Many of us have a moment that seemingly alters the course of our life. Suddenly, there’s your life before, and after that event. The pandemic represents that for most of us. But for me, the moment my life cleaved in two happened in a 12-hour period of travel from Vancouver to London.
It was one of the many business trips that I would take weekly as the chief brand officer (CBO) at Bumble, flying to international locations to promote our women-led revolution in dating. For a decade, I had been living with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition, but, as I’d said just a month before on a podcast, it had never really affected my ability to work. Until suddenly it did.
I was in multi-layered pain from my head to my feet and having difficulty walking, so I needed to take time off from Bumble. The experience of needing to take time off from work to get well made me dramatically rethink my relationship to health and the protections we afford to people as a country and society.
As a team member since day one at Bumble, I regularly put in long hours. It felt worth it. A big part of my job was normalizing not just a product, but an attitude. I saw firsthand the power of a positive mission shifting social narratives. It was electric.
But in many ways, my identity had become tied up in my work. I took for granted the things that my health afforded, including the ability to work the way that I did. It was easy for me, as a healthy woman in my early 30s, not to think about my health—or to have a safety net. Here’s the advice I’d give my younger self.
Expect the unexpected
The reality is I’m far from alone in having the unexpected happen during my prime working years. I was shocked to discover that approximately one in three people in the United States will need to take time off for health issues before they retire, and approximately eight million adults have some sort of condition that limits or prevents them from working. As a society, it’s become the norm to plan for things even after death through options like life insurance. But we also need to normalize—and plan for—the fact that most of us will need to or have had to take time away from work at some point.
Prioritize your wellness
It’s become fashionable to talk about wellness as an almost elite status symbol. The reality is that many of us do not have the time, education, awareness, or ability to prioritize our own health. But self-care is not selfish. This isn’t “woo woo” or feel-good advice. It’s imperative to find the approach that works for you. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, remote work has caused us to lose our ability to find a balance in working from home, and it’s leading to quicker levels of burn-out, stress, and exhaustion.
As a society, we tend to glorify overworking as the key to success. However, taking space to ensure your health, from drawing boundaries at work to—yes—booking preventive care appointments, is critical to your long-term wellbeing. By taking care of yourself, you improve your ability to work well.
Save and safeguard your income
So much of standard financial education and advice, especially those aimed at women, focuses on saving for an emergency fund. While that is certainly a crucial step to prepare for any financial storms, sometimes accepted approaches overlook the key aspect of investing, in yourself and your future.
My health crisis woke me up to just how much my health was also connected to my finances. I realized if you don’t have your finances in order and are stressed about money, it’s incredibly difficult to focus on your health and wellbeing. I experienced this even though I was one of the lucky ones: My employer supported me. But nearly half of U.S. workers have no such safeguard.
In a time where more and more of us work freelance gigs, side-hustles, and are self-employed, I fear this dynamic is only getting worse and is, therefore, something that more young people need to think about now. To borrow a dating reference, let your knight in shining armor be the way you take care of your physical, mental, and financial wellness now, so you can safeguard your own future happily ever after, regardless of what life throws your way.
Alex Williamson is the CEO and cofounder of Asteya, an online platform connecting workers with income insurance.