How Prioritizing My Well-Being Boosted My Success As a Leader of a Multinational Company

Instead of letting my health slide during a particularly stressful time, I doubled down on it. The results shocked me.

Image by Pixinoo/ Getty Images
Image by Pixinoo/ Getty Images

I don’t really think about my job as Chief Legal Officer for Procter & Gamble as “stressful” — that is, until someone I have just been introduced to says, “wow, that must be really stressful.” But I do acknowledge that, like many others, I have become accustomed to living with unpredictability and conflict, and there is a danger in forgetting that the stress they produce can take a toll on our health.  

So a couple of years ago, I decided to take a critical look at my personal wellness plan and kick it up a notch. Sure, I was doing pretty well with my nutrition and exercise — especially, some said, “for my age!” — but I knew that I could do better. I got a stand-up desk for my office, my husband bought me a Fitbit for Christmas, and I tested my resolve over the holiday festivities by resisting most party food and making time for exercise. As I entered 2017, I felt like I was ahead of the game.

But, of course, our best-laid plans can easily derail in these interesting lives we lead. Early that year, a well-known asset management firm made a significant investment in P&G’s stock and immediately called on our Board to add the head of that firm as a Director — which ultimately led to a “proxy contest” as the issue was put to a shareholder vote in October of that year. From a personal wellness perspective, this meant several months of longer-than-usual days, lots of airplane travel, extensive media attention, less time with my husband, and no small amount of stress.

Well, there went the new wellness program, right?  Nope. Not this time.  I made the decision to double down on trying to remain healthy, reasoning that if ever there were a time for healthy living, it is during times of greater stress and more work — even though the enormous temptation is to move in the other direction and worry about the health part later. In the past, I might have said that I felt so tired and miserable that I “deserved” to eat a bag of Goldfish crackers and drink more wine and skip working out. This time I pushed myself to think about “deserving” good, healthy foods and physical movement throughout my day, which were the things that really make me feel better.   

I worked on adding more protein, especially fish, and vegetables to my diet, and I cut out some carbohydrates and sugar. I kept healthy snacks with me as much as possible and worked to keep my energy level high. I did sometimes splurge on pasta or ice cream, but it was largely a conscious choice, rather than a famished impulse. I worked on finding times to get up and move throughout the days, and I scheduled workouts into my travel calendar. The hardest part may have been getting enough sleep. I am a morning person, and I get up early, but a number of my colleagues with whom I shared this experience tend to work and stay up later. Thus, we had a lot of late-night email exchanges going around. I just had to remind myself that those would be there in the morning, and if anyone had an urgent reason to reach me, they could always do so. News flash: No calamity occurred because I went to bed at 10:00 p.m.!

Without question, feeling better physically helped not only in making better decisions, but in keeping the situation in perspective and the stress in check. In the end, I also lost some weight, but most importantly, my doctor, who looked at all of my improved health metrics scores in astonishment, said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” The changes I made have been sustainable so far, and I have a learned a lot from this. First, while we all go through times of increased stress in many facets of our lives, those times do not have to equate to times of poor personal health habits. Second, when we think of living healthy as a gift to ourselves (as well as to our loved ones and colleagues), eating right, exercising, and sleeping enough become positive endeavors, as opposed to forced requirements characterized by language like “diets” and “I can’t have that.”

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