How a Trip to the ER Taught Me a Lesson in Mindfulness

“There is, and always will be, a lot of noise in our lives. Strong leadership requires methods to reduce the noise and find those critical signals before they become a problem or a crisis.”

Chattrawutt Hanjukkam / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Chattrawutt Hanjukkam / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Like many tech startup CEOs, my natural speed of life is fast. I talk fast, eat fast, type quickly, and walk at a good clip. High-speed spinning, with a splash of soul, is not shockingly, my workout of choice. I cram as much as humanly possible into every day–in part because life is such a glorious adventure and in part, because I’m a mom of 2, wife, CEO, board member, daughter, sister, pet owner, community leader, and family schedule coordinator, project manager and IT support specialist.

So this month has required a massive mindset shift. It started in Seattle when my Lyft driver went into some sort of hole in the road and I conked my head on the window pretty hard. I knew it was going to leave quite a bump, but it was 4am and I needed to be home for a board meeting the next day. I just told the driver to go to the airport, googled “can you fly with a head injury?” and headed home.

I know from our work in wellbeing that one of the most valuable practices is meditation and mindfulness. I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with meditation and was currently in an “off” mode. So it was only when I had a serious headache and was vomiting into the sink several days later that I stopped, looked at my husband and said, “I shouldn’t go to NY today, should I?”  From his 5am grogginess he said, “No, I think this is when you should call the doctor.” 

My doctor sent me immediately to the ER. The ER ruled out a brain bleed, ruled in a concussion and declared I needed a week long regimen of staying home and resting. No exercise or “active minutes.” Drive as little as possible. Minimize “screen time” including work. I admittedly used the “scream” emoji when telling my team. But chagrined, I finally stopped moving long enough to start listening.

Had I been meditating more regularly, I might have noticed earlier that I was having persistent mild headaches, blurry vision, and was slightly nauseated after riding the train to work. But I plowed through the days after the accident until finally, my brain just revolted and forced me to sit and heal.

What it made me wonder is what else I’m plowing through, failing to notice little signals that something needs more care. The curt sound in a team member’s voice or the annoyed or confused look on their face. The second or third missed meeting with a normally reliable customer or prospect. The brief welling up of eyes on a teen’s face when discussing homework. 

A few years ago, I started focusing more on mindfulness after reading Janice Marturano’s “Finding the Space to Lead: a Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership.” She first changed a stereotype I had that meditation and mindfulness required sitting absolutely still. She explained one could cultivate mindfulness in many ways, including while walking, driving and even drinking coffee. She also explained that a mindful leader embodies leadership presence by cultivating focus, clarity, creativity, and compassion in the service of others. Research from Harvard shows that mindful leaders develop better companies and happier employees.

This week has been a wake-up call to restart a mindfulness practice again and encourage others to start one too. Our bodies do tell us what’s wrong if we stop enough to really listen. Our team members may not always use words, but you can feel and see concerns, stress and anxiety if you pay enough attention. Our kids, particularly our teens, have unique ways of letting us know they want to talk, if we are only present enough to encourage the conversation.

As busy professionals, there is, and always will be, a lot of noise in our lives. However, strong leadership requires methods to reduce the noise and find those critical signals before they become a problem or a crisis. I hope, for your sake, it doesn’t require vomiting into a sink to learn this valuable lesson.

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