How Resilient are You?

Recently, I had a nasty case of the flu. I haven’t felt that rotten for a long time. When you’re in that state, it is really hard to see the wood for the trees. It’s hard to see beyond the situation and it’s hard to know that you’ll feel better again. It made me think about resilience and how we find our way out of difficult situations.

When my burnout symptoms became obvious, I was confused about it because I thought I was quite resilient. How could someone so optimistic become so very sick just from stress? I read The Resilience Factor to gain an understanding of where I went wrong. And what I found was even more confusing.

Resilient

There are many factors influencing our resilience. I scored high on most factors and average to high on the remainder. Certainly, serious illness affects both our happiness set point as well as our resilience. And yet I scored so high on almost all components. How did I get sick, then?

I’ve come to realise that I was in the perfect storm of unfavourable conditions for flourishing. My work was wrong. The work itself, the people and the industry. My relationships were not working for me. My boundaries were weak and I felt that I was being taken advantage of. My diet was wrong – healthy but wrong. There were many foods that were creating physical stress. And then I was training for ultramarathons on top of it all. I was swimming against the current in many areas of my life, and not taking any time to restore my energy after it was depleted.

Resilience has many aspects, examples being as follows:

  • Do I blame others for what happens – is it someone or something else’s fault?
  • Do I let one bad thing ruin my entire day, week, life?
  • Do I take responsibility for everything that goes wrong? Blaming myself?

“Research shows that the essential ingredient in steering through chronic stress is self-efficacy – the belief that you can master your environment and effectively solve problems as they arise.”  ~ The Resilience Factor (Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte). In my efforts to turn the business profitable, I lost that belief along the way and I eventually gave up hope. I believe that is the time my body gave up too.

Of course when I was burning out, there were areas where I was not completely resilient and I was not functioning at my best. But I didn’t burn out because I’m weak or lacking in resilience. I burnt out because my life was broken, and I was the only one who was capable of fixing it.

Getting sick helped me to step away from everything and take a good look at my life. I tackled each area and two years later my life looks completely different. Now, I do work that I love and I find flow everyday. I surround myself with people who build me up and I avoid those who break me down. That goes for friends, colleagues and relatives. I eat according to what my body likes and I take care of myself. When I’ve pushed hard, I schedule down time.

Resilient

I have found a joy that many people spend their lives looking for. I love my life and my family. I’m doing work that I enjoy thoroughly. I have moments where I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the past two years and what I have learnt. I don’t have to push or fight or struggle for my little slice of happiness. I’m immersed in waves of it every day. I think what led me there is the realisation that my fate lies in my own hands and that I am able to master my environment.

Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?

I’ve just finished reading a book by Elaine Aron, called The Highly Sensitive Person. In the book, Dr. Aron explains that being sensitive is an inherited trait and not a dysfunction. In fact about 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. Introversion is also inherited and affects approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population. I have come to realise that many aspects of my personality are more attributed to sensitivity, rather than introversion.

I find that I am easily overstimulated by loud noises, strong smells and a lot of people around me. I need time to retreat and to recover from outings and busy environments. Dr Aron provides some wonderful tips for when we find ourselves overstimulated in social situations. We can remove ourselves from the environment, engage in self-talk or deep breathing to induce calm and change our posture.

Sensitive

Being sensitive is not something that is highly valued in our society, and is often seen as a weakness. However, there are great advantages to being sensitive. Dr Aron provides many examples including being conscientious, excellent at detecting errors, being able to concentrate deeply and the ability to process materials at deeper levels of what is known as semantic memory. We notice things, we have stronger intuition and we tend to have a rich inner life, spending time thinking about the meaning of life and how complicated everything is. If you follow my blog regularly, this might sound familiar.

it’s not just our brains that are different – our bodies tend to show marked differences to our less-sensitive counterparts. We are typically morning people, sensitive to caffeine, very good at holding still and we have excellent fine motor skills. Dr Aron encourages us to value our strengths, and not to undervalue ourselves and what our sensitivity offers us and the world.

There were parts of her book I found earth-shattering considering my experience of burnout. She says that HSPs are highly prone to burnout. We are people-pleasers and tend to put ourselves in the front line, not understanding that there are others who are more suited to the task than we are. This passage talks of exactly what I experienced:

“It is true that even when exhausted you are still providing something to those you serve. But you are out of touch with your deepest strengths, role-modelling self-destructive behavior, martyring yourself and giving others cause for guilt. And in the end you will want to quit or be forced to by your body.”

