balance-154516_640“I had no choice,” I told my client, Beth. “I am not good at work-life balance because I wanted to be or because I somehow got lucky. I literally had no choice.”

I’d called Beth to catch up after she’d been out of the office on medical leave for several months. We’d worked closely for many years on a variety of projects and I wanted to find out how she was doing.

The topic of work-life balance had come up when she’d mentioned that she was the third person in her small work group of twenty to be diagnosed with cancer over the last several years. Cancer had been her very jarring wake up call to start paying attention to her well being and to stop sacrificing so much to the grueling demands of work. “It’s important to me to do a good job,” she confided in me. “But I won’t sacrifice my health.” She had a point.

I’d had a similar wake up call more than a decade ago. After years of sitting hunched in front of my computer for hours on end, checking email on vacation, and rising early on weekends and holidays to squeeze in work before my family got up, a debilitating autoimmune disease stopped me in my tracks.

I would sleep 12 hours and wake up just as exhausted as I had been when I went to bed. I couldn’t think. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember the number I dialed to check voice mail 20 times a day or the name of a person I’d been in a meeting with all day. And, I was in chronic pain so bad that some days all I could do was lie on the couch with a heating pad turned to the highest setting.

Unfortunately there was no magic pill I could take to alleviate these symptoms. Instead, I had to figure out a way to work anyway. I was self-employed and divorced. The only safety net I had was disability insurance. In my muddled state, I never thought to file for benefits.

Somehow I cobbled together strategies to get my work done in the little time I could devote to it with the little energy I had. All I could think about was the need to keep going.

More than a decade after I was initially diagnosed, I am feeling much better. It’s been like coming out of a long, dark, isolating tunnel. And, it’s still relatively recent. I finally figured out how to eradicate the chronic pain, one of the last lingering symptoms, in the past couple of months.

Yet, I can still only work approximately 4 to 6 hours a day. After that, I lose focus and find myself surfing the Internet, scrolling through social media feeds, and browsing my recommendations on Amazon. The latter has proven quite dangerous! The good news is that I am able to work enough to make a six-figure salary and a contribution to my field.

If I could give you just one piece of advice, I’d tell you to start paying attention to your well being today. Don’t wait until your health sidelines you. Beth and I were lucky. We are going to be okay. But, not everyone is that fortunate.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing the strategies I’ve developed to get it all done in the limited time I have. So, stay tuned!