- Perspective by Bahram Akradi -

First Things First

Life is full of tricky balancing acts, but there are some priorities that always deserve top billing.

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There’s an inherent tension, in many of our lives, between our concerns with money, work and health. Because these sectors overlap in some complex ways, balancing and prioritizing them can present a tough challenge.

Being short of money or lacking a job can negatively affect your health, of course  — particularly if it means you can’t afford decent food and healthcare or a safe place to live and are constantly anxious about your family’s survival.

Then again, your health can also suffer from having a high-paying, high-pressure job, particularly if it comes with health-compromising stress levels, or if its demands leave you with no time or focus to properly care for yourself.

And, as we’ve seen highlighted in recent news coverage of the healthcare debate, being in poor health can absolutely destroy both your professional opportunities and your financial well-being.

So how does an individual go about making sense of which priorities to put first? It may help to briefly imagine a worst-case scenario: If you suddenly found yourself broke, unemployed and at death’s door, which one problem would you pray to have resolved first?

The answer, at least in my mind, is obvious: You’d want your health back — because without it, there’s no way you could pursue a career; no way you could make sustainable use of your financial resources; no way for you to properly care for and provide for your loved ones; and no way for you to enjoy all the other good things life has to offer.

The next level of prioritizing — work or money — can be a little trickier. It depends, first, on your real-life personal situation. If you happen to be independently wealthy and your work is something you do purely for personal satisfaction, the answer is easy: The quality and intrinsic rewards of your job, not the dollars that come with it, are going to be your highest concern.

But in the case that you are struggling to make ends meet, and particularly if you have a family to support, I’d argue that your first concern is finding a job that generates enough income to cover your basic requirements — but I’m not talking wants here, I’m talking bare-minimum needs.

If you can find a job that does that and aligns with your interests, passions and values, terrific. But what if you can’t? My personal opinion is that you should take the best job you can find and do decent work at it while still reserving enough energy and focus to keep looking for something better.
Why? Because the stress that comes with not being able to provide for your own and your dependents’ fundamental needs is likely to be far worse than the stress that comes from working a so-so job that you find less than fulfilling — at least in the short term.

I say “in the short term” because I also believe that working an unfulfilling job for years at a time is asking for trouble. Unless you are actively training or looking for something you find more fulfilling, your “just for the money, just for right now” job (no matter how well it pays) will, over time, start to undermine your health, happiness and relationships. It will also keep you trapped in a cycle of negativity, blunting your career chances and earning potential in the long term.

What you want, of course, is an upward spiral where a foundation of good health and vitality supports your ability to pursue the work you love and do best, and where that work pays well enough to allow you to continually invest in both your own and your family’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

But in the event that you are currently experiencing a shortage in any of these areas, my advice is this:

  • First, do everything in your power to safeguard your health: Keep yourself as well nourished, physically fit, rested and positive-minded as you possibly can.
  • Next, ensure that you have decent employment that provides enough financial stability to provide for your own and your family’s most basic needs.
  • If you’re currently able to make a living doing a job that aligns with your values and passions, congratulations. Even if you’re not making a fortune, your earning potential will probably grow over time. If your job is mostly about the paycheck right now, commit today to begin searching for work that lights you up.

Whatever you do, remember that no matter how important your quest for career satisfaction or wealth may seem to you now, neither one is worth risking your health for. You only get one body after all. And wherever you’re headed, you don’t want to get there without your vitality intact.

Bahram Akradi is the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness.

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