And boy, did my body quit. My adrenal function collapsed and I developed a lifelong disease. If only I had understood my trait better, I could have prevented such a health collapse. I would not have put myself through so much. I would have fought harder for more time alone to restore, in the knowledge that my brain and body are actually built differently to others.

It was no surprise to read that sales is not well suited to the sensitive person. I was doing a lot of sales in my old job and I mostly didn’t enjoy it. I was thrilled, however to learn that public speaking and performing are actually well suited to HSPs. That is because we tend to prepare better than most, and with a lot of preparation, we perform well. That’s good news for me since I’m pursuing public speaking in earnest lately.

I can also use what I have learnt to be a better parent. Dr Aron states that about 30 percent of sensitive people are extroverts. That was surprising for me and I have realised that my five-year-old fits into that category. She loves people and thrives on fun, but she is very sensitive to loud noises and feels deep empathy.

Sensitive

I can now use Dr Aron’s strategies to educate my children how to handle themselves. Certainly, they will have to learn that balance between being out in the world, and recovering from excess stimulation. But the knowledge of why others don’t need that recovery will help them in life, and they will learn to self-regulate better than I did. I now realise that being a sensitive parent is a great asset for our family.

I have felt misunderstood a lot in my life and it is understandable since the majority of the population are not like me. People cannot understand why I’m bored with small talk, and perhaps find my conversation a little intense. There are many social activities that I’d rather skip, and my recovery from burnout has been a great opportunity to learn this. Luckily, I am at a stage in life where I can choose how I spend my time, and I know myself well enough to know when I’d be happier at home. Not everyone understands this, but it’s important I do what’s necessary for my well-being.

I’m often judged for worrying too much about a ‘vibe’ I picked up. I realise now that I’m not being paranoid – I’m just more attuned than the average person is. I can use this knowledge to accept myself in a way that I wasn’t able to before. I can also make sure that I care for myself properly, giving myself what I need to recover from too much stimulation. I’m excited to see the world through new eyes, appreciating myself more for this new knowledge.

Hooray, my Leaky Gut is Healed!

Yesterday I went to see my functional practitioner for a check up, now with a frequency of three-monthly. Functional medicine aims to treat the individual and to create homeostasis, or balance in the body. I believe it to be the future of medicine, due to the uniqueness of each of us, our lifestyles, histories and illnesses. My thyroid disease is not the same as other people’s thyroid disease and my burnout presented differently too.

For the past week I have had a cold, which is not so great for anyone with autoimmune disease. The immune system becomes reactive and can trigger worse symptoms. I was hoping to see a lot of improvement in my thyroid and adrenal health but I was worried about the effect the cold would have on the results. Happily, my results were amazing. My thyroid function is still healthy and my adrenal health is now normal. I only had a small indication that the Influenza A virus is in my system.

Leaky

The other great news is that my food sensitivities are gone, which means that my leaky gut is healed. Intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut’ is a consequence and a cause of autoimmune disease. It played a part in me becoming ill and it aggravated my condition. Fortunately, my healthcare providers recommended lifestyle changes such as eliminating gluten from my diet, along with the reactive foods and focusing on healing. I make bone broths, I eat a green smoothie every day and I completely eliminated gluten and most dairy from my diet in order to recover.

I can now have milk, yoghurt, all cheese, cream and ice cream again! I’m really thrilled as it has been difficult to cut out so much dairy, on top of the gluten. As soon as I get rid of this cold, I’m having a cappuccino. Ah, I can’t wait. It has been several years since I’ve been able to enjoy a simple cappuccino. It’s those small joys that make life so rich. And it’s hard to explain to someone what life is like having such a restricted diet. I have to chuckle when I’m invited to a cheese and wine event. I can’t have alcohol due to its effect on my adrenals, no gluten so the crackers are out, and I wasn’t able to have cheese – until now, of course!

I have worked extremely hard to change my lifestyle, diet, sleeping habits and more in order to heal, not only from leaky gut but from my burnout too. I am so happy to see that my health is coming right. I will always have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis but my thyroid is working and I don’t require any medication for it. I’m hoping that I can stop the medication for my adrenal glands when I visit my endocrinologist next month. I’m also really excited to see how low my antibodies (which measure the autoimmune attack) have dropped since I have been taking such good care of myself.

