I was recently nudged to reread a book I wrote ten years ago. From that experience I’m called to share my reflections and reframe the book through a lens that I hope will make it more valued and understood by more people. This is the first in a series of posts on those reflections.
What has changed? (since I wrote “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” )
In the past ten years, more and more influential women, and some men, are coming out of the woodwork and acknowledging that they have burnt out. An example is Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand who in January 2023, announced “I no longer have enough in the tank to do the job”, and declared that was why she was stepping down.
It is being acknowledged more widely that the traditional ways of doing business and being successful; of driving and striving, valuing competition over collaboration, and leading from our heads and egos rather than from our hearts, are no longer sustainable. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post and founder and CEO of Thrive Global, has shared her story of collapsing from overwork and why she created Thrive Global. It was as a result of her experience of “working day and night” and the negative impact it had, and her desire to share that there is a healthier way to be “successful”.
Leadership qualities such as collaboration, creativity, emotional intelligence, inclusiveness, and intuition (typically associated with the feminine) are being acknowledged as important and needed to solve complex issues of today such as climate change and systemic racism. See https://pamela-thompson.com/why-feminine-leadership-holds-the-key-to-creating-a-world-that-works-for-everyone/ for a more detailed discussion.
The experience of the pandemic caused many people to burn out. Working at home, many parents had to also look after their children which stretched them very thin. Others had difficulty creating boundaries between their work and home life. Still others felt isolated which led to depression and other mental health issues.
In 2014 I said that I “almost” burnt out and I didn’t acknowledge that I had, which I now do.
I now have heightened awareness of the importance for me of being in nature every day, and what happens when I don’t get my nature “hits”.
What remains the same since writing “Learning to Dance with Life”
Some things remain the same. For example, the seven keys in my book are still relevant. Seven keys to consciously cultivating improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life, and the powerful practices associated with each one, supporting us to heal from the inside out.
The proven strategies and powerful practices woven throughout the book are based on evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology, and the health-promoting and healing benefits of the arts, and my own journey as well as that of women I have coached, all of which are being recognized more broadly as supporting healing and positive health and well-being.
The link between High Achieving Women and burnout. My work and the growing body of research related to burnout demonstrates that having qualities of a High Achieving Woman increase your risk of burning out.
When I was writing “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” my editor wondered whether a more appropriate title might be “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for Driven Women”. Perhaps that is so, as many women who I would consider “high achieving” do not perceive themselves as such. While writing “Learning to Life” I interviewed women from three continents who I perceived as high achieving and some of them said things like, “I’m not a High Achieving Women or, I don’t have any great accomplishments to my name, or I’m not in the corporate world, or it sounds arrogant to call myself a High Achieving Woman.” I think that is still the case today.
I identified nineteen attributes of High Achieving Women that I validated in my interviews that still hold true today (in chapter 1). The majority of High Achieving Women tend to give more than they receive, and many are challenged to reach out for support. The also spend much more time doing than being.
Why I focused on women.
- More and more women are becoming leaders, managers and entrepreneurs
- Increasing numbers of women are primary breadwinners in their families
- Women in all cultures transmit their values and wisdom to their families
- Women have the power to change the world.
Why I wrote the book including that “I’m called to get the message out about the negative impacts on our bodies, minds and relationships that result from driving ourselves, not listening to our bodies, and living in our left brain (p. 4).”
I welcome your thoughts and comments below on what you believe has changed in the past 10 years related to burnout and how to prevent and heal from it.
 “Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress. Though it’s most often caused by problems at work, it can also appear in other areas of life, such as parenting, caretaking, or romantic relationships.” Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/burnout
I so needed this vacation. My mind was buzzing, and I wanted to escape from the day-to-day responsibilities, to be in the warmth, to speak Spanish, to have little or no structure in each day, to swim and do lengths in the pool.
When I glide through the water I feel such freedom, such strength, such focus on the rhythm of my breath as I do the front crawl for 50, 70 or more lengths. It feels so good! Perhaps I was part fish in a previous life!?
