Career Self Care with Minda Zetlin

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

On this episode, Minda Zetlin discusses the concept of career self care.

After the Interview:

About Minda Zetlin

Minda Zetlin is the author of Career Self-Care and writes the highly popular “Laid-Back Leader” column for Her articles and workshops offer research-backed advice to help ambitious people get the most out of their careers and their lives. Additionally, she is the author or coauthor of several books, most recently The Geek Gap. A former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), she lives in Snohomish, Washington. More information at

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is career self-care find your happiness, success and fulfillment at work. And our guest today is Minda Zetlin. Minda is the author of career self-care and writes the highly popular laid back leader column for Ink Magazine, excuse me, I apologize, which offers research backed advice to help ambitious people get the most out of their careers and their lives. Minda, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Minda: It’s cool. Well, so happy to be here.

Allison: I see your book behind you. And I’m just curious, who did you write if for? Who did you have in mind when you wrote the book?

Minda: Well, probably me 30 years ago. Really? It’s true. I mean, I describe it as you know, the advice I wish I could give to my younger self, which, if you’re familiar with ink is kind of a recurring theme there. So, but other than putting it that way, I’m ambitious, driven, professional people. I have presented to college students and such. So I think it’s for anyone anywhere, but I really thought about it for people who have kind of gotten some way into their career and are trying to find that balance and have a good life. And oh, it’s so hard to do sometimes. Yeah.

Allison: I agree that in your book, it kind of talks about why, you know, people may believe that if they indulge in self-care and work life balance and work less hard, take time off or whatnot, that it actually will hurt their careers. But in your research, you found that the opposite is true. Tell me more?

Minda: Well, yeah, there’s scientific studies. For example, there’s one at Stanford that showed that our greatest productivity is actually who work 40 hours a week, if not more, there’s lots of brain science to show why taking frequent breaks is really important for both creativity and learning. So there’s all kinds of you know, that kind of scientific research out there to support it. There’s also a for me a lot of anecdotal evidence, because I’ve talked to a lot of people who, when for whatever reason, they had to cut back on the number of hours they were working actually found that their careers at that point took off. So and to some degree, that actually happened to me, too. So there is some kind of empirical evidence of some sort that says that, you know, we think we need to add more hours to our work day, and our crazy society kind of encourages us to do that. But in fact, there probably is a better way.

Allison: I’ve personally found, after lots of working hard, and then realizing that a balanced, I’m a better person, and I’m a much better coach, mother, the wife, you know, all the things that come along with that. So I think that is a critical point.

Minda: It is. And I think, you know, one of the things I mean, I often get to this, at the end of a conversation said at the start, but this seems we’re right there. So let’s talk about it. You know, one of the things that I like to talk about is the responsibility or the duty to be happy, which is actually something Robert Louis Stevenson said, and I think we do have a duty to be happy. And I think that that’s particularly especially true for leaders, because you can’t really be a good leader, if you’re miserable. If you’re overworked, if you’re exhausted, you just you can’t be a good spouse, a good coach, a good coworker, partner, friend, or whatever, but you particularly can’t be a good boss. So since the leadership is the topic of the podcast, and I thought I’d start there and say that, you know, maybe the idea is to be a good leader of yourself and make sure you know, to put the oxygen mask in your own face first as one might say. Love it.

Allison: And what you imply there’s a dirty little secret about success. What is that?

Minda: Um, but my dirty little secret about success is there is no such location. There is no there. I think most of us spend a lot of our careers but I’ve been thinking about this for myself a lot lately, just because of circumstances. I have a new book out a lot of stuff is happening in Then, of course, always the questions what that strike. I think we always think that success is a point at which we will arrive and then we’ll look around, you know, like you climb to the top of the mountain, then you’re on top of the mountain and you say, Well, look, I’m here I’ve achieved success. And the fact of the matter is that whenever you achieve something, you see the next something that you want to achieve. So there is no actual destination called success.

The thing that I point to in the book just because it was such a such a striking story, is that when Jeff Bezos basically turn 38 states and city on their heads for a couple of years to supposedly find HQ to the second headquarters for Amazon after Seattle, he invited all these places to bid there was people call it a beauty contest, there was a lot of brouhaha. And ultimately, he didn’t wind up doing what he said he was going to do. He Amazon decided to split its HQ to its second headquarters and between two places, one in Virginia, one in Queens, New York. Well, turns out the residents of Queens, New York weren’t at all sure they wanted Amazon there. So as soon as they started getting some pushback, Amazon said, never mind, we won’t do it.