Leaky

I think it’s so important to celebrate these happy moments. The recovery has been very long and slow, filled with frustration and a fair amount of sulking. But I am so happy to see that persevering and being kind to my body have really paid off. My leaky gut is gone and if I continue to stay off gluten, it shouldn’t come back. I won’t go crazy eating ice cream for breakfast but I think I’ve earned a weekly cappuccino.

Under what Conditions will I be Worthy?

I wrote a book about my experience of burnout.  The first half is about how I got there, and the second half is about how not to get there. I shared my experience, in the hope that others can benefit. Stress is a dangerous thing and I had no idea what havoc it would cause in my life. My true desire is to help as many people as possible not to get as sick as I did.

I understood that since I’m not a famous journalist, no publisher is interested in publishing my non-fiction book. I realised after some research that self-publishing was the only way to go, particularly for my first book. I was terrified because I knew that there would be lessons to be learned and mistakes that I could not prevent. But my story had to come out. So I took the plunge.

The publisher provided an ‘editor’ as part of the package I purchased. The editing and layout were complete and my book was ready for printing. But I was not happy with it since the editor was really a proof reader. For my first book, and such a personal story, I wanted an editor to provide me with tough, honest feedback so that the end product would be something I could be proud of.

I sent it to two friends to get an opinion. Both of them said that the first half was not pleasant to read. And sure, there’s lots of suffering and it’s not pretty. But the real problem was that I wrote it in the wrong frame of mind. I wrote it when I was trying to make sense of my burnout and autoimmune disease. I wrote it at a time when I was so angry and confused that this had happened to me. Obviously, that tone permeated the writing.

Worthy

I”m better known for my solution-oriented outlook. I’m not a whiny person who dwells in misery. The first half did not reflect me, and I was worried that my readers would not get past the suffering and into the solution part – the best part. One of my alternative healers did editing in her past and I asked for help. She struggled with the first half as much as I did. When she took several months to return with anything, I realised that the first half had to be rewritten. I did that, and felt much happier with the tone of a person more at peace with her fate.

But it has still been months since my editor has contacted me and I keep wondering what that’s about. Every time I pushed her to complete something, I couldn’t help but feel there was a reason for the delay. My editor said that my story caused a lot of emotions about her own health journey, to surface. That was encouraging to hear, since it means my story has impact.

However, I felt enormous frustration that the book was not ready, as it would be a great way for me to start a new career. As I became well enough to work, I wanted the book to be published. It could provide me with credibility, and it would be wonderful to call myself a writer at my speeches and workshops. The longer the book took to be complete, I began to realise that there is a lesson in the waiting.

Worthy

I realised that I was tying my worth to the book. People will think I’m worth something if I’m an author – and nothing without it. People will be impressed by the fact that I wrote a book. Another way of gaining approval. I went to a workshop recently and I drew a card that said “It’s time to give up.” It’s so contrary to how I am – I never give up on things that matter to me. But I realised that I need to surrender to the wait, and to get on with my life. I need to find a way to feel worthy without a label like ‘writer’. I need to know, and feel my own worth just as the person I am. And then the book might come right.

It’s a difficult thing to pull yourself up after an experience like burnout. I’m trying to build a new career but it is very difficult. I have been out of a working environment for two years and I feel vulnerable. I am often uncertain of where to turn next. I’m unsure of what opportunities to look for, and which ones to take. I’m scared about what I’m doing, and what I’m not doing. It is hard to feel worthy and useful with all this self-doubt, and without income. I’m doing my best to convince myself that I have a lot to offer, even if no-one happens to be paying for it right now.

Are you trying to be Perfect?

I’ve written about perfectionism before but Brené Brown has resurrected this topic for me in a new way. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes that “perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.” She writes that healthy striving focuses on how I can improve, rather than what will they think. I think this is a wonderful way to summarise a shift that was necessary for me.

Perfect

In the past few years while recovering from burnout, I have realised where my perfectionism comes from. It comes from looking for approval from the authority figures in my life. It started out with my parents. I thought that if I did really well at school, they might pay more attention to me. Although I did well, they didn’t really notice me, or my results.

In my work, I tried really hard to get everything perfect. I used to get upset when things didn’t go according to plan, ending in tears of frustration. Seeking the approval of others didn’t ever get me to a point where I felt good about myself. I still felt inadequate and kept striving to deliver perfection, even though I got excellent performance reviews.

