Why Prioritizing Well-Being Is Now a Badge of Honor

Welcome to 2018, where a non-stop, work-obsessed culture is no longer celebrated.

My colleague Diana O’Brien wears a couple of pretty big hats. She is the chief marketing officer for Deloitte’s US and global organization. Leading a global network of marketing professionals, Diana keeps a sharp eye out for burnout—in herself and her team.

Jen Fisher: What does well-being look like in your life?

Diana O’Brien: Well-being is vitality, joy, peace and energy. It’s all the best feelings that you have when you know your life is full and you are balanced. How I get there is making a positive impact in the lives of others and living my purpose to create a place where others thrive—but first I have to take care of myself. I know when I don’t, it’s not possible for me to help anyone.

JF: What strategies do you have in place to identify expected and unexpected stressors in your life?

DO: I didn’t used to, but today I know when I’m stressed. I can feel it. Now, stress isn’t always a bad thing, right? I have a lot of good stress—like when you’re involved in a project that fascinates you but has a tight deadline. That gets my adrenaline going. And it’s fine for a bit, but you can’t live like that 24/7. Stress starts taking a toll on me, if I can’t step away. Then I have to rely on my family and good friends. There is a small group of people that give more to me than I am sure they get and I intentionally seek support now when I feel out of whack.

I also know that exercise and eating right are super important for me. Those may be obvious, but they’re also easy to forget when I start feeling pressured.

JF: And how do you make self-care a priority when you find yourself getting triggered?

DO: I honor my time. I control my own calendar 100%. I schedule the things that are most important to me first so I can be present with the people most important to me. I’m good about saying no if something’s not feasible. I used to feel I had to say yes to everything. No more.

I also honor sleep in my life. If I’m home, my husband reads to me before we go to bed–truly one of my greatest gifts. We have blackout shades, I spray lavender, and I never, ever bring my phone. I’ve taken sound advice about making the bedroom a special place for rest.

But above all else, the most effective and most important is to focus on all the things for which I am grateful. If I’m feeling down, I’ll purposely make a list of things I am grateful for in my life. And then I act on that gratitude by sending people I care about a thank you note or remind them of how grateful I am for them. That helps me not get consumed by the small stuff. The small stuff never matters very much in the end.

JF: Creativity is clearly important in your role as Deloitte’s chief marketing officer. What role does stress play in the creative process?

DO: Stress can and should enhance the creative process; it can mold unexpected outcomes. It should make us better. Sometimes creative stress can stem from the process or the team, and while I am not suggesting that it is easy, innovation and putting yourself in an uncomfortable spot can create tensions and be beneficial. So bring on stress, intensity and excitement, just don’t let it consume you because then the costs are too high.

When stress feels bad, it’s generally not because of the work specifically, rather you have let that stress get to you and you are out of balance in some way. Whenever we’re out of balance—and this is true for me, too—we’re not going to be as helpful to anyone or any process much less the creative ones.

JF: As a leader of creative teams, how do you monitor your team for signs of burnout and how do you address it?

DO: It’s super important for leaders to look out for their teams. When people are burned out, it can manifest in disconnection—they’re not as engaged, they seem down or distracted. They might seek out alcohol, or other destructive behaviors. They often lash out at others and take things personally where they normally wouldn’t. The best way we can help is to reach out, understand what’s going on for them, and ask what they need to de-stress. We’ve got to be comfortable with a full range of options from “I need to go home and play with my dog now” to “I need to go for a run” to “I need a week off.” People find it hard to make those requests, so we need to create an environment in which it’s okay to prioritize self-care. And leaders need to get used to asking what people need, rather than prescribing solutions.

JF: Can you tell me about a time you helped a stressed-out team member?

DO: Yes. And I’m afraid the source of the stress was me! A member of my staff had some serious trouble sleeping. And I realized I was contributing to it because she felt like she needed to respond to emails as soon as I sent them—and I am an early morning person. When I work it’s because I choose to, but I don’t need everyone to make the same choice I do. I realized that she’d stopped working out, seeing her trainer—exactly the things that would help her feel better, because she was trying to align to my schedule. I sat her down and we talked about it. I told her she didn’t need to get up for early morning meetings and calls. She could come into work later if that suited her schedule. And I asked her straight out, “When are you going to find time to work out?” I’m happy to report that gym time is back on her schedule!

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