And Virginia was a place they had been big plans to expand their anyway regardless of HQ to so basically, the whole thing came down to not much. Well, it turned out Bloomberg did a an investigative report a few months after all this unraveled. And it turned out that Bezos was apparently motivated by extreme envy of the huge incentives. Elon Musk was getting, or Tesla was getting for building a gigantic factory in the desert in I think, Nevada. So I, you know, I mean, pause and think about this for a moment, Jeff Bezos was at that time, the richest person on earth, and yet, he was consumed by jealousy.

So if Jeff Bezos can’t feel like he’s achieved, the success that he wants, that he’s gotten everything he wants, you know, what hope is there for the rest of us. We’re not we’re not going to get there. We have to just recognize the fact that we’re going to keep achieving things and then wanting other things, and that’s, you know, human existence.

Allison: Okay. Yeah, I success is a thing that people pursue. And I don’t know that they know, even if they found it, what it would look like sometimes, right? We have talked a lot on the topic of remote work over the last few years, and it being a shifting, more acceptable way of accomplishing what we get to do in our career right. To apply back to career self-care, do you feel that remote workers are because they have the flexibility, providing more career self-care or less?

Minda: Ooh, that’s a tricky question. And I say this as someone who’s worked at home for many decades, so the pandemic didn’t really change much for me. Well, it did. Because all of a sudden, instead of being the only person on zoom in a meeting, because all of my colleagues were in New York, in because of New York, and I’m in Seattle, all of a sudden, all of us were on Zoom, and it was a much more level playing field. So there was a fair amount of that kind of really wonderful change to my work life, but much of it was still the same, because I’ve worked at home before and I work at home still. So I think, I think it depends. And I think it’s something we all, both as employees and his bosses need to think about.

One version of working at home is you have more control over your own schedule, you’re not wasting large segments of your life commuting. If you have kids on, you don’t necessarily have to send them elsewhere, or bring someone in to take care of them. Although you might choose to. You can cook your own lunch, you can walk your dog because all you can go outside which is has enormous health and brain benefits. So all those things can be more part of our self-care when we’re working at home. The flip side is we expect ourselves to be on and available all the time. Being in front of a zoom camera for many people is more exhausting than being in in a physical meeting.

Many there’s been research coming out lately about how much people who are working at home have to somehow prove that they’re still working. Elon Musk blanketly said everybody who’s working at home is just pretending. Personally if I take that personally because I’ve been working at home for so long, I guess I haven’t done any work in last 30 years. So there is end to a bigger degree your workspaces in your home space, right? You’re looking into my home right now, I might be looking into yours, I’m not sure. But um, you know, all of that makes the line between work and life blurrier. So one thing for sure the work, the line between work and life is getting blurrier, and it was getting blurrier even before the pandemic, but the pandemic has made it so much less distinct. So how we manage that separation, or that distinction becomes even more challenging and even more important in a world where people are working at home or working hybrid?

Allison: Thank you. I, I think that it is an interesting concept of this career self-care, and then also the remote working. And I’d say in most circumstances, I don’t agree with them. On that one, is people, it’s very blurry. And it’s hard to distinguish the difference between work and home, and therefore you likely are working longer and harder. And hopefully, we can shift people’s thinking about taking advantage of the benefits to you can have self-care, even if you’re working for now.

Minda: Yes, no, I agree. I’m sorry. To cut you off there. That’s okay. I think that one of the challenges that we have, especially as leaders is that more recent research suggests that people who are working at home have to spend a lot of their time reading that they’re working. And it is true that if you aren’t managing by line of sight, as people used to say, you know, you know, I used to work in a place where there was just one woman who stayed until late in the evening, and the editorial director of our department was so admired because like, Wow, she’s so great. She never leaves. And those of us who were her colleagues knew that she was not going home. And he gave me because she was not succeeding and getting the job done. She was really struggling.

And it took them a very long time to tweak to that because they were managing by line of sight. Well, if you can’t do that, if you can’t just observe how long someone is at their office, and please don’t be tracking them on their computer. That’s counterproductive, I think. Then you do have to figure out a way to set goals and parameters that will tell you how well someone’s doing it their job. But consider the fact that if people have to spend a lot of their time justifying or validating the fact that they’re getting their job done, every minute that they spent doing that is a minute that they didn’t spend actually doing their job.

Allison: Yeah, it’s a an unenviable position to have to be in for sure. The you pose a question? And I’ll just position it I often get asked what is the difference between a consultant and a coach? And yours is kind of similar than that, to that? What is the difference between a mentor and a spouse? And why do you need both?

Minda: I think sponsor Did I did I actually say that? sponsor? Thank you and mentor and sponsor Okay, work and a sponsor? And why do you need both? You need both and especially as you get aligned on those two, so it’s best to Yeah, actually, I mean, that spouses is also a really good thing for your career. That’s a whole other conversation. But I there’s a chapter in the book about how important your relate your personal relationships are to your career success. So that’s actually something I really believe. But back to your actual question. So a mentor, and by the way, you shouldn’t have one mentor, you should probably have multiple mentors, is someone who can help guide you by giving you valuable information. So it might be somebody that you work with someone in your company probably isn’t your direct supervisor. Although it might be somebody who’s done what you want to do or knows how what you want to do gets done and can give you advice. And also inside insight like you don’t want to go work.

