Making My Health My First Job

2014-09-20 18.16.49Most people only have one job, it’s at the centre of their lives, it’s the way they make their living and often the main thing that defines their purpose in life.  My job used to be that for me, I spent 50+ hours at work and mostly loved every minute of it, I had a great team and we made a difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and had fun doing it.  Lot’s of things needed to be sacrificed in the service of my job.  After all I only had so much time and willpower and most of that was used up at the end of the working day.  My life was centred on work.  If I had a second ‘job’ it would have been my family, my wife and four kids took up the rest of my time, it was often wonderful but it wasn’t all perfect family time.  There was a lot of shopping, visits to doctors, being a taxi service, cleaning, washing, homework, fixing stuff.  In the end there wasn’t much time for me.

When I became ill a lot of things changed, I was working from home with a lot of time on my hands.  But I didn’t really understand how to spend that time and so fairly quickly as my health improved a bit work started to dominate my life again. The improvement in my health stalled and remained pretty poor for about 6 years, I felt that I was coping but only with the support of more and more drugs.  I’m not sure exactly what the turning point was but eventually a life propped up with drugs becomes unsustainable, maybe it was when I started to worry about my quality of life in retirement.

I realised that my priorities were all wrong.  I realised that my first job was to be healthy.  I needed a pretty broad definition of health of course, because with three chronic illnesses it’s never going to be perfect, but it could be much better than it was.

Making health my first job was a breakthrough change, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds at first though, here are some of the changes I decided to make:

  1. If health was to be my first JOB, I decided that I had to really WORK at improving my health
  2. I reduced my working hours to the point where I had the time, energy and willpower to look after my health as best I could.  My second job still presented conflicts and challenges, but I spent a lot of time making sure I got the mix right
  3. I directed all of my strategic planning skills at my health challenges, I kept the data, did the analysis, made the plans, defined the objectives.  I identified the areas where I could make most impact, I exploited my strengths, worked on my weaknesses, nurtured my opportunities and mitigated my threats
  4. I made my health my explicit top priority objective in the performance management system that my employer uses.  During my appraisal each year the first thing my boss assesses is how well I’ve managed my health
  5. I wrote a report detailing my strategy for improving my health and had it reviewed by my GP to make sure it was professional, realistic and sensible
  6. I defined about 20 activities that I felt captured my definition of ‘living well’ and tracked them each day, so I had to confront the hard data about how I was living.  When I’m feeling like crap it’s easy to be lazy, get into a rut or develop bad habits, data makes that more difficult to hide.  I also tracked my bad habits. 
  7. Lot’s of these 20 activities involve family and friends too, my definition of health is definitely not just physical.  My personal health comes first though, I can’t be a good husband, Dad, friend or member of the community if I’m lying on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and watching TV all day.
  8. Since I don’t know how bad I’m going to be tomorrow, every morning when I wake up I plan out how to live the best day I can. How I’m going to invest my time, energy and willpower to improve my mental and physical health
  9. When work conflicts with health, most times I choose health.  I’m not striving for perfection though, I’m striving for the right balance
  10. I’m kind to myself, sometimes life isn’t that kind, so someone has to be. Being kind means accepting that I can’t be perfect, that driving myself too hard to be healthy is as bad as driving myself too hard at work.  Being kind also means realising that sometimes I need to be “cruel to be kind” too

Overarching all of these changes though is the rule I live by “everything in moderation, including moderation”, sometimes I will dive headlong into a critical activity at work, accepting that my health might suffer.  A few weeks ago I walked a marathon and paid the price, but I’m still glowing from the achievement.  Every so often I will eat a whole chocolate orange, while watching TV for hours and love every minute of it.  80% of the time though I’m diligently working hard on my health and it’s working.

I wrote this post in Caffe Nero Manchester, Debbie and I are here with two of the kids for the weekend.  It’s noisy, crowded, dirty, vibrant, bold and glamorous, it makes a nice change from sleepy St Annes!  The picture is of a particularly nice building I walked past early on Sunday morning when it was just me and the street cleaners, I helped them out a bit (one of the habits I track is “being of service to others”)

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

1 Response

  1. January 1, 2015

    […] my first job, but intellectually this has been difficult to come to terms with.  Last year I made some steps in the right direction, this year I’m going to double down on achieving it.  This means doing the hard work on my […]

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