We spend at least 30% of our lives at work. On average, that’s 900,000 hours over a lifetime. That’s a lot of hours. And if the statistics are also true that 80% of Americans are miserable at their jobs, maybe it’s time to devote some attention to occupational wellness or, to borrow the label du jour, “self-care.” The national conversation around self-care has sadly become associated more with indulging oneself (Netflix! Bubble bath! Chocolate!) than its original meaning defined by Google as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.” So by that definition, career self-care is the practice of taking action to preserve or improve the health of our professional lives.
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First of all, it’s clear that the concept of self-care is here to stay. It’s become a punchline, a marketing tool, and a popular hashtag to promote everything from lip gloss to botox to yoga apparel to herbal supplements. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with buying new yoga apparel or indulging in the occasional chocolate bar. It’s just a little bit of a slippery slope to label everything that feels good in the moment as “self-care.”
Secondly, I would argue that career self-care practices for Christian professionals are even more important than they are for people who are not believers. If you really believe the Bible and really think you are called to, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23) than you need to have a career self-care plan.
Christians are accustomed to thinking in terms of “spiritual disciplines.” But in addition to things like fasting, prayer, meditation, silence, and studying the Bible, what are some of the practices we can develop to specifically care for the self that spends 1/3 of our lives at work?
#1 Polish that resume
Maybe you weren’t expecting this, but never underestimate the power of an updated resume. The psychological benefits of having your foremost personal marketing document up-to-date and ready-to-go if needed are manifold. The same goes for your LinkedIn profile. Schedule time in your calendar every 3-6 months to add, subtract, edit, and tweak your resume. Check out Job Scan. Read articles like this one. Think of your resume as a living document. It needs to grow and evolve just as you do.
For many people, even the thought of pulling out their resume brings about a sense of dread, inadequacy, and anxiety. I get it! BUT the inner transformation that happens when your resume reflects your work-self at your best is night and day. I’ve seen it in others and experienced it myself. An amazing resume will remind you of your accomplishments, help you discover where your energy and passion lie, and assist you in defining your goals. Polishing your resume is work but it’s career self-care that pays off- quite literally!
My experience is anecdotal, but I think Christians (especially Christian women) struggle with their resumes because it seems to require “tooting their own horn” when we’ve been taught to be humble, modest, and never claim credit for anything. I think one way to shift out of that mindset is to reframe your resume as 1) evidence of a Creator who endowed you with unique gifts, skills, and abilities, and 2) a celebration of the work you’ve been empowered to do through the Holy Spirit.
#2 Create holy boundaries
Stop making your work an idol. There, I said it. An idol is anything you elevate, prioritize, or value more than God. How do you keep your work from becoming an idol? One way is to create boundaries between your work and personal life and enforce them.
Why is this so hard? There could be many reasons, but I believe it’s primarily because our jobs can become so intrinsically linked to our identity that we have a difficult time separating who we are from what we do. For those whose work is more like mission- such as those in the non-profit world, ministry, health care, etc. our availability seems that much more important.
This isn’t just about constantly being tethered to your email either (although that’s a great place to start). This is about using your vacation time. It’s about being present with your family at the end of the day. It’s making time to go to your annual checkups and staying at home when you’re sick. It’s choosing to confront conflict in your working relationships rather than stuffing it and hoping it will all go away.
For Christian professionals, this career self-care practice should be mandatory – protecting you not only from idolatry but from physical, emotional, and spiritual burnout…ultimately allowing you to continue in the good work you have been called to do.
#3 Invest in relationships
If you feel stuck in a rut in your work then this is a great practice to start. Find opportunities to connect with others: those in your office, those in the same field, those who are entering or exiting the workforce. Write thank-you notes or emails. Connect with people on LinkedIn. Stop eating lunch at your desk and join people in the break room. Give freely of your time and expertise. Mentor or coach someone. Call people you used to work with. Here’s some free advice: be interest-ed and you become interest-ing.
By the way, this is also called networking, a little term you might be familiar with but have an allergic reaction to. For the Christian professional, networking is more than just exchanging business cards. It’s seeking the best for others and finding out how you might serve them. It’s also having the courage to ask for help and having the humility to receive it when it’s offered.
#4 Develop your potential
This career self-care practice will mean different things to different people. Developing your potential might mean taking a training, obtaining a certification, or even going for a degree. Perhaps it’s finding a life or career coach to help you identify your purpose. Maybe it’s reading a book or listening to a podcast on personal growth. Set some goals for yourself and be intentional about tracking your progress and celebrating your successes.
How are you stewarding the gifts God has given you? Maybe this means examining the role you’re currently in. Is it a good fit? Or are you feeling called or beckoned into another area? Don’t be like the guy in the parable of the talents who was so afraid of screwing up he literally buried his talent in the ground. Of course, “talents” in this story are a form of currency, but in our careers, the same lesson applies. Develop mastery in the things that come naturally to you- but beware of the temptation to compare and rest on your laurels. As NBA star Kevin Durant points out, “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”
Simply put, this isn’t just a career self-care practice…it’s actually a command. If you’re a follower of Christ you have an obligation not just to accept the gifts God has given you, but to develop them.
#5 Start looking for God
If you are a believer, then your job is about more than just getting a paycheck so you can put food on the table. It’s a vocation, and the significance of where you are and what you do has implications far beyond this temporal world. There is a spiritual element at work in your work. Where is it? Do you see it? Where is God moving and working in the hallways and break rooms and cubicles of your workplace?
Gene Edward Veith writes about how the Reformation and Martin Luther transformed our understanding of vocation.
“Luther goes so far as to say that vocation is a mask of God. That is, God hides Himself in the workplace, the family, the Church, and the seemingly secular society…. Most people seek God in mystical experiences, spectacular miracles, and extraordinary acts they have to do. To find Him in vocation brings Him, literally, down to earth, makes us see how close He really is to us, and transfigures everyday life.God at Work (p. 24)
I don’t know about you, but if 80% of us are unhappy at our jobs then I think we could all use a little more “transfiguring of everyday life.” And don’t just assume that if you work in a helping profession or ministry or in a faith-based organization it’s always obvious to see God at work. In fact, sometimes when your faith is part of your job description, it can actually desensitize you to the spiritual aspect of your work.
If you work in the secular world you might struggle to make a connection between your work and your faith. One practice would be to start a simple habit of journaling or meditating on your answer to the question, “Where was God hiding today?”
Treat Yo’ Self vs. Career Self-Care
I interview people for a living and I often ask how they handle stress or what they do for self-care. Common answers are napping, going for a walk, listening to music, spending time alone, and journaling. These are all great things to do after you’ve had a difficult day to reset your frame of mind. But let’s be honest, you’re not likely to tell your interviewer your self-care is a Hoarders marathon while lying on your couch and eating a package of Oreos. Hoarders and Oreos fall under the umbrella of Treat Yo’ Self rather than the umbrella of actual Self-Care.
Moreover, self-care is a worthwhile endeavor when it has a future-oriented result. We go to bed early when we’d rather stay up to read another chapter or watch another episode…because we know we’ll feel better tomorrow. It feels great for a little bit to lay on the couch and play Candy Crush, but you know it’s a better investment to hit that cycling class because in the long run it’s better for you. It’s a deposit into your future health and well-being. Career self-care works the same way.
True career self-care activities are the things you do so that your future professional self will thank you. So: polish that resume, create good boundaries, invest in relationships, develop your potential, and start looking around for God. In other words, engage the practice of taking action to preserve or improve your own professional health. I know, some of these things are hard. Some of these things require discipline and delaying gratification. But that’s OK. Your future self will thank you.