When my health collapsed at the end of 2014, I had no option but to stop working. I retreated to home so that I could recover. I didn’t. I then arranged a sabbatical so that I could recover. I didn’t. So eventually I resigned from my company and surrendered to the fact that my illness was serious and that I needed to regroup in a number of ways.

It was during this recovery period that I realised that I was still spending a lot of time looking for approval. From shareholders, from my father, from my friends and family. At last it dawned on me that until I love myself and approve of myself, I would never really feel it from anyone else. And the irony is that as soon as I learnt to be kind to myself, I realised that I didn’t need that approval I spent so long searching for. Another benefit is that once I treated myself with love, kindness and respect, my other relationships slowly started to transform.

I can’t tell you exactly how I made this shift and of course, I would never say that I’m fully ‘there’ because it is an ongoing process. I know that meditation has something to do with it. I know that I consciously shifted my self-talk to be more positive. I try hard not to berate myself for mistakes, and to be kind to myself when I mess up. I think knowing that we all fallible is helpful too.

Perfection is something we will never attain. Certainly, I always advocate giving your best in any situation and I try hard to do a good job of whatever I’m tackling. But my best might be horribly flawed in some instances. And in others, it might be pretty good. It’s okay to suck at some things, it really is. I’m trying to teach my children this too, so that they don’t grow up as I did, trying to be perfect.

I’m teaching them to love themselves, to be kind to themselves and to accommodate failure. They are truly intrigued when I make mistakes. I certainly don’t love that part, but it’s a chance to teach them how to be kind, and to model behaviour that I’d like them to adopt.

Perfect

I don’t think they will feel that frustration I did as a child in not ever getting the approval I looked for. One of my father’s favourite lines was “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I don’t think he realised how much of an impact that had on me. It’s a pity I spent so many years looking for approval from the very person who should have made it unnecessary. I hope to undo this pattern with my children. To offer them love and approval, unconditionally. And to teach them the importance of self-compassion.

Wholehearted living

I have just finished reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Every time I read one of her books, I marvel at how honest she is about her flaws, mistakes and her deep-seated fears. Not many people have the courage to talk about those things, or the interest in tackling such heavy subjects. It’s part of why I love reading her books.

Currently, I’m creating a new career path for myself, post burnout. I feel that I have recovered and I await blood tests to prove it in a few weeks time. I am now on the other side of a momentous life event. Something that shook the foundation of my identity and my life. It changed me, and I’m glad I let it. I now get to lay down a fresh path, on purpose, one that contains all the elements I desire in my life.

I get to choose it. I get to design it. I’m not a victim of what opportunities other people offer me. I’m not at the mercy of a boss who will tell me what I’m worth through flawed corporate processes. I get to design something that is as unique as I am. It’s exciting and a little scary. But this is the very best part of the gift of burnout – that I get to start again. Many people don’t get an opportunity like that in their lives and I am thrilled for it.

Stripped from my old job title, and almost every way I defined myself, it took some time to actually figure out who I was and what I wanted. I spent a lot of time reading during my recovery. I studied positive psychology, I read extensively on what constitutes happiness and I’ve actively included the practices that resonated with me, into my life.

Dr Brown provides ten guideposts for what she calls Wholehearted living. I found it fascinating that I’ve unknowingly incorporated these guideposts into my new life. Things like a gratitude practice are now a part of my routine. I make time for creativity, stillness and fun. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, and to cultivate authenticity. I left WhatsApp groups that didn’t fit with me and I was prepared for the fallout that followed. I even ended relationships that were unhealthy because I knew that my life needed to change. Not just because, but for my very survival.

Wholehearted

I learned to really feel the emotions and to connect my head and my heart. I learned that feeling things is critical to really living, and that we can’t enjoy the best things in life if we try to numb the pain. I don’t have crutches like other people do, since I can’t drink alcohol, I don’t do caffeine any more and I can’t drown my sorrows in pastry since gluten and sugar are also out of my diet. I have to actually deal with my problems, and not escape them through addictive behaviours. Date balls don’t really have the same comfort impact as a chocolate croissant. So instead I was forced to face what I was feeling. And I’m better off for it.

