Building blocks of success

L’esa Guilian has been working in human resources for more than 15 years. Often, she would work 12- to 15-hour days and rarely got outside for a lunch break. After her father died a few years ago, she began to reevaluate her life. “I started to think, ‘Is this really what my life should be about?'” says the Los Angeles resident. “I realized I’ve got to live for a higher purpose rather than just work.”

Now, when she awakes every morning, Guilian opens her door and takes several deep breaths. “I just kind of center my body before I start running around,” she says. She has also started taking public transportation instead of driving to work, which she says is less stressful than maneuvering through traffic.

To reach the heights of success in any field, it’s essential to create personal rituals that improve performance. “Your outlets for how you can truly deal with stress in the workplace are very limited,” says Michelle T. Johnson, author of Working While Black: The Black Person’s Guide to Success in the White Workplace (Lawrence Hill & Co.; $14.95). To get you on the right track, Johnson offers these tips:

Take care of your physical and mental self. “You’ve got to keep your mental and spiritual self tight — working out, eating right, having a regular spiritual practice,” she says. Doing so will help you to stay balanced in between running to meetings, dealing with a hectic workload, and appeasing demanding bosses.

Have a strong, supportive group of friends outside of your job. A support network allows you to diffuse stress and can prevent you from having an emotional outburst on the job. “You cannot afford, as a black employee, to constantly be reactionary,” says Johnson.

Develop relationships with higher-ups. Whether it’s having drinks with a co-worker at a new place or participating in a weekend activity with employees, be open to new experiences. “In those settings, that’s where relationships are built,” says Kara Burrell Wright, a consultant for the Felicity Group, which works with Fortune 500 companies to enhance diversity and organizational development. “This is a time to shine without deadlines or meetings, a time for people to get to know you,” Burrell Wright says.

Maintain a strong work ethic. Doing so speaks volumes to employers. “I think about work and assignments with an investment mentality, as opposed to a time-clock mentality,” says Rhonda Woodard, vice president of product and property and the highest-ranking African American woman at Allstate in Northbrook, Illinois. “When you think of everything you do as an investment, it positions you to put more in.”

For more ways to improve your professional and interpersonal skills, check out these organizations:
The American Management
Center for Creative
The Conference
The International Coach
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