Transformational Tales: Managing personal wellbeing

Written by
Helmut Schuster, adviser, BP

13 Jul 2020

13 Jul 2020 • by Helmut Schuster, adviser, BP

Taking time to look after your wellbeing and continually reassessing your priorities can help you manage your career more effectively, writes Helmut Schuster of BP.

It was never my plan to enter the corporate world. In my teens, I aspired to become an Olympic swimmer, a writer or a researcher. I always liked my independence and I always will. 

So when I ended up in a corporate job, I found the lack of autonomy at times overwhelming. There were days when I found myself irritated doing things that others felt were important that I considered a waste of time. On top of this, there were seasons of constant pressure and never-ending work. These realities compelled me to find ways of dealing with the complexities in my life and remain in control of my wellbeing. 

Managing personal wellbeing

For me, wellbeing comes first. No matter how well my calendar is managed or how few actions I need to handle, if I am not mentally present, I will not perform. Over the years I have developed a few practices that have made all the difference: 

  1. Productive mornings: “Win the morning and you win the day”; it’s a slightly indulgent quote but one that I believe. My morning routine is core to my being. For many years now each morning I’ve woken up early to swim, read the FT, meditate, and enjoy a cup of coffee. This time allows me to think, explore ideas, and ready myself for the day. Since lockdown, I’ve been missing my morning swim, but I’ve replaced it with live video yoga classes using the Urban app. 
  1. Regular exercise: On top of swimming I regularly mix in hot yoga, weight training, and Pilates. This habit is vital for my physical and mental health. And speaking of hot yoga, if you’ve never tried it – I challenge you to do it at least once! And last physical tip, during those extra busy weeks, I also find getting a massage on a Friday afternoon can do wonders.
  1. Reassess periodically: Lastly, some wisdom from Steve Jobs that I recommend to everyone. He said, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"'And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” I find this exercise hugely liberating. I always try to have a ‘plan b’ and sometimes even a ‘plan c’. Try it yourself and see yourself how much weight comes off your shoulders.

As I implemented these practices in my career, I experienced a virtuous cycle of feeling better, being more productive, and thus enjoying my career more.

Learning to prioritise

Your life is as complex as you want. Whether you’re a CEO running a global company or a new graduate, complexity can easily become a challenge. To help me, I use a simple trick.

I regularly ask myself, what are the things that really matter in any given, month or year? And by matter, I mean what moves the dial for the tasks ahead and the company. This simple question helps me to rapidly cut through the bulk of decisions and activities. It may sound cliché – but the day you can determine what is critical and what is not – is the day you’ll break free. 

Helmut is former global HR director for BP and is now an adviser to the company.

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