If you’ve read any of my other posts here on Medium, you know I’m committed to triathlons, staying in shape while traveling, and the importance of having a hobby. For this piece I want to talk about exactly why all of that is so important for a CEO or any high-performing businessperson.
A few years ago, I read a Harvard Business Review article about the making of a corporate athlete by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz and had a revelation. People who are in high level and high stress roles at companies need to take care of themselves in the same way that top tier athletes take care of their bodies and minds. I had always viewed the hobbies and habits I had developed over decades around diet, exercise, and reflection as being something separate from or in addition to business. After reading this article, though, I saw these hobbies and habits not as separate from business, but as central to my success. The more experience I have in business the more I see that performing at the highest level means caring for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually and I’m on a mission to teach others how to do the same.
Developing Good Habits
In the corporate world, it’s so easy to get stuck in a cycle of constant activity and stress. If most of us wanted to, we could spend all day and night working. In fact, at times in my career I’ve worked so much that I ended up sleeping on a couch in my office. With experience has come wisdom, and I don’t do this anymore because I understand the importance of balance in everything. While there are times of intense activity as we push to meet deadlines, implement new business, or win a new customer, there are also times that are more predictable and steady. In order to prepare for the extremes, you must take care of yourself.
My first major habit is to exercise regularly. You don’t need to work toward a triathlon or take boxing classes — you can get massive benefits just by lacing up a pair of running shoes and heading out your front door for a brisk 30 minutes of walking or running. Regular exercise has exceptional benefits. Most people experience more energy, more focus, and better mood and resilience when they are exercising regularly.
The second habit is to be mindful about eating. In general, I eat a low sugar diet and for me, having regular, smaller meals instead of a few larger meals helps me regulate my blood sugar and keeps me sharp throughout the day. I also avoid processed foods where possible and cook at home as much as I can. When I’m traveling I don’t go overboard with restaurant meals and I avoid fast food altogether.
Sleep is the third habit, and it’s perhaps the most important of all of them. Arianna Huffington wrote an entire book on the importance of sleep called The Sleep Revolution. We live in a society that is getting less and less sleep and it’s having an extremely negative impact on people’s health. Sleep is very important to me, and it’s something that I have to be very vigilant about getting. Like anyone, I can let work and family and chores get in the way of sleep, but I know that it’s dangerous to do that. Huffington says she got so exhausted at one point that she passed out while on the phone and broke her cheek. That’s when she got serious about sleep and became a better businesswoman and person because of it. Though I’ve never suffered a consequence that extreme, I can definitely relate!
Connecting with a Bigger Purpose
It’s also important for many people to connect their work to a deeper purpose — for me this is essential. In the same way that an athlete typically plays better if he or she is playing to help the team, or their family, or for something more important than money and fame, connecting to something more important can help us avoid burnout, feel more energized, and perform better. For me, I work hard to provide for not only my family, but all of the people at Pinnacle and their families, as well as to give back to the community. I founded Pinnacle to be a place where people could feel at home, where they’d be supported to be able to start families and establish their lives. We work extremely hard to provide the best possible service to our customers, but at the end of the day the reason we work hard is for our families and to improve the community. In fact, our motto is “The Community IS Our Business.”
Pinnacle Group has invested deeply in the community, helping improve the lives of disabled veterans, people experiencing homelessness, families of children battling cancer, women and children in domestic violence shelters, as well as students, parents, and teachers in Title I schools. Along with financial support, Pinnacle Group also provides extensive career preparation training and internship opportunities to high school and college students. In addition to community work we do together, Pinnacle associates dedicate thousands of hours per year to serving the community in their free time. This kind of work benefits the community, but it also benefits the people performing the service.
Spending Quality Time with Family
When many people think of a CEO, they expect to see someone who is always on their phone, running from meeting to meeting, and getting home late at night only to leave early in the morning. While, some days can be like that, I work hard to be there for my family as much as possible. Quality time with my family is one of my absolute necessities. This is also a two-way street and I include my kids and husband in my work as much as possible and make sure that they understand that I love what I do, I am working to make a difference, and that when they are inspired they can work to achieve their dreams, too.
To balance an extremely busy work and travel schedule with spending the quality time I need with my family, I have some rules for myself. First, unless it’s absolutely not possible, I answer every phone call or text from my kids. Any opportunity to speak with them is one that I take advantage of. Whenever I can, I cook them a hot breakfast and I insist on family dinners during the school year. My husband and I love inviting our extended family over for cookouts at the house as much as we can. Connecting with everyone in my large tight-knit family is important to me and any chance to celebrate someone’s birthday or a recent accomplishment is one I’ll gladly take.
The corporate athlete article was written in 2001, and some of the advice is much harder to adhere to these days. Specifically, when it comes to advice on disconnecting and taking vacation. When you run a company, the idea of being unavailable is out of the question for the most part. Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.
But I do love being able to travel with my family, so I leverage every piece of technology I can in order to be connected to work when necessary while spending time with my family. So, I can go on a morning run along the beach or an ocean swim and use that time to relax my mind, but I can also hop on the phone with a client or associate later in the day if needed.
Having a routine that refocuses my mind helps keep me at an optimum level. For example, I love taking a run before I speak at an event. It helps me to clear my mind and to plan out what I’m going to say. Like a tennis player focuses on her racket strings in between points, visualizing how she wants the next point to play out, I lay out exactly how I’d like the speech to go while I run.
Another way to be able to get out of the office while still getting work done is to use exercise to connect with clients or potential business partners. I like to find out what physical activity someone enjoys, be it biking, running, yoga, boxing, or walking outside and find a way to do that with them. I’ve run Tough Mudder races with business partners or biked long distances with colleagues. Doing this breaks down barriers and makes getting to the heart of the business matter we need to discuss so much easier. Trust me, you will feel very bonded with someone after you drag yourself through mud, over walls, and up hills with them!
The reason that all of this matters is not so I can achieve the ideal of a perfect peaceful life, it’s much more practical than that. Sometimes I may have to travel to four cities in a week, giving speeches, sitting in board meetings, and meeting with clients. Travel is physically and mentally draining and can so easily make people sick. But I can’t afford to be sick, so preparing my body and mind for this kind of hectic schedule is important. And I also can’t just get through the brutal travel and then get home on the weekend and veg out. I need to be well to spend quality time with my family. So, keeping my energy levels up, my physical health in check, and my mental state steady is vital. That’s why these things are important, and that’s why I place so much emphasis on taking care of myself in the same way a professional athlete does.
What are your tips for taking care of yourself like a corporate athlete? Let me know in the comments below or on social media!