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Book Summary: Career Self-Care – Find Your Happiness, Success, and Fulfillment at Work

Find Your Happiness, Success, and Fulfillment at Work

Self-care is often presented as something set apart from productive work, but author Minda Zetlin argues that this is a false dichotomy.


Self-care is often presented as something set apart from productive work, but author Minda Zetlin argues that this is a false dichotomy. Taking the reader through her personal journey, augmented with expert insights and multidisciplinary research, she argues that self-care is critical to effectiveness in business. Zetlin’s conversational style gives the reader a sense of sitting down over coffee with a friend who has been there, done that and is happy to share lessons learned. Exercises at the end of each chapter provide a laboratory for clarifying your goals and exploring career-related self-care.


  • You can advance your career without sacrificing your health, happiness or the things that make up a good life.
  • Don’t underestimate your power to make changes that improve your work-life balance.
  • You need a tribe to help you thrive.
  • Be proactive in the face of toxic people and work environments.
  • Your goals don’t have to be perfect or permanent, but they must be directionally appropriate.
  • You need to learn when to say both “yes” and “no.”
  • Your mind-set can make or break your success.
  • Self-care doesn’t compete with your responsibilities; it supports them.
  • Long-term success depends on how well you manage your most important resource: yourself.
  • Taking care of yourself is your responsibility.

Book Summary: Career Self-Care - Find Your Happiness, Success, and Fulfillment at Work

You can advance your career without sacrificing your health, happiness or the things that make up a good life.

Working day and night while neglecting yourself isn’t just bad for you, it makes you less productive and creative. It harms social relationships and strains your work relationships. Providing yourself with the space you need to be healthy, relaxed and well-rested, improves your focus and your capacity as a boss, employee, business owner, partner, parent or friend. Rather than taking away from your career, putting self-care first can improve your work.

“There is no definition of success that makes any sense at all unless it also includes the idea that you are happy, healthy and fulfilled in every possible way.”

Working within healthy boundaries forces you to prioritize and work more efficiently. Taking time for what you need and enjoy increases your creativity and energy. When you insist on taking care of your own needs, you influence those around you to see you and your time as valuable.

Don’t underestimate your power to make changes that improve your work-life balance.

What do you need that you’re not getting right now? What would have to change for you to meet those needs? Caring for yourself is your responsibility. As a human being, you need adequate sleep – eight hours or so a night – nutritious food and enough exercise. You need unstructured time to think, reflect and just be. These are not luxuries; they are the fuel that keeps you running effectively.

Telling a boss or customer that a deadline is too tight or that you need more help on a project is daunting, but not always impossible. If you feel helpless to control your work life, don’t assume that feeling is accurate. Consider setting some boundaries that improve your life. If the practice of setting limits and creating boundaries is new for you, start small, experiment, and move forward with the changes that work for you.

“I don’t mean to suggest you start missing all your deadlines, but I am suggesting that if you limit your working time to a reasonable number of hours, you will find you don’t get any less done.”

A good place to begin experimenting is changing your relationship with email. Do you respond to every email the moment it arrives? Try limiting how often you check or respond to email. Set times that work well for you to check email and respond to only what is truly important. Over time, experiment with larger priorities – perhaps working fewer late nights or setting aside times for activities you enjoy. As you adapt and improve your experiments to find what works for you, expand the boundaries you set on work until you have a healthier balance. As you learn to set and enforce boundaries, you train the people in your life to respect and support those boundaries.

Keeping a journal can serve as a powerful tool for both thinking through potential changes and advancing your career. Your journal can be pen-on-paper, but you might also type it, or use speech-to-text, video or another format. The popular Bullet Journal method is a great choice, if pen-and-paper is your preference. Journaling gives you space to:

  • Clear your mind, so you can focus on the task at hand.
  • Explore your most personal thoughts, feelings, wants and needs.
  • Experiment and reflect.
  • Set goals, and track your progress toward them.
  • Record lessons to help you in the future.
  • Record your accomplishments, so you don’t overlook them.

You need a tribe to help you thrive.

Research shows that being a part of a supportive community lengthens your life and that being isolated shortens it. As important as supportive relationships are for your physical and mental well-being, they are just as important for your career. Supportive communities help each other solve problems, find better jobs, and provide advice and moral support. If you don’t work in a naturally supportive environment, consider joining or creating a “Mastermind” group. These small groups of people pursuing similar objectives meet to share information and support each other’s goals. They provide new perspectives and sustain and encourage each other. If the first group you try isn’t an ideal fit, don’t give up. The right group is out there.

“If you follow only one piece of advice in this book, please let it be this. You need community to support you in both your career and your life. That need is literally encoded in your DNA.”

