Oh, the glamour of being a planner! Long hours of work, stressful travel, enjoying elegant meals, and not sleeping enough hours to ensure we’re operating at peak performance. Welcome to the lifestyle that most planners are accustomed to, and, because we DO love the pace and excitement our careers offer, we self-sabotage our own self-care. But at what cost?
A Change in Perspective
For 24 years, I’ve been in the meetings industry. Throughout my career, My standard operating procedure was working extra hours, not eating well (and sometimes not eating at all), not getting enough sleep, not exercising regularly, and making myself available to clients 7 days a week.
Between my parents instilling a strong work ethic in me and working alongside the best talent in the industry as I was coming up, the people I admired were always busy and so I believed I needed to be that way, too! The flipside of this is that I was guilty of judging colleagues over the years who’d leave the office on time, exercise regularly, graciously decline scrumptious foods, and take the entire weekend off to recharge for the next week as not being dedicated enough.
Recently, I had dinner with a trusted colleague who is health conscious. When we ordered, I was pleased that we both skewed toward ordering healthy entrees. This ignited a lively conversation about how UN-healthy many in our industry are. Rich foods are available in abundance and we love it! Hotels and venues dazzle our senses with good food, wine, and desserts at site visits, board meetings and hosted client events. Too many of us in the industry may not be practicing good self-care, and the lack of awareness will eventually catch up to people we care about with health issues.
How many of these daily work behaviors can YOU relate to?
- Working seven days a week (a few hours each day on the weekends to get ahead of the curve before the next week starts)
- Getting out of bed around 5:30 am to be at your desk by 7:00 am (And working with 6 hours or less sleep)
- NOT eating breakfast (rather, subsisting on coffee)
- Working productively, but not taking any breaks as you multitask between client projects
- Being surprised when you learn it’s already 1pm and you haven’t eaten a meal yet!
- Eating poorly, just for the sake of eating. (Fast food, processed food, fried food, whatever! I’ve got to get back to my desk. There’s work to do!)
- Staying in the office late and not taking a break or having dinner at a reasonable time
- Saying “yes” to too many non-essential evening meetings and industry events because you “have to be there” to be seen!
A Learning Experience
I’m a living testament to what happens when you don’t practice good self-care. Listen to your body, and what happens after a life-threatening health experience. On August 24, 2018, my life changed drastically, by no choice of my own! Starting in early August, my body began sending me “signs” that something was wrong. I went to the ER, was released, added a cardiologist to my medical team the next day, had a barrage of tests done and finally had to push in to see my GP, who sent me for a nuclear stress test the next morning. I learned I’d had a heart three days earlier and my heart was completely blocked. The heart surgeon told me that I would die if I didn’t have immediate surgery. A mere three hours later, I was on the operating table and had two stents put in my heart. Afterwards, I had to await my fate. I was thankful to learn I had heart disease versus heart failure which is hereditary on my mother’s side.
My heart attack was a huge wake-up call to look hard at how I’d been living and working for years. Reaching the point of such detrimental health certainly doesn’t happen overnight!
Everything on the above list used to be me! Now, however, it’s flipped, and wellness/ self-care are the priorities in my life.
I have successfully changed not only how I work but also when I work. I’ve successfully changed business relationships, too. At first, I was quite anxious about being brave enough to tell clients what I would and would not be able to do moving forward. Their response? Full support. Not only did I have their support, my experience was a wake-up call for many of them to make lifestyle changes, too.
Making Good Choices for Better Wellness and Self-Care
Learning how to make good choices for our own well-being is the place to start, and it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Some changes can happen gradually. I’m not a doctor, but I found that focusing on the changes that are sensible and doable make the whole process easier. You’ll find after incorporating them into your life successfully, it may spill over into how you approach the meetings you plan as well: The menu decisions for meals and breaks at meetings may change and increasing your F&B budget to serve more “fresh” menu items might become much more feasible than it seemed before. You may even restructure the daily meeting schedule to provide time for attendees to work out or exercise and mentally recharge.
Diet: What we eat is MORE important than how hard we work out!
