Dear Fordyce readers:
As we approach a holiday weekend, I know many of you are scrambling to finish your work weeks — whether to wrap up deals so that you can enjoy the weekend with friends and family, to plan in advance for your return to the office next Tuesday, or some combination of the two. I would like to remind you of one more thing that you cannot forget to do:
Take time to recharge yourself.
I recently learned this lesson the hard way, and from my own personal experiences, I hope to help you avoid some of the same pitfalls I encountered.
And I promise: this has EVERYTHING to do with recruiting, placing candidates, and collecting fees.
I’ll bet you didn’t know…
As many of you know, I took my position as an employee with ERE Media, Inc. as the Editor of The Fordyce Letter just about one year ago (June 7 was my official 1-year anniversary). I took this role knowing that it would be challenging — not only did I have some big shoes to fill (Paul Hawkinson is still a well-respected and well-thought of individual in this business), but I also needed to find my own way in a role to which I was brand new.
I enjoy my job and find a lot of fulfillment in what I do. But there’s more to me. For example, I’ll bet you didn’t know:
- I’m not just the Editor for The Fordyce Letter — I am also the Editor for SourceCon.com, which is another ERE Media publication that is geared toward Internet and phone sourcing professionals. I affectionately refer to this community as the ‘nerdy side of recruiting’ and I am responsible for finding/vetting content for that publication as well as coordinating speakers and topics for the two annual SourceCon conferences.
- I do actually have experience working directly in the business of third-party recruiting. I was Jon Bartos’ Internet researcher for four years, and after that I managed all of the centralized research functions for SearchPath International and supported folks like Jordan Rayboy, Pat Rice, Jeremy Sisemore, and many others. I helped the SearchPath franchise owners by doing research for them, training them on Internet research, teaching them how to optimized their PCRecruiter ATS systems, and how to leverage the new digital social networks for personal and company branding purposes (this was back in 2006 when these tools were still relatively new as recruiting avenues).
- I take every pursuit in my life seriously — I don’t like to ‘half-ass’ anything I do because I like to be excellent in all endeavors. Over the last 18 months I’ve been pursuing a healthier lifestyle as well — I’ve been eating healthier, working out diligently on a regular basis, and pushing my own limits. I recently rode a 50-mile bike ride to support a local youth organization, which marked my longest bike ride to-date. My goal by the end of this year is to ride 100 miles in one ride.
Like many of you probably do, quite often I find myself forgetting that my work does not completely define me and that I need time to recharge, refresh, and re-discover my love for everything that I do.
When you truly love what you do for work, you tend to define yourself with it. When people ask you, “What do you do?” — how do you respond? Usually with your professional orientation. But you are so much more than that, and if you don’t take time for yourself once in awhile to remind yourself, you’re going to get burned out.
Which is exactly what happened to me recently, ultimately landing me in the hospital last week. Though I’ll bet you never knew it.
Pushing too hard
Over the last year, I’ve traveled a bit, and sure — I’ve spent time with my friends and family. But I never really disconnected from my work to enjoy those times. Yes — for a whole year, I never really ‘took a break.’ Not even at Christmas — I worked during my Christmas holiday, too. Whenever I travel, I always bring my work laptop with me — you know, ‘just in case.’ As a result of pushing myself this hard, I started getting sick the Saturday before the Fordyce Forum. Those of you who saw me there may have noticed it in my voice or that I was not present quite as late in the evenings as I normally might have been. I was in bed by 8:30pm each night during the Forum because I felt awful. But when I returned from the Forum, there was no time to recover or recharge. There was a print issue that needed to get pulled together, articles that needed to be edited and published for both sites, and another conference (SourceCon Silicon Valley) that needed to be addressed. It was overwhelming and I couldn’t shake the ‘sick’ that had crept up on me prior to the Forum. I felt overwhelmed and exhausted, but I didn’t take any time to recover because I felt that I just couldn’t do that and get work done as well.
Almost two weeks went by with me feeling like this, but it started prior to the Forum as well — so I was majorly stressed out for almost a full month. And honestly, I had been putting pressure on myself long before this — wanting to do a good job in my new role and not disappoint anyone. I was completely burning myself out and quickly destroying the hard work I’d done for my health over the last 18 months. Things reached a tipping point when, during a weekly call with my boss, I broke down in tears and told him that I just couldn’t continue at this pace. When you blubber on the phone with your boss, that’s pretty bad. What’s worse is that my boss had no idea how badly I’d been drowning. I’m a master at being independent (not always a good thing) so he never knew how I had been feeling. Thankfully, being an understanding and compassionate man, he told me I was putting way too much undue pressure on myself and to take a mandatory personal day on Friday — and to leave work completely behind.
Relief and revelation
My “R&R” weekend was not really for rest and relaxation, because the way I recharge myself is not what most would consider ‘relaxing.’ I took a Friday-Sunday ‘vacation’ — I had no plan other than I wanted to ride my bike a lot and that was leaving town on Friday morning and would not come back until late Sunday night. I knew which direction I would head — east — but other than that, my journey was a blank slate. For the first time in my life, I had no clue what would happen, and it was exciting to me. I tossed some clothes in a bag and my bicycle on the rack and started driving. I ended up heading over the Cascade Mountains (Washington state) and stopped in a small town (about 2,200 permanent residents) in the valley just east of the mountain pass. That afternoon, I rode my bike around the area for a total of about 27 miles. I had dinner by myself at a little family-owned BBQ restaurant and chatted with my waiter — a 19-year old kid who grew up in the area and told me what a great place it was.
