Everyone has a dream job they think about in the wee moments before they nod off.

It could be living in a quaint little cottage in the French countryside, waking up only to milk the cows and churn out some artisanal cheeses. Maybe it’s making movies as a high-flying director. Perhaps it’s running a profitable meme Instagram that’s funded by sponsored posts about novelty socks.

All of these dream careers look completely different, but they’ve all one thing in common: someone, somewhere, wants them.

Whatever your fantasy, you might imagine yourself as unflappably happy in it.

You’re carefree; you’re living your dream. Humdrum worries about the washing and that wrinkle in your forehead and whether or not the sugar in that 3pm Kit Kat is really that bad for you would no longer exist. Right?

Wrong. The reality (of course) isn’t so romantic.

When you actually speak to people who have achieved incredible things in their respective fields, you’ll realise nothing really changes, even when you’re doing what you love. Problems and roadblocks still abound. You still have days that drag on, periods of low mood and little motivation.

All that said, there are certain habits highly successful people adopt to ensure they can keep firing despite what the everyday throws at them.

We asked five high-powered (anonymous) individuals how they keep their equilibrium while killing it in their respective fields.

FOUNDER OF A MEDIA BUSINESS

Understanding that you need to prioritise your physical and mental health before anything else is vital.
 
This means getting enough sleep, finding time to regularly exercise, meditating or having another activity that gets you into a flow state, having allocated time in the week to step away from technology and spending time with friends/family is the best way to build a stress free foundation. 
 
At work stress is often generated by the gap between the reality of your current situation and your expectations of how things should be. Understanding that you can only control what you and your team can physically and mentally bring to the table is important.
 
The days that I feel the least stressed are the ones where I’ve been productive and worked meaningfully on the most important tasks that will help drive the business forward. Writing a to-do list and then identifying the one big task you need to get done and allocating a few hours first thing in the morning distraction free is a great way to do this.
 
To create a truly focused environment i’ll often disconnect from the internet (if it’s not required) and log out of all of my social channels across my desktop and mobile.

A DOCTOR WORKING IN EMERGENCY RECOVERY

So, how I unwind really depends on the kind of day I’ve had.

A standard day is easy enough – come home, play with my son and do his bedtime book/cuddle/bottle etc, chat with my husband, dinner/wine, bath, Netflix etc.

The good thing about working in Emergency is that your work generally stays at work as you hand over all your patients, every day is a brand new bunch of cases, so there’s often not a lot of thinking about work at home unless you’ve had a particularly challenging or upsetting case.

In terms of mentally switching off, I think a lot of it is just experience and growing confidence, I’m much less prone to excessively ruminate or berate myself about mistakes now after several years of training than I was at the start. And trying to do 20 mins of reading after a shift about something that I felt unsure about during the day makes me feel better equipped to deal with it the next time I encounter it, and then I can stop worrying about it.

For more difficult days i.e. verbally or physically aggressive patients, paediatric resuscitations, breaking the news a family that their loved one has died etc. I try to utilise my bosses for proper debriefing about the case. My bosses are generally wonderful and always avail themselves for a chat if needed.

We also have a formal mentorship program where trainees are paired with senior emergency physicians and we meet up regularly to chat about how things are going in general. My mentor is wonderful and very easy to chat to. Working part time and having a toddler helps too, work doesn’t consume my whole week and Cash keeps me pretty busy. Other more general anxiety busters I find helpful are deep breathing exercises, listening to white noise etc. I wish I used exercise more but I’m so out of the habit!

A TELEVISION PRESENTER

It sounds cliche but when you work in TV, no two days are the same. 
 
Presenting and working in TV is an incredible incredible job, but there is a lot of pressure riding on you. You need to look and feel the part, whatever that part is – all the time.
 
Let’s say you want to really nail a take and do one just once, it’s sort of just on you to make sure you do it. Of course you get used to it, but there’s a whole studio of people (camera operators, producers) watching you and relying on you to get your lines right, have the right tone, the right facial expressions. You need to be ‘on’ and you can’t really afford to have a day where you feel like taking it easy – everything shows through.
 
With that in mind, I spend my time off doing just that… being off. During the working week I’m cool with going on Instagram, Facebook and reading news sites pretty regularly, but on the weekends I really make it a big focus to put my phone down and do things that are completely unrelated to my job, things that make me feel relaxed.
 
I actually feel most restored when I take a weekend away and trek back to my parents’ place on the Sunshine Coast. I can let go of all the ‘bravado’ and just be fully, 100% myself. No suits, no stage make up; just trackie dacks and uggs. I imagine there are a few other careers that require people to wear a mask – taking it off from time to time is key to staying sane. 
 
If I can’t get away, I’ll spend the weekend cooking my favourite foods from scratch at home. Doing this, I can completely focus on the task at hand and I find that really makes me feel a sense of achievement and control that I sometimes lack in my job. I think a big part of managing a stressful job is it’s all about using your free time to do things that are totally opposite to your job. 

A CHIEF ACTUARY AT A BIG FOUR BANK

Let off steam. Have a good rant to someone (empathetic) about what’s stressing you out. That can be very cathartic and helps turn it from an aggravation into merely a problem. It also manages to surface solutions surprisingly often.

Exude confidence, especially when you aren’t confident. It gets a lot of monkeys off your back and allows you to get on with fixing the snafu. I (or my staff) ran all or parts of the annual planning process for maybe eight years or more. Often, the CEO would come down hassling for results. My response was to tell him “I’ll tell you when to start panicking… and it is not yet!”.

Have interests outside of work so you can genuinely switch off. It doesn’t always work, but have clear boundaries between work and home. Maybe much more of an issue now with on-demand emails and phone messages. Learn how to resist them. When you are “at work” [which might have to be at home sometimes] work hard. 

When you are home or on holiday, don’t do work stuff.

Simples, right?

You might be a fair way off heading up a multinational, but if you glean anything from this article, it’s this: never feel guilty about relaxing. Your body needs it, and you’ll be better for it.

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Image: Getty Images / Robert Daly