I never believed this until I was forced to pay attention to what I was eating because of my heart. I made required changes that turned out to be so easy, I wished I’d been aware when I was younger.
- Understand Food Labels: If you’ve never met with a nutritionist or dietician, I encourage you to do so. Many major grocery stores offer complimentary professional services with a nutritionist on staff to help assess your diet and even shop with you. Learning to read labels for fats, sodium, carbohydrates, sugars, and caloric intake is the first step to changing your diet.
- Remove Processed Foods: It may be time to break up with some of the foods we all love so much, such as bacon, fast food, fried food, packaged meats, and food with lots of sugar.
- Make an Effort to Eat Clean: Instead of a bagel or donuts for breakfast, switch to oatmeal, a slice of whole-grain bread (with avocado; even better), or yogurt with fresh berries. For lunch (and dinner), learn to appreciate the simple goodness of a big salad, and make fish or meat with lots of fresh vegetables a standard. If you can, skip pastas and cream-based entrees as often as possible.
- Eating Out Can Still Be Delicious: At a business lunch or dinner? Ask the staff to substitute pasta/rice with vegetables and bring you fresh fruit for dessert. Most often nowadays, I find that event organizers are paying more attention to providing healthier meals.
Exercise: Even 20 minutes of exercise will make a difference for you physically and mentally!
- Be consistent: It takes 3 weeks to form a habit, so make a commitment to yourself and stay on course. The time to exercise is different for each person. What works for me is SCHEDULING my workouts on my calendar (I do 4-5 times per week; try to get 3 days a week minimum) There will always be times when you need to move days/times around. But, consider your exercise dates to be as important as any business appointment.
- Exercising while traveling: Don’t fall into the trap of NOT exercising while traveling. All the hotels provide a gym of some sort. Be one of those people IN the gym that you’re always inspired by as they walk past you in the hotel lobby.
- Find something you love: Walking? Biking? Boxing? Hiking? Lifting weights? Dancing? If you love what you’re doing, you’ll stay motivated.
- Engage a personal trainer: I’m a huge advocate of letting a professional help get a plan in place. Even if it’s just short-term to learn form and movement, it’ll prove helpful so you can work out confidently anywhere you go.
Sleep: You need it!
Even JLo needs 9 hours of sleep every night! The norm for adults is 7 hours, and the number of hours of sleep we need each night is unique for each of us. For years, I only slept 5 hours a night and considered myself to be a superhero because of how productive I was daily with little sleep! Sound familiar? Now, I average 7 solid hours of sleep and fully respect the restorative power of sleep. Suggestion: Back into what time you retire for the night based on what you have on tap for the next day.
Stop saying yes to everything!
The very nature of our industry is to be of service to others. Unfortunately, there are times we say “yes” (to projects, industry events, volunteer work) to the detriment of our own self-care. Carefully review your schedule. Don’t overbook yourself where you may end up with extra-long days of activity that includes non-essential meetings and events.
Results of changing my diet, exercise and work behaviors
I am WOKE! I’ve lost over 30 pounds, learned to respect food as fuel, work out 4-5 times per week, aim for 7-8 hours of sleep, don’t go into the office on weekends (except for deadline-driven work), and have trained myself, on a daily basis, to push back from the desk during the day to make sure I eat, exercise, and take a mental break.
Being aware and then making the effort toward small changes in your lifestyle and workstyle will ensure you’re healthy, working at peak levels, and proactively being responsible for your own well-being. Remember, whatever work is in front of you today will be there tomorrow, too. Pace yourself and reset expectations others place on you. You’re worth it!
About Patty Stern
Patty has been in the meeting and event industry for over 20 years and is an award-winning industry professional who understands that successful meeting, conference and event planning is equal parts content development, logistics, communication, marketing, production, and onsite savvy!
Patty has worked with Fortune 500 companies, Celebrities, Dignitaries, National Non-Profits and Professional Sports Teams, guiding their event marketing and conference/event planning. She started her company in 2001 in Dallas, Texas, moved to New York City in 2008, and currently resides in New Jersey. She is an award-winning planner who has been recognized multiple times for her leadership and contributions to the meeting and event industries.