Comparing the person on the way to burnout and even during recovery to the person I am now, is so incredibly rewarding. Dr Brown speaks of people who experience joy and that it takes time to cultivate it. I can honestly say that there is true joy in my life now. There was none in the years that led up to my burnout and it took a long time for me to find it. In the past year I started to play. I wrote about it in a blog post about our holiday at the coast. The one where my children said “Mom, you’re like a kid.” Joy has now become part of my existence and I feel so very grateful for the life that I lead.

Wholehearted

I now live a wholehearted life where I embrace each day, I live with hope and enthusiasm for my future. Many people might think I’m delusional since I don’t have a clear idea of what the path ahead looks like. But I’ve learned that not knowing is okay and that it will unfold as it needs to. What matters to me is that I believe in myself, I’m kind to myself along the way, and I keep moving forwards towards things that I love and that I find meaningful.

2016 in Review

In the first week of a new year, I thought it would be a good idea to review my past year in detail. Many people have rituals that they do at the end of a year or beginning of the next one. Some people have a happiness or gratitude jar where they store the joys of each day or week, and review it at the end of the year. I can’t say I have any of these rituals but this review might become one.

Review

The main reason for the exercise is that I want to see how far I’ve come. I want to celebrate my growth and improvement in my health since my burnout at the end of 2014. I’d say that 2015 was the year of burnout in which I suffered the worst of the symptoms and didn’t receive good medical care. I’d label 2016 as the year of healing.

In 2016 I did a lot of research into autoimmune disease and adrenal function. I learned a great deal and I implemented a lot of small changes to improve my health. I read the Autoimmune Solution which correlated well with my existing beliefs around my recovery. I visited a functional practitioner who provided wonderful assistance, supplements and advice, resulting in a leap of improvement in my health.

I’ve worked hard on my diet in eating a green smoothie every day and in eliminating foods that cause me harm. I have started regular yoga practice and have received tremendous health benefits from it. I started biokinetics and healed my hernia with homeopathic medicine and exercises.

I have continued my alternative healing practices such as body stress release, reflexology and kinesiology. I experienced some fun new healing and learning about myself. These include access bars, balvaspata healing, chirology and healing codes. I learned how to meditate effectively, and made it a daily practice.

I completed an online course, the Science of Happiness, adding to my knowledge in positive psychology. I adopted the practices that resonated with me into my daily routine. I actively made myself happier in the process.

Review

Professionally, I did a talk to 170 people with great success. I got a speaking coach, joined Toastmasters and delivered eight prepared speeches, one of which was in a contest. I tried impromptu speaking a few times, stretching myself outside of my comfort zone. I was vulnerable and shared my dreams, fears and beliefs with loved ones, my fellow Toastmasters and my talk audience.

I wrote 43 blog posts and used my writing as a way to find more flow. I worked on my book, found a stronger editor and rewrote the first half of the book. I met with some interesting people, put myself out there and even submitted a few proposals. I got rejected a lot but conditioned myself to be prepared for it as part of the process.

I learned a lot about myself. I became better at setting boundaries to protect myself and to not let harmful people in. I worked on my marriage and deepened some friendships. I read some wonderful books which stretched my mind and my perspective on things. I exercised great courage in speaking my truth on a number of occasions, some of which were incredibly difficult for me.

In this year, I suffered disappointments, I gave up on relationships and recovery at times, and picked myself up again. I failed at things, I improved at things and picked up new skills and knowledge. I grappled with issues around self-compassion, forgiveness, surrender and hope. I became more mindful, and I think through that, became a better mother. I know myself better. What I need, what I want and what I wont accept.

I pushed myself into uncomfortable places and came out stronger and more at peace. I think 2016 was truly a year of healing, and I’m grateful for all that happened and what I learned from it.

What was your year like and what does 2017 hold for you?

What kind of Effort are you putting in?

I have been doing a lot of yoga lately and am finding it a great form of exercise. It raises my heart rate just enough not to cause my adrenal recovery to slip backwards. Yoga also allows me to build strength and flexibility, as well as balance from a physical point of view. It requires a great deal of effort to master the postures, which is important for me. It also provides a full hour of stillness and focus, where my mind doesn’t wander. In that way, I see it as a form of meditation.

effort

It is by no means an easy form of exercise. I find there are times in class when I’m tempted to slack off, or just coast in a posture and I’m sure the instructor might not even notice. But it’s just not my style. I like to put in a lot of effort in everything that I do. I don’t like half measures or to deliver poor quality. That is a constant in my personal life and my professional life.