Building your tribe requires meeting and getting to know new people, which can be intimidating if you aren’t comfortable talking to strangers. One of the most powerful ways to start a conversation with almost anyone is asking them about themselves. Another great conversation starter is asking for information or help. Make sure you ask for something the other person can easily provide, such as a small piece of information. Talking about a shared experience or giving a sincere compliment are also good ways to start a conversation.

Be proactive in the face of toxic people and work environments.

While you may feel uncomfortable interacting with strangers, dealing with toxic people can be actively harmful. Effective handling of toxic people can include actions that range from calm confrontation to removing the offender from your life. Occasionally, getting to know a toxic person can enable you to better understand and learn to diffuse their toxic approach.

“Find a different boss or customer or friend. Let’s face it – life is too short for you to spend a large amount of your time with someone who makes you miserable.”

Toxic people come and go, but toxic elements of work culture are harder to avoid. Sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism and ableism still affect the treatment people receive in the workplace. Such biases aren’t fair, but that doesn’t change the reality that the responsibility for demanding equal treatment rests with you. Speak up when your boss is not treating you equitably, for example, with regard to salary. Don’t support prejudice by convincing yourself it’s not a big deal, that it’s your own fault or that the only way to succeed is to remain silent.

In addition to standing up for yourself, you can give yourself an edge by finding a good mentor. In one study, employees with mentors were five times more likely to get promoted. The mentors themselves were six times more likely to be promoted than people who were not engaged in mentoring activities. Mentoring relationships can be formal or unstructured, long term or short, and mentors may come from your organization or outside. You may have a number of mentors at different times and with expertise in different areas. Regardless of the specific relationship, a good mentor will help you figure out how to do your job more successfully and avoid mistakes. While mentors provide advice and guidance, sponsors, another important part of your career success tribe, advocate for you within your organization or marketplace.

Your goals don’t have to be perfect or permanent, but they must be directionally appropriate.

With limited time and energy, your goals need to meet your needs. The best goals will point you in the right direction even when you don’t achieve them. Your long-term goals may change several times, but pursuing goals that lead in the right direction enables you to learn more about the topic your goal focuses upon, or about yourself, and brings you closer to new goals that best meet your needs. Once you have a goal to work toward, achieve it by breaking it down into smaller, less intimidating steps:

  • Find the smallest, easiest step that moves you in the direction of your goal.
  • Make sure your step is fully within your control – such as the number of sales calls you will make, rather than the number of sales you will close.
  • Write down your step and when you will do it. This should be a real date and time.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, troubleshoot what went wrong, adapt your step then start again.
  • Celebrate accomplishing your baby step.

You need to learn when to say both “yes” and “no.”

Say “yes” to new experiences and opportunities. This doesn’t mean agreeing to every request anyone makes of you, but saying yes to things you find valuable, even when they intimidate you. Say yes to things you don’t yet know how to do and to things that aren’t part of your original plan.

Saying “no” is as important as saying yes. Saying no is the only way to keep enough room in your life for the things that matter most. If you’re not certain whether something is truly your priority, consider saying no. Most importantly, say no when saying yes would take your focus away from something more important to you.

Your mind-set can make or break your success.

If you believe you can’t do something, you are probably right. While confidence won’t make up for a complete lack of ability, if you have any ability at all, your level of confidence may determine your success or failure. Confidence isn’t arrogance or boastfulness; it just means you know your value and are honest with yourself and others about your abilities. Confidence builds your ability to do the things that are important to you, and also builds others’ confidence in you. To grow your confidence, take small steps out of your comfort zone. Don’t start with your most frightening insecurities; start small and grow your confidence as you increase your successes. Surround yourself with people who also believe in you.

Self-care doesn’t compete with your responsibilities; it supports them.

Trading your health, relationships and happiness for your job doesn’t benefit your career. Consistently getting insufficient sleep can cause as much impairment as being legally intoxicated. Brain science makes it clear that periods of time not focused on work allow the brain to make the important connections that fuel problem-solving and creativity. Research shows that if you work 60 hours a week, you get less done than if you work 40 hours. And the relationships you cultivate outside work can be just as significant to your career as the work you do. Having a supportive partner or community improves your ability to succeed. Tackling problems with others can make the problem seem less daunting, and being in mutually beneficial relationships builds healthy bonds. If your current community does not provide the kind of support you need, it is valuable to build a support system outside it.

“None of us is born confident, and we are not meant to find our way through this thicket of life on our own. We may climb mountains and slay dragons, but most of us do it at least partly because we know there’s someone in our life who firmly believes that we can.”