Like for example, my friend show me and a hero promote her book. Show your worth, literally came out on the same day as my book. And she was the highest ranked woman of color, IBM, she started life in a small town in Tanzania in poverty, and she wound up there. It’s quite an amazing story. She was trying to become a top executive at IBM and she went to a woman that she knew and I think the hardware department and said, I’m hoping you can find a position for me because my ambitions to is to reach a much higher echelon of leadership. And that person who was your mentor said, Listen, if you want to reach the levels you’re trying to meet, you can’t do it in the hardware division, you need to get into services, or software. So you need to actually find different paths. That’s really valuable information, that’s an entry. And you can have a mentor who is assigned to you by the company that you’re in.

There’s mentorship programs that are often very valuable both for the people being mentored and the people doing the mentoring, for their careers. And, you know, you can have a mentor who’s not in your workplace, who can tell you what the general environment of both your industry or your profession are. So there’s all kinds of mentors out there.

A sponsor is a whole other thing, a sponsor is somebody who will look out for you if you’re not in the room. So an interesting project comes up, your sponsor puts your name forward for it. There’s a threat or a danger, your sponsor warns you, there’s several different people being evaluated for a position your sponsor speaks up for you. That’s not something that the company can assign to you. Because a sponsor is someone who you have impressed so much with your abilities and your talent and your drive, that they want to do that, because they believe in you. Especially as you get to, if you’re climbing the corporate ladder in a large organization.

As you’re getting to those higher levels, you really need sponsors, because you get to a level where just being super good at your job, and super good at dealing with other people isn’t good enough, because there’s going to be many other people with those same abilities and those same skills and experiences in competition for a much smaller number of available leadership roles. At that point, you need sponsors, and ideally, sponsors from different parts of your organization to help push you over that final line. If that’s a sponsor?

Allison: Do you ask for a sponsor? Or do you earn a sponsor?

Minda: Well, you have to Whether you ask or not, you have to earn a sponsor. You can’t you can’t go to someone who doesn’t, doesn’t have great experience with you, and say, Hey, would you suggest me for interesting opportunities? Because they have no particular reason to do that? You could, though, make it clear to someone who might potentially be a sponsor that that’s what you want. No, I really dream like as like my French Amina, did I really dream of having a higher level of leadership in my career? So that might get the sponsors thinking about putting you forward for positions where they might not have if you hadn’t said that? But ultimately, they have to really believe because, right, it’s their own reputation and their own credibility on the line. You never none of us ever want to recommend someone for a position of responsibility and then have them not perform well. So yeah, you can ask, but first you muster.

Allison: I like the distinction a lot. In your book, you talk about power journaling. Tell us more about it. How do you do it? And how does it help you reach your goals?

Minda: Oh, I’m sure so for me, a journal is an enormous motivational and self awareness tool. And let me back up for a second because I’m going to talk about how I do it. But before I do, I want to stress that journaling is very individual activity, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. And what works for me might absolutely not work for you or for someone else or for anyone listening to this. So as with a lot of things, but journaling in particular, I think the key is to figure out what you enjoy and what feels meaningful to you. And that might be writing. It might be handwriting, it might be typing on a screen or on your phone, it might be doodling. It might be video.

One of my favorite episodes of Grace and Frankie Grace has is facing a dilemma and she’s not sure what to do. And Frankie says you have to block turn on a video and just talk to the video. And Frankie does. Grace does this rather and it works. She figures out exactly what she needs to do.

So journaling doesn’t necessarily mean writing in a journal. It’s all of these things. It’s whatever is effective for you In your own self exploration. So having said that, for me, it very much literally is sitting with a journal that I’ve bought somewhere, or someone has given me with a fountain pen, and writing. And so, and I’ve been doing that since I was an adolescent. And for many, many years, it was really basically the repository of all my thoughts. And you know, if I was upset about something, and I didn’t know about it, it’s a writer thing, I guess. Then at some point, I read Julia Cameron is the artists way, which has the suggestion that you write three longhand pages every morning to like work out the kinks in your mind, I started sometimes doing that I found that useful. And then, a couple of years ago, I watched the three minute bullet journal video. So I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with bullet journaling. If not, it’ll take you three minutes to learn exactly all about it.

Allison: They may not be, but I would encourage them to do that.