This personality trait of mine has been problematic as I recover from burnout. The chronic fatigue I experienced is difficult to relay and of course, no-one can see or understand how I feel. There were times that everything, small or large required just too much energy from me. It meant that I could not give my all to everything I did, because my energy tank was completely empty.

I could not be the mother I wanted to be. I could not be patient, and jump up every few minutes to pour them juice, cut them apples or play with them. I could not keep my house as neat and clean as I would like it to be. I could not work and contribute to the household income, or to society. I could not realise my own hopes and dreams.

This feeling of being trapped, or paralyzed, is more frustrating than my words can explain. For about two years, I could not be the person I’d like to be. That is a hard thing to cope with, along with the adjustment to my autoimmune disease and the resultant lifestyle changes I had to make. To say the last two years have been difficult, is an enormous understatement.

Now, I’m able to do a lot more than I have been able to do in the past few years. I can go out more than once a day, I can enjoy my children, I can cook dinner everyday and still find strength for a yoga class. I’m still deciding whether yoga takes energy or gives me energy, but there is no question that it is beneficial for me. I’m going further in postures than I have ever been able to do, and am so pleased with these small accomplishments.

effort

I have not accomplished much in terms of professional deliverables (well, apart from the pending book), so it is important that I feel myself achieving something worthwhile. It’s good for me to feel good about myself. Deep down, I know that I am capable of having great success in my work. But the waiting to recover has been so frustrating.

It is important that I maintain this belief in myself as I embark on a scary new career path. But I do know that my tendency to put in a lot of effort, is something that will help me to achieve success. The very fact that I don’t like slacking off is probably what led me to burnout. But on the flip side, it’s what will help me to achieve well in a profession that is aligned to my talents and interests.

Are you slacking off when no-one’s watching? Are you giving everything in your life your all? Are you taking out the trash with care and mindfulness? I think life is better when we apply ourselves fully to every single thing we do in our day.

The Challenge of Savasana

I have been increasing my exercise regimen lately as I’m really recovering well. It is difficult to explain to people what it is like to recover from burnout. It has been a difficult process for me to learn when I’m overdoing it, when to push a bit harder and when to rest.

I’m not so good with rest. I like to push myself – that has always been my default. I like to make the most of opportunities to grow and to achieve. I don’t like wasting time. It has been very difficult for me to force myself to rest, to slow down and to find time to care for myself properly during this recovery period.

I am not yet able to resume my running as cardio exercise is still too hard on my recovering adrenal glands. I walk for about an hour or two per week and I am able to do yoga classes. I do flow yoga which is wonderful for stability and strength, as well as the hot yoga which builds flexibility and balance. In the hot yoga I am able to sustain a minute at a time of cardio, interspersed with a few minutes of rest in a posture called savasana or corpse pose.

savasana

It occurred to me recently that I might not be the only one who struggles to rest, or to stay in savasana for long. At the end of the class, the instructor usually advises you to stay on your back and to absorb the benefits of the class. In the old days, pre-burnout, I would feel too indulgent and lazy to do that. I’d jump up and get showered and off to the next commitment. I think this behaviour and thinking is part of how I burned out in the first place.

I didn’t feel entitled to just lie there for a few minutes after an intense 90 minute class of pushing myself beyond my limits. I wonder how many of us feel this way. I was entitled to that rest and I should have reveled in it. I’m learning to do that now but it isn’t very natural. I’m trying to change my thinking to ensure that I do rest after pushing myself, and not only in yoga.

It seems hard for many of us to surrender, to just relax and to let things flow. We try to control and to change things to go the way we want them to. Of course, it’s important to have goals and to work towards things in life. But sometimes we need to surrender, to fully relax into the space and to let go.

In my days as an ultra-marathon runner, I remember how important it was to take rest days. It is common for new runners to experience overuse injuries because they haven’t learnt to prioritise rest. In the days before a big race, one also has to taper off training and mileage in an exerted effort to rest the body before an event that will be grueling. It’s a pity that I was able to execute on these principles for running, but I failed to apply them to the rest of my life.

It is in the rest periods that we gain the benefits of the hard work we do. 

As an introvert, I didn’t schedule recovery time after busy social engagements and work days. After highly stressful periods of work, I didn’t prioritise self-care and recuperation time. With small children, there is no respite from the demands of childcare and I didn’t fight hard enough for rest. One of the biggest lessons I learnt from burnout is to prioritise this recovery time and to insist on a life-savasana.