I sit outside in front of our casita in a pueblo magico in Mexico. It is a beautiful fishing village that has a special vibe. The beach is long and wide, and each evening people gather to watch the sun set. When the glowing orb drops into the sea everyone claps. It’s quite an experience. The locals are a mix of ex-pats and Mexicans. There are more and more young people visiting the town and there are also a number of older hippies from North America who live here half the year. It is indeed a special place. I feel like I belong here. My Spanish has come back after about 3 years of not speaking. It flows easily off my tongue until every now and again when I forget a word and have to ask what it is in Spanish.
I love Latin culture. I lived in Colombia in the late 1980s in a small town of 250 houses about 3.5 hours north of Bogota. When I arrived there, I felt like I’d come home. Curious! I gave myself three months to learn Spanish and I did it! Living in a pueblo where hardly anyone speaks English, if you are someone who loves to connect with and communicate with others, is an incentive to learn a language quickly. How fortunate I was to have had that experience!
Over to you, how do you recharge and rejuvenate? What is your favorite place/activity/type of vacation? I welcome your comments below.
To make a life change, moving from one way of being and living to another, requires letting go. What do I mean? And why does it matter?
An example is when we are let go from a corporate position and are faced with the decision of whether to seek a new employer or start our own business. If we consciously choose to become an entrepreneur, our beliefs and emotions around the transition are quite different than if we are given a “pink slip” and are forced to leave a position. In either scenario, we need to let go of; for example, a regular paycheck, status (perhaps), “perks” such as a company car, an expense account …. If we consciously choose to leave, we may have some fear of the unknown and must deal with feelings of uncertainty. However, the emotions we have around the experience are different. In the case of being fired or “right-sized” we may feel anger, sadness, grief, as well as fear of the unknown.
I recall in the early 1990s when I started my first business. I had initially been lured away from a good government job to work with a management consulting group on a handshake. My father thought I was crazy to leave a good job with benefits, but the idea of consulting and being an entrepreneur was exciting. I recall my husband at the time had been encouraging me to strike out on my own for a few years. I noticed fear coming up in me and it took an offer from a consulting group to be the “carrot” that lured me away from a more stable position. That said, I was excited and energized about the new opportunity. In contrast, people I know who’ve been let go and forced to leave their jobs sometimes feel angry, victimized and low in energy. This can over time negatively impact their health, self-confidence, and their relationships with others.
So why is important for us to learn to let go when faced with a life transition be it chosen or imposed on us?
If we don’t learn to let go of certain emotions and beliefs, we may continue to repeat the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy and unfulfilled. An example is if we keep choosing positions for the money rather than getting in touch with our passions and purpose and choosing positions in alignment with those passions and purpose.
Here are some proven strategies for “letting go”.
- Identify and surface the emotions you have around a current or previous transition; for example, anger at a boss, a previous partner, a friend. The Feeling Wheel by Dr. Gloria Wilcox is a useful tool to help you get in touch with and name your emotions.
- Release those emotions from your body. When you think about a particular emotion notice any tension in your body and where it is located. It is often felt in your gut or your heart. Think of emotions associated with past hurts and transitions as “rocks in a backpack” and visualize and experience releasing them all from that backpack.
- Forgive yourself and others. This is powerful and often keeps us stuck and holds us back from moving forward. A mindfulness tool that facilitates forgiveness (of self and others) is “Forgiveness Meditation”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbHKCy4f6Dk for a process developed by Jack Kornfield, a psychologist trained in Eastern and Western Psychology.
- Write a letter to your previous boss, partner, friend from a balanced and empathic perspective. There are always two sides to every story. Reflect on the lessons learned from that experience.
- If you still have anger and strong emotions associated with a past relationship, it is therapeutic to write a letter to that person sharing how they wounded you and what the experience was like from your perspective and then to either burn it ceremoniously or tear it up into small pieces and at the same time commit to releasing the negative emotions associated with the relationship.
