—remember what that means
Illness, personal inconveniences, and relaxation time are not reflections of inadequacy, they are evidence of the fact that we aren’t cyborgs. Stop self-defeating thoughts in their tracks by reminding yourself that you are allowed to take time off—we all are.
Reclaim Your Time
If you force yourself to work through the flu, and end up sending the wrong emails to the wrong people, or even worse, you end up including random lyrics to a Drake song in a midterm exam question, how much more time will it take you to clean up the mess? Give yourself permission to take the time you need to get yourself in working order. Once you set these boundaries for yourself, and stick to them, your colleagues and loved ones are more likely to respect them as well. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Review Your Definition of Success
What good is it to excel at work/school if you are drowning in depression, or suffering from poor health outcomes due to extreme exhaustion? Think about how you would advise a younger sibling, a student, or a mentee to act if they were faced with your dilemma—and follow your own advice. If you often feel the need to compromise your wellness for the sake of your work, take some time to journal about what success means to you, and what a successful life looks like.