I haven’t written for a while as it is a really busy time of year. It is the end of the school year so there is a mad rush to finish everything before the Christmas holidays. Birthdays from November and December are squashed into a few weeks. I have attended eight extra mural demonstrations and a bunch of children’s parties in the past few weeks, as well as attending to the many last-minute demands from schools.

It is exhausting, and it’s hard to make progress on my own initiatives in this environment. I am also facing a long school holiday at home with two kids in my space. But I have decided to surrender into it. I hope to let go of my own plans and to indulge in the rest and the fun with my children over the holidays. I make the explicit exception of my book, since it is a very high priority in my life and my career, so I will make every effort to work on it as much as possible to ensure a launch early next year. In any case, writing feeds me, so it’s not as if working on my book will be tiring.

Savasana

Here’s to surrender, to savasana, and embracing the well-deserved rest that this holiday season offers.

Avoiding Leadership

For most of my life I have avoided leadership. I occasionally get feedback from people who know me, or my merry pack of healers where they say something like “You know you’re a leader, right?” I smile and know that I’m avoiding leadership again.

When I was in junior school, I was selected as a ‘monitor’. I didn’t think much of it but I rose to the challenge and I did what was expected of me. When I was in high school I did not expect to be appointed as a prefect. It was a huge shock to me and I remember wondering if I really heard my name being called. I went home quite amused and pleased that others had noticed my capacity to lead. I’m didn’t do a perfect job of it and I recall some failures in that role quite clearly.

leadership

There are definitely times in my life where I have hidden from the spotlight and tried to blend into the background. The reasons for that are too complex and perhaps not so interesting to go into in one blog post. But I do struggle being seen. It is something I have worked on this year because my future entails spreading awareness about burnout and to do that, I need to be seen.

In one exercise I did at a workshop, I had to stand in front of a group of people who stared at me for several minutes. It was excruciating for me. I know that they felt and sent love and approval, by the nature of the people attending the workshop. And still how much I struggled to be seen and to receive.

This is something I know I need to work on. And this theme of leadership keeps emerging for me. It was my team mates at work who encouraged me to push for my first promotion. And once I was in a leadership position, I enjoyed it. I like setting the direction and working on the team dynamic, promoting harmony and steering everyone in the right direction.

In my role as business owner, I got involved in networking functions where I was quickly put in charge of running meetings. I had to relinquish this responsibility when I became too sick to work. At work, during our company restructure, I found myself too weak to lead. A bad leader was selected and I found that I could not follow him. Certainly, I needed to recover before starting something new but it is telling for me. I can follow, but I can only follow a very strong leader. Otherwise, I need to be leading.

leadership

In being sick, and recovering from burnout I have retreated from many social and work-related engagements. To heal, it was necessary to scale down outings and work engagements. However, it is tricky to break back into the circles and let everyone know that you are ready to participate again. I feel a little rejected and uncertain that I’ll be welcome back because some people don’t understand fully why I needed to withdraw.

I’m finding myself at the point where I want to start networking to spread the word of my new offerings and to look for opportunities to speak. I have to work on my own personal brand and to be clear on what I offer. I need to hone my elevator pitch and to project confidence. At times I do feel a little shaky and unsure of my new career but I’m hoping that it will take shape as I practice more. I’m facing a lot of rejection and difficulties in the months ahead as I begin to sell the new me. It’s really difficult to push forward and to be resilient in the face of rejection and apathy around something I feel so strongly about.

I have been working on my book again this week and it has brought me so much joy. I have a rule that I take an afternoon nap on the days that I exercise but there is one exception to that. If I’m writing, I don’t need the nap and I’ve come to realise it’s because writing energises me. I’m in flow when I’m writing and I don’t get tired. I need more of it in my day and I must work on structuring my day accordingly. I even have an idea for my next book and I’m putting together some basic ideas.

So the question remains, why am I avoiding leadership? I think it’s because it’s hard and it’s lonely. It’s much easier to blame your boss for your horrible job. It’s much easier to follow a list of performance indicators someone else has set for you. It’s really hard to stare at a blank canvas and to design your life and career. It’s a scary prospect to set the direction and not have anyone guiding or helping me. But I think I’m up for the challenge. I think it’s time I stopped avoiding leadership.