We all face a number of transitions throughout our lives. Learning how to let go is the key to moving forward and living a life of health, happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace.
I welcome your thoughts below on your experiences with “letting go” and strategies you have found helpful to “let go” of beliefs, emotions, feelings that are no longer serving you.
How has 2021 started for you?
Do you feel the past few weeks have been a blur? Did you hit the ground running and feel like you haven’t stopped?
Or, perhaps you started the year more tentatively, preferring to move slowly, doing what you know and feel comfortable with. Wanting all of the uncertainty, stress and sadness associated with 2020 to disappear.
It’s interesting how each of us deal with uncertainty. Some of us stay busy and don’t take time to slow down so we can’t think too much. Others take it slow, really feel their emotions and proceed cautiously. Which category do you fit into? Or are you somewhere in between; some days moving at top speed and others feeling emotional and moving more slowly?
I’m one of the folks who “hit the ground running” and feel like I’ve “had my roller blades on” since January 4th.
Yesterday my body felt tired and stressed. I felt “wound up”. I finally listened and went for a walk in nature. I walked to the ocean’s edge and lay on a rock, soaking up the winter sun and feeling the tension in my body melt away into the rock, or so it seemed.
“Nature connects me with my soul.” That’s part of a faith statement I developed at a personal growth workshop years ago. Nature is such a great teacher and healer. I’m amazed when I walk by water or in a park or forest how relaxed I begin to feel. My stress just falls away. Do you relate?
There is a lot of evidence regarding the healing benefits of nature. This was brought home to us during COVID-19 when we saw air and water pollution levels go down within the first 6 weeks of lock-down.
How are you dealing with this ongoing pandemic? Are you able to get out in nature? If so, I encourage it and when you’re there, notice how you feel. Perhaps journal about it afterward. After the year we’ve all had, it’s important to be kind to our bodies.
Thinking of you and sending much love and healing energy your way!
The way many of us in the world are currently living and working is not sustainable. The way our organizations and societies are structured, how they are led, and how success is defined are being questioned. Our day-to-day actions and the beliefs and values on which they are based, are resulting in many of us experiencing chronic stress leading to negative impacts on our bodies, minds, relationships, productivity, and our bottom lines.
Our reliance on fossil fuels and a world focusing on consumption and the belief that earth’s resources are infinite are now being challenged. We now have data to show how nature can heal itself if we let her. Many of us are finally embracing the need to take action to preserve and save our beautiful planet and the fauna and the flora within it.
COVID-19 has shone the light on a number of the inequalities such as systemic racism, gender-based violence … and we are now acknowledging that we need to take action NOW toward creating a world that works for everyone.
What can you do? Where can you start?
We know that change starts from the inside-out and begins with each and every one of us.
The 7 keys to what I call Creative Living and the strategies and practices associated with them are an excellent starting point to begin to “be the change”.
I introduced the concept of Creative Living in my book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. Creative Living is defined as the “conscious cultivation of improved health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace.”
There are 7 keys to Creative Living with proven practices and powerful strategies based on my own journey and work with clients from diverse cultures and backgrounds that are supported by evidence from neuroscience, the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts, organizational development and eastern psychology.
The 7 keys to Creative Living are: 1) Listen to and Trust in Your Body’s Wisdom; 2) Tap into and Express Your Creative Side; 3) Consciously Create Right and Left Brain/Body Balance; 4) Live in Alignment with Your Core Values; 5) Believe that You are Here to Make a Difference; 6) Learn from and Embrace Life Transitions; and 7) Find Inner Peace and Build Peace in Your Family, Community, Workplace … the World.
If you would like to learn more you can access “Learning to Dance with Life” on Amazon. Here’s a link: Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women
In my next few posts, I will be sharing how each of the 7 keys can support you to “be the change” you want to see in the world. Stay tuned!
I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share your comments below; e.g. What strategy or strategies do you believe are important for creating a world that works for everyone?