Self-care may be hard for working parents, who feel guilt over not spending enough time with their kids or not spending enough time at work. Setting the right expectations and letting go of the guilt allows you to use that energy for your already full life. Healthy expectations include asking for help, setting healthy boundaries, and realizing that taking care of yourself helps you be a good parent and improves your work. Insisting on healthy boundaries and taking care of yourself also teaches your children what you truly value in life.

Long-term success depends on how well you manage your most important resource: yourself.

What do you want your success to look like? Everything you pursue means not pursuing something else, so make sure the effort that you are putting in is helping you build the life that you truly want. Focusing on what you want is not selfish. Unhappy people don’t tend to be as pleasant to be around as happy people, and happy people contribute more to their communities, teams and families. A successful career shouldn’t be at odds with a happy life. Pay attention to what brings meaning to your life.

If working more hours is not more productive, how do you get the most out of your work time? One key is treating your brain like the delicate and powerful organ it is. Taking care of your health is critical to long-term success because a healthy body enables your brain to be effective. Hydration is remarkably important for brain health, as is limiting distractions while creating space for your mind to wander freely – both of which improve your creativity. Your brain works best at certain times of day, so learn when these times are for you, then plan your schedule in a way that lets you use your brain at its best.

“I like to think of mindfulness as one of those maps in a shopping mall with a big red dot that says, ‘You are here.”

Mindfulness is another powerful tool to support both your mind and body. Mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on your breathing, to calm your mind and settle your body and emotions. Increase mindfulness throughout the day by pausing briefly between tasks instead of going right into the next item on your to-do list. Not only can this increase your mindfulness, it may help you determine if moving on to that next task is the right use of your time.

Taking care of yourself is your responsibility.

Success doesn’t equal happiness, but happiness supports success, so don’t wait for the right conditions before making yourself happy; do it now. Self-care will benefit you, your loved ones and your work. Decide what you want your life to look like, and make sure your choices and boundaries support that vision.

About the author

Minda Zetlin’s research-backed writing helps people get the most out of their careers and lives. She is an columnist and former president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors.


Business Culture, Business Motivation, Self-Improvement, Motivational Management, Leadership, Success Self-Help



Like the best advice from a therapist, career counselor, and savvy best friend, this practical resource details dozens of concrete ways to improve work life in any kind of job or entrepreneurial setting. As Minda Zetlin shows, basic self-care principles are the key, and they apply in both tranquil and turbulent times. Her prescriptions are action-ready and available to all. They include:

  • taking doable steps to get from where you are to where you dream of being
  • cultivating both mentors and sponsors (and understanding the difference)
  • navigating the ongoing issues of gender and race bias at work
  • dealing with toxic coworkers, including bosses
  • supercharging the brain for reaching goals
  • incorporating detoxifying mindfulness practices, such as ultra-brief meditation breaks, simple breathing exercises, and power journaling

Not just another list of things to do, this invaluable book is there to help in moments of overwhelm or indecision, at the end of a long day, or any time when you need a reminder of your whole-self aspirations and what you’re capable of.


“Career Self-Care is a must-have guide for today’s new world of work. Minda Zetlin helps you navigate toxic bosses, unreasonable demands, and feeling stuck in a job you hate. If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, this book will help you get there.” — Barbara Corcoran, Shark and executive producer on ABC’s Shark Tank, founder of the Corcoran Group, and host of the podcast Business Unusual

“A personable, practical guide for improving your work life. Minda Zetlin has spent much of her career helping people pursue success without sacrificing their well-being, and her book highlights how you can take better care of your career and your health.” — Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the podcast WorkLife

“Career Self-Care teaches you how to reach your biggest goals. It will help you become your best, most effective self and keep you focused on the things that matter most.” — Eric Partaker, CEO coach and 2019 CEO of the Year, Business Excellence Forum UK

“In Career Self-Care, Minda Zetlin weaves fascinating stories, including her own life story, with valuable insights for women (and men) to make their own self-care their priority. Doing so enables us to show up as our best self in every aspect of our career and our life outside of our career. This is especially crucial for leaders because when they don’t practice self-care, they are in essence signaling to their teams that the same is expected of them.” — Shelmina Babai Abji, author of Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work

“Career Self-Care provides unique real-world, actionable solutions for any and every possible situation that readers may experience in their careers. The meticulous exercises that Minda Zetlin presents in this book should serve as a contemporary compass for professionals seeking to improve their self-care.” — Dr. Eli Joseph, faculty member, Columbia University and Queens College, and author of The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career through Failure

“Career Self-Care is not about finding balance between your work and personal lives — it’s about learning how the two can integrate and enhance each other to help you reach new heights in both.” — Robert Glazer, #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of Elevate

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