Minda: Right. And you know, and what I do isn’t bullet journaling. And bullet journaling is not a tool for self exploration. And it’s it has, to me a little bit less functionality as a motivational tool, but is a really great organizational tool. And the thing is that I kind of put these things together into what I call power, power journaling. So the brilliance of the bullet journal, the brilliant innovation that for me is like a game changer is so simple. It’s numbering the pages of your journal, and writing an index in the beginning, where you list what’s on each page so that later on, you can find it.

Simple thing, but really, really helpful. So what I do is kind of a combination of all these things. So my journal is where I write down, you know, what I have going on this week, what my goals are, for the week, what the tasks are that I want to accomplish this week, and then this month, and then also tasks that I want to accomplish, not necessarily this month, but sometime in the future. And I usually try to save when in the future, because if you write down a goal, you should have a goal date for when you’re going to have it done. Otherwise, it’s just going to float out there in the ether forever.

You know, so I try to try to have that specificity. It’s also where I write down what I’m thinking what I’m feeling well, I work out the kinks in my brain still. And one other thing. It’s where at the end of the day, not every day, but most days, I write like a quick one or two sentences about everything good that I got done that day. And I do it right before I go to sleep to prime my brain with this bit of positivity. And the reason I think it’s important for me is because I’m one of these people, and maybe some listeners out there are too, who frequently gets to the end of the day, and is mostly disappointed in myself for all the things I didn’t get done, right? We all do that.

I think the fact is, a lot of times we didn’t get a lot done, and we just haven’t paid attention to the stuff we accomplished. So if I make myself write down today, I wrote a column for ink and not today I wrote a column for even though I wanted to write to write, just say what it was that I did that was good. And then what I really want to make sure I focus on tomorrow. And that’s it one or two sentences takes less than a minute. And it’s a really helpful tool for staying on top of what I’m doing and staying motivated for what I’m doing.

Allison: Yeah. And it also gives you an opportunity to reflect on the day as to what you did accomplish that is working towards your goals, which I think is fantastic.

Minda: right? And it’s totally fine to just spend, you know, if you like dribbling at night, it’s totally fine to spend more time and write more down. That’s this is just my particular process. But once again, every it’s different for everyone.

Allison: Yeah. So being career focused. There’s a lot of people that are in jobs that they don’t see the opportunity to become the leader they want to be, they may be even doing tasks or in a role that is no longer fulfilling or something that they’re passionate about. So ultimately, they’re not loving their work. What do they do next?

Minda: Ah, well, that’s a tough question. And we’re facing a complicated and ever changing economic landscape, which complicates the answer further. So I would say the most important thing is not what you do, but what you don’t do and don’t do nothing. Don’t just grin and Barrett. Don’t just say, Oh, well, I’m happy I have a job. Can you get a better job? I don’t know. You don’t know. But you won’t know until you find out And often the reason people dislike their jobs, not always, but often the research suggests the reason people dislike their job is not what but who, who you’re working with most, especially who you’re working for. And if that’s the case, that may not be an insurmountable problem, right, because maybe you could find if you’re in a larger organization, you could make a lateral move that might not be that difficult, that would help you find someone else to work for.

Or even if you can’t do that, maybe you can work on projects with someone else that would take you away from the difficult, whoever is making your life miserable a little bit more. There. You know, I also talk in the book about dealing with toxic people. That’s a whole other chapter. So there may be ways to mitigate the relationship you’re having. I’m not saying that’s the only reason you dislike your job, people just like their jobs for a lot of reasons. But that is a surprisingly high one, according to surveys.

So the important thing, I think, is to gather and start by gathering information, find out what other opportunities might exist free where you are, what other opportunities might possibly exist for you elsewhere, that could take the shape of talking to colleagues, former colleagues who’ve moved to other companies, trade groups, meetups, places where you can meet other people who might do what you do, or might know about other opportunities, do the start by doing the research. And then you can make some decisions about what you might want to try to do. And you might at the end of this entire process, and wind up sticking in the job that you’re in. But it’s really important, I think, to do what you can to make yourself happy at work, because the amount of time that we’ll spend in our lives at work is really a huge chunk. And if you’re going to be unhappy, it’s really not good.

Allison: Minda, thank you very much for joining us today. I want to just point out to our listeners that the her book, Career Self-Care is available on Amazon, and will be a link in the show notes to this episode. Minda, what is the very best way for people to connect with you?

Minda: Oh, there’s all kinds of ways but probably the simplest would be my website. you could also just Google Minda Zetlin because I have an odd name. Not to be confused with anyone else. So from my website, you can find links to my ink column to the book to daily texts that I send out if you’re interested in that to my newsletter, you know all there’s all different ways to get inside my brain. And you know, other than that, find me on ink or wherever.

Allison: Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.

Minda: You too. Thanks so much.

I'm Allison Dunn,

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