Career success isn’t accidental and doesn’t happen by a stroke of luck. In honor of May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I assembled strategies from 10 highly-successful people who shared work habits that helped them maintain superior mental health, scale obstacles and excel in their careers. These scientifically-backed strategies can help you reach your career goals as well.
1.Cultivate self-acceptance. Worldwide meditation expert, Tara Brach, author of the new book, Trusting The Gold, recognized the importance of radical self-acceptance to mitigate the damage of her own feelings of unworthiness in her twenties: I realized there could be no freedom unless I could accept myself just as I was. I’ve been working on bringing compassion and mindfulness to self-judgment for a long time. We’re given all these standards. Every one of us can spend many moments feeling as if we’re falling short of the standard. Making a commitment in advance for self-compassion makes a difference, knowing in our intuitive wisdom, we can be more of the person we know is possible when we get in the habit of self-kindness.
2.Maintain work/life balance. Activist Gloria Steinem recalled the dread of not knowing who she would find when she came home as a child: a mother whose speech was slurred by tranquilizers, a figure on the couch, talking to unseen voices or a woman wandering the neighborhood. Caretaking her mother prepared Steinem for assuming the emotional burdens of women of the world—sometimes at the expense of her own self-care. Steinem said, Only when I was forced by one too many episodes of burnout did I begin to see work as an irreplaceable part of my life, but not the whole of my life. And only then did I begin to focus on what I could uniquely do instead of trying to do everything—thus beginning to be far more effective as a worker.
3.Let go of the uncontrollable. Singer/songwriter/actress and oldest daughter of iconic singer Diana Ross and record mogul Barry Gordy, Rhonda Ross, learned our power lies in controlling the way we respond to what’s happening when we can’t control what’s happening. She told me: I like to think of life as a sailboat. The wind comes, but you don’t get angry at the wind and say, “Why are you coming from the north? You’re not supposed to be coming from the north!” You adjust your sails and keep going by adjusting your sails. That’s where your power is: the adjustment of how you handle what’s coming at you. I think we get into the habit of complaining about everything from the weather to our circumstances. Just the alleviation of that one habit can change how you think.
4.Embrace uncertainty. Two-time Dancing With The Stars champion and actress, Julianne Hough, told me she attributes her career success and happiness to embracing uncertainty: To embrace uncertainty, to surrender to the unknown, as hard as that may be, I believe that’s where the magic happens. If we already know what we want, we’ve already set a limitation for ourselves. When you go into the unknown, you go into the light, the complete uncertainty and you have no idea, but that’s when you can create ultimate possibility. So, embrace the unknown, embrace the presence of, “I have no idea what tomorrow will hold, but I do have the power and control within myself to make a choice of who I am today.
5.Stay connected to others. The 21st Surgeon General of the United States under the Biden Administration, Dr. Vivek Murthy, told me that as a child, he struggled with feelings of loneliness. His message for success is to avoid isolation, stay connected with others and, when you’re struggling, open up to someone you trust: One of the reasons I never told my parents about feeling lonely was there’s a feeling among many—and certainly it was true for me when I was young—that if you’re lonely, you’re somehow not likable. Or you’re not capable of being loved. And nobody wants to feel that way about themselves. I certainly didn’t. Whenever we struggle with a problem and can’t share it, it further isolates us. If you’re lonely and your lizard brain warns you of all sorts of consequences, your decision to not open up further holds you back and exacerbates the problem.
6.Develop dogged perseverance. Environmental activist, extolled in the 2000 Oscar-winning film aptly titled Erin Brockovich, Erin Brockovich made history helping residents of Hinkley, California win a massive arbitration against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. As a child, her parents talked to her about stick-to-itiveness, giving her the power to believe in herself. She told me, This (stick-to-itiveness) is a very powerful word—the propensity to follow through in a determined manner, dogged persistence born of obligation and stubbornness. And I took that to heart and applied it to everything I did. You’ve got to tap into who you are and rise from that place. Since the film, her name has become a household word—even a verb. “To Erin Brockovich something” means to investigate and advocate for a cause without giving up.
7.Stick your neck out. Four time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter, India.Arie, said for much of her early music career, she harbored fears of writing and singing her beliefs that went against a conventional religious upbringing. Eventually, she got the nerve to get out of her comfort zone. India told me: I was afraid to say certain things in my songs. My own personal lesson is that my lizard brain had me thinking it was dangerous to write these songs. It kept me thinking at the beginning of my career that I couldn’t sing these things. Yet, once I got free of that, every time I sing ‘One,’ I get a standing ovation. I was able to go all the way from being afraid to sing a song like ‘I Am Light’ and to sing it at the Grammy’s. I didn’t win that award, but I got a standing ovation. That was a whole other type of win. It felt good to come into my own in that moment in a public forum.
8.Replenish yourself to scale setbacks. CEO and Founder of Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington, woke up in a pool of blood after an episode of burnout caused her to break her cheekbone, requiring several stitches in her eye. She told me what she learned and how it changed her: Looking back at my life, I could clearly see how often I had reacted emotionally to challenges, overreacted to the inevitable hardships of life, and all too often lived in a fight-or-flight state. So, what I learned the hard way—why do we keep learning lessons the hard way?!—is that when I replenish my own resources, I can get through these setbacks much faster. But lessons of resilience are not just about life’s big, painful challenges, but also about the everyday setbacks that throw us off completely disproportionately to their significance. People have meltdowns because their flight is delayed or someone cut them off on the freeway. And the more we practice building our resilience muscle in our daily lives—being mindful about dealing with small setbacks—the better positioned we’ll be to deal with the big ones.
9.Develop self-compassion. ABC news anchor and best-selling author, Dan Harris, told me he discovered that self-compassion provides fuel for career success: Over the last couple years, I’ve noticed my attitude toward the lizard brain is warmer. Just as you say, it’s not bad. It’s trying to serve you, to protect you, however, unskillfully often. Instead of meeting the aggression with more aggression, blow it a kiss and say, “I get it. I salute you. Welcome to the party.” There is this idea in Western culture that we’re going to slay our dragons, but I think it’s hugging the dragon that is the key.
10.Remember your priorities. The iconic singer/songwriter and multiple Grammy winner, Alanis Morissette told me that tomorrow has no guarantees. I asked her one piece of parting advice she would give people in the workplace about career success: I would say, “deathbed it.” People say you can’t take work with you. I do meditation sometimes, as macabre as this may sound. I’m on my deathbed and these are my last moments in this body. I’m definitely not thinking about work. It’s my relationships I so often see in these meditations. If we overwork in a world where technology supersedes the soul, we lose that sense of connection. For me, it’s about matching both—humanity and technology. When you match both, mountains are moved.
Erin Brockovich, Dan Harris, Julianne Hough, Arianna Huffington and Alanis Morissette—all will appear at Resiliency 2021, the free international live stream on Zoom open to everyone, September 9, 2021.