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Focus: If your job has stolen your life, take it back

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”  - Steve Jobs

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Nearly every day, I talk with job seekers who are so busy at work that they sleep less than they need to and forget to eat. Many haven’t exercised in months or even years. Their family is suffering without them. They have forgotten who their friends are. That problem is why they want to leave their job, but it is also why they can’t seem to leave their job.

The dirty little secret they have not yet acknowledged is that changing jobs is not likely to solve the problem, at least not forever. Chances are that six months after their job change, they will find themselves back in the same boat. Too much to do, overwhelmed, stressed, sleepless, and lonely.

But they learned their lesson, you say; they left the awful job that was sucking the life out of them.

Yes, but they didn’t solve the right problem. As with most problems, the issue is not “out there.” It’s not a job problem. It’s a focus problem.

These job seekers have focused on their job above all else, above their family, above their friends, above their earning potential, above themselves. Many companies love these fanatical, devoted employees. Unfortunately, the relationship doesn’t last because these are soon burned out, frustrated, angry employees whose productivity ultimately tanks.

Change your focus

To prevent the inevitable crash, your focus must change. You must place yourself first on your priority list.

You have been giving your heart and soul to your work. While our society finds this behavior admirable and often rewards it with unbelievable sums of money, it tends to breed lonely, dissatisfied people. Regardless of how fulfilling we find our careers, our primary reason for being on the planet is relationships. If those are absent, our lives feel empty. Our primary relationship is with ourselves.

Find support

Some people will feel more confident enlisting professional help during this transition. A therapist or life coach can help you set priorities, hold you accountable, and help navigate the myriad feelings that erupt when making a change of this magnitude.

Some people find the support of friends and family sufficient. The main thing is not to do this alone. Let people know you are making a big change and that it’s not easy. Ask for their help. You might include people who are good at:

  • Loving you no matter what.
  • Holding you accountable.
  • Encouraging you.
  • Helping you connect socially.
  • Helping you connect spiritually.
  • Helping you sort out financial issues.

Set priorities

Decide what is important to you. What have you been neglecting? These are issues that typically show up:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Health, dental, and vision care.
  • Spiritual involvement.
  • Marriage or primary relationship.
  • Family relationships.
  • Friendships.
  • Hobbies and leisure time.
  • Community involvement.
  • Retirement planning and savings.
  • Learning.
  • Travel and vacations.

This is not an exhaustive list. Add to it what matters to you. Then, decide what is most important. Hint: It’s you.

The first five items on your list must be sleep, nutrition, exercise, health care, and spiritual involvement. I don’t care how much you love your family, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you have nothing to give them.

Self Care

If you don’t have regular health, dental, and vision care, ask your family and friends for referrals to these professionals. Make your appointments and see the physicians before you make any other changes. They may have a specific program they want you to follow.

If it’s been 10 years since you’ve had enough sleep, make it a priority. Sleep deprivation is rampant in US society, and the effects are serious. It’s not just a matter of needing an extra cup of coffee. Long-term consequences look and feel like depression and worse.

We’re all on a diet, right? Obesity is rampant, and one of the reasons is that proper nutrition sounds hard. It’s not. The secret for me has been three relatively easy meals: green smoothies for breakfast, salads in a jar for lunch and soup in a jar for supper. (This last one isn’t a recipe. I just make a whole crockpot full of soup and freeze it in wide-mouth pint jars. Each jar holds two servings. Thaw it in the fridge overnight or in a bowl of tepid water for about 10 minutes, heat it up in about 10 more, and you have supper.)

If you’re not a gym rat, just walk. Start with 15 minutes and build up to 45. That’s the length of time for daily exercise for optimal longevity. Your mileage may vary. My magic number is 60 minutes. When you feel your energy increase, add variety with weight lifting, bike riding, swimming, or court sports.

Finally, connect with something bigger than yourself. For me, it means meditation. For others, prayer. For still others, church membership. It doesn’t matter what your choice as long as you do it.

Change jobs

Ideally, you change your focus while keeping your job. The trouble with that is that you have set all sorts of precedents and expectations for yourself and your company. You or they may not be crazy about accepting the changes that need to happen. You can try making the changes without telling anyone, or you can talk over your plans with your supervisor or manager so there are no surprises. Which you choose depends on your relationship with management.

What happens often is that you or the company isn’t comfortable with the new arrangement. In that case, it is easier to start out a new habit in a new place.

These tips may seem like no-brainers, and if that’s the case, you already know this stuff. But if you’re realizing how long it’s been since you ate anything except take-out food or you can’t remember the last time you walked anywhere except to the car, then it’s time to turn that around.

Once you have your life back, if you still want to change jobs, contact me right away. I can save you a lot of pain.


Image courtesy cooldesign at freedigitalphotos.net.

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