The next day when I woke up (no alarm), it was overcast and drizzly. I had some coffee and waited to see if the weather would clear, but it didn’t. So I took my bike out and started to head up the road toward a town that was about 30 miles away, with the goal that I would ride 60 miles that day. About 5 miles into the ride, I realized that I was going straight up and this was going to be an exceptionally hard route. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like to ‘half-ass’ anything, so I continued, thinking there would be an end in sight. 8.5 miles in, I conceded to the road — I was exhausted and no longer enjoying my ride. I turned around and headed back to find a different route. Just to give some perspective, I did not have to pedal my bike for over 5 miles — that’s how straight up I had been going. I took another route and rode a total of 35.5 miles that day.
I learned a valuable lesson here: it’s not failing if you choose a different path, as long as you gave it your all and you keep making forward progress.
Normally, I would have berated myself for ‘quitting’ and not continuing up my original path. But I was no longer enjoying my journey, which is exactly what I was supposed to be doing that weekend. I stopped judging myself for not being Lance Armstrong and turned around, not ‘quitting’ but instead pursuing a different path. After all, what satisfaction is there in achieving a goal if there is no joy whatsoever in the pursuit?
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Too much of a good thing
Sunday, I woke up to a windy day and decided against biking. I packed up my things and continued further east. I had an idea of where I was going, but I wasn’t sure what I would do once I got there. I ended up at a lake town, and it was windy there too so I decided that riding my bike that day was out of the question. I drove around the lake and spotted a boat rental place. Fun! I rented a kayak for 4 hours. Unplanned, but certainly a fun activity for a girl who absolutely loves the water. I paddled around the lake all afternoon — it was very windy, so the lake was choppy and my kayak got tossed around a lot. When I returned the kayak, I stood up and my back was very stiff. I bent over and to the side to stretch it out, and then hopped in my car to head home. I’d had a ton of fun over the weekend — I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to start work again the following day.
When I woke up on Monday, my lower back was really sore. It was so sore in fact that about halfway through the day, I couldn’t sit at my desk any more and took my laptop to the recliner to lay back a little while I worked. I took a pain killer and relaxed as much as I could for the rest of the day. On Tuesday morning, I woke up to so much pain that I could barely sit up. Sitting on the edge of my bed was excruciating, and I was almost unable to stand up. Each step was awful; I was holding on to door frames and wall corners just to get around the house.
Most of the women in my family have experienced back issues; my mother especially — she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia over 10 years ago due to having 3 major back surgeries, and today she is partially handicapped as a result. Thoughts began racing through my mind: Had I ruptured a disc? Had I damaged a nerve in my spine? In tears, I managed to make it to my car and drive myself to the hospital, where I spent the morning getting x-rayed and checked for any severe injuries.
Thankfully, the x-rays showed no disc or nerve damage; I had simply strained my lower back muscles pretty bad. Sitting in that hard plastic kayak on a choppy lake for 4 hours had surely done me in.
I’m on the mend now. Things are starting to return to normal for me. I have a renewed love and sense of purpose in my work as well as for the people and activities I enjoy so much in my life. And I am grateful that my back pain wasn’t caused by more severe injury. I had a new realization after this little scare:
Trying to make up for an extended period of stress with no relief by packing way too much fun into a 3-day period isn’t any better than denying yourself a break in the first place.
My new approach to work and life
Sometimes, life teaches you lessons by kicking you really hard. Between the stress I had been putting on myself to perform at work (it all came from me and my ridiculous pursuit of perfection!) and trying to cram too much into one weekend of relief and revelation, I learned some pretty important lessons.
Recruiters, you are some of the hardest working, most driven, and yet most critical of yourselves people I’ve ever met. I know — because I am all of these things as well. And look where it got me. And having chatted with several of you recently, I fear that many of you have put yourselves in similar predicaments.
- I am more than Editor. I am also daughter, sister, cousin, niece, aunt, and friend. I am defined by more than what I do for a living — and I will take measures to make sure that I — and the people I love and care about — know and remember that.
- I am going to stop judging myself so harshly. By judging myself so critically at every opportunity, I stressed myself out for not being the best, the first, the most. By realizing that changing direction is not failure, but rather an opportunity to find a new, better way, I can open up so many more doors for myself and find fun, new adventures to pursue. Giving myself — as well as others — room to change direction and purpose is important. Pursuit of perfection can never been attained. Pursuit of excellence… now that is reasonable and achievable.
- I am human, and but one person. Therefore, there are limits to what I can personally do (and still maintain my sanity). I have discovered that I stink at asking for help when I need it, and I am going to stop being that stubbornly independent, thinking I can conquer the whole world and its problems on my own. Let me start right now! I would love your help with The Fordyce Letter. If you have something about which you are passionate, let me know and let’s have you write about it.
- I’m going to take breaks where I completely disconnect on a regular basis. Waiting a year (and quite honestly, it was longer than that) to completely disconnect from my work stressed me out a lot and caused me to overload on fun when I did. I take my health seriously, because being unhealthy affected so many aspects of the life I enjoy. Even if it’s only for one weekend every couple of months, I think this is needed to renew the love I have for what I enjoy — both personally and professionally.
Recruiters, I know the best way that most of you learn is through first-hand experience. I don’t wish any of the events of the last month of my life on any of you. The next best way to learn is through the mistakes of others. That’s evident in many of the articles we run here on Fordyce — stories of challenges you’ve been faced with, how you planned to overcome them, how you did overcome them, and the lessons you learned along the way.
Take a lesson from someone who learned it recently the hard way — take time for yourself once in awhile. I encourage you, as we approach a holiday weekend, to completely disconnect from your work — even if it”s only for one day — and allow yourself the chance to recharge your batteries, reconnect with those you love, and renew your passion for what you do — as well as who you are. You’ll be a more effective recruiter — as well as whatever else you are in life — when you do.