Leadership means standing with integrity and not being afraid to go to that place where no one else is. We live in a society where everything is so fleeting, that it’s becoming rarer to find someone who is the lone oak tree, unwavering during the storm.
Holly Bertone, CNHP, PMP, is the #1 Amazon.com bestselling author of the book Thriving in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease: Know Your Rights, Resolve Conflict, and Reduce Stress. She is a highly sought-after speaker and wellness expert. After spending over 25 years as a Project Manager in both government and industry, she is now the President and CEO of Pink Fortitude, LLC and runs the health and wellness website pinkfortitude.com. Holly is a breast cancer and Hashimoto’s survivor and turned these two significant health challenges into a passion to help others thrive at home and in the workplace.
What is your backstory?
With 10 years in human resources and 15 years in project management, I spent my career climbing the corporate ladder in both government and industry. The last several of those years were especially difficult after being diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease. At that point, Pink Fortitude was just a side-hustle.
My career with the Federal Government came to a screeching halt in 2017 when these health challenges culminated in a devastating crisis. Resigning was extremely difficult, however, it was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to rapidly scale Pink Fortitude and become a champion for fellow breast cancer survivors and autoimmune sufferers. Now, I teach others whose work and business lives are intertwined with strategies to juggle a busy schedule despite their chronic illness. I also educate employers on their legal rights and responsibilities for their employees with autoimmune disease.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It was during my transition from career woman to entrepreneur. I was failing at everything, especially balancing work, life, and health. I remember one night, running into the bathroom to draw a bath and rushing to pull up the meditation app on my phone. I jumped into the tub and said to myself, “Ok. 10 minutes. Relax. Go.”
I started laughing out loud, realizing how ridiculous that was. Conventional wisdom tells us to take a warm bath to relax, but when your life is completely out of control, you need to address the root cause of your stress and not put a bandage on it. It was a pivotal moment for me as I was starting this new chapter in my life.
3.What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
In 2017, my health plummeted, and it affected my work performance at the government agency I had been employed at for 13 years. I was told that I was “faking it,” to “drink more coffee,” and to “just take a pill.” They even rescinded my approved FMLA. It was the most difficult decision of my life to resign from a career that I truly loved and to go from a comfortable six-figure salary to zero.
Starting over is never easy. I went from being a superstar in my workplace to scrambling to figure out how to run a business. I wasn’t contributing financially to my family. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose in life. I was scared to death. Not to mention my health was so bad that I could barely get out of bed. But I was determined.
In five months, I wrote the #1 Amazon bestseller Thriving in the Workplace with Autoimmune Disease to help others in the same situation. In one year, I scaled Pink Fortitude to a profitable business. I also created a corporate vertical to educate managers and HR professionals on this important topic.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership means standing with integrity and not being afraid to go to that place where no one else is. We live in a society where everything is so fleeting, that it’s becoming rarer to find someone who is the lone oak tree, unwavering during the storm. Leadership is standing up for others who feel they don’t have a voice and not just advocating for them but empowering them to find their voice and become a leader in their own right.
One thing I’ve learned is that being a leader doesn’t require a title. A lot of individuals who I work with are dealing with a chronic health condition that they have had for years. I teach them how to be their own health leader by doing proper research, questioning their doctors, taking care of themselves, and listening to their bodies.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My mother was diagnosed with Addison’s Disease, a rare autoimmune condition when she was pregnant with me. For the last 50 years, she has lived life to the fullest every single day. She taught me about fortitude, as it was her life mantra. I never really knew what that word meant until I struggled with my own health challenges.
Fortitude is the grit that builds character and helps you to overcome whatever struggles life throws at you. I now get to help others find their fortitude every day. To rise up in the face of adversity. To keep fighting, even when you don’t want to.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
It was a struggle to transition from career woman to entrepreneur. I didn’t understand the boundaries of working for yourself. I either spent the day working myself into the ground or I got caught up in all of the wife and mom duties that needed to be handled.
I also still had debilitating fatigue. I was sleeping 10 hours a night and taking 2–4 hour naps every day. It took a while to finally find that work-life balance and also learn how to run a business while still recovering. Being an entrepreneur is difficult enough, but add in health limitations and it’s a whole different ballgame. This gig doesn’t come with an instruction manual. I had to learn how to write the rules myself.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of life?
Quite the opposite. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned how to optimize the balance needed between work and life and health. It’s not the same as working an 8-hour day in the corporate world. And it’s not the same as working 24/7 like many entrepreneurs. I had to take a step back and really evaluate my work priorities as congruent with my life and health priorities.
Some people look at work-life balance like a scale, where one side is winning, and the other side is losing. I like to envision it like a pie chart. We all get 24 hours in a day, so it’s more about carving out chunks of time for each priority.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
1. Start every day with gratitudes and mindfulness. This helps to set the day with focus and intention. Think of 10 things you are grateful for and set your intentions for the day.
2. For those with health challenges, I tell them to understand your natural energy rhythms and schedule your work accordingly. For example, if you have the most energy in the morning, then plan for the most difficult work at the beginning of the day. If your energy crashes in the afternoon, use this time for easier and administrative tasks such as answering emails.
3. Make a list of priorities and tasks for the week. Separate these tasks into the type of work if they are difficult or easy. Then annotate the priorities in each group. It’s not just about focusing on your priorities, but also working with your natural energy rhythms throughout the day.
4. Schedule time every day to fill your own cup. When balancing work and life, it’s easy to overlook yourself. It’s important to take time for your own needs and interests. This also gives you the headspace to hone your creative skills and thinking.
5. Don’t just ask for help, learn to accept the form that it’s given to you. Whether it’s work or home, we all need help. It’s difficult for a lot of people to ask for help, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies and want tasks done a certain way. Your employees, coworkers, and family all want to see you succeed and want to help you get there. Let them. And be gracious in whatever form it’s offered.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride?
Being a leader in the movement to bring disability rights to the workplace for those with autoimmune disease. While I love working with individuals, it’s fulfilling to be the authority on this topic and to work with corporations to help them understand their legal rights and responsibilities. By working with the employers, I can 10x this impact.
Despite the fact that there are 54 million Americans with autoimmune disease, no one is talking about their rights in the workplace. I’m transforming this space. It’s my mission in life to help those who are struggling to find that perfect balance of work and life and health.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We live in a culture where it’s trendy to be the victim and blame others. I would love to turn that over and inspire others to take ownership of their circumstances and overcome their challenges. To find fortitude in the midst of their struggles. And to find a way to reach out to inspire and help others with the same circumstance.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?