The closing weeks of 2018 have provided me with a unique opportunity to do some thinking about wellness, balance and lifestyle; prompted by some truly life-enhancing coaching, and by the opportunity to meet Arianna Huffington at the end of November. I’ve since read a couple of Arianna’s books (‘Thrive’ and ‘The Sleep Revolution’) and have been trying to join together these various strands to help me think about what I’d like to do differently in 2019.
Don’t get me wrong, 2018 was an extraordinary year in many ways. I found my feet at SoftBank Investment Advisers, did some incredible work, and saw some fantastic places. And, for the most part, I did that whilst maintaining the standard of ‘work-life integration’ to which I’ve held myself until now. In essence, that’s meant prioritising quality time with my children morning and evening on the days I’m not travelling, and not letting work intrude on family time at weekends for the vast majority of the time. In many ways, I feel deeply proud that I can work at this level of seniority and intensity and stick to those principles. It’s not always easy and I’ve worked hard over the last six years since my children were born to revolutionise the way I work to make it possible to keep those commitments.
But it’s not enough. I’ve been kidding myself that work-life integration is about meeting my parenting goals and my work goals simultaneously; and to do that, I have made too many sacrifices in the areas of sleep and wellness. When I scroll through my Fitbit sleep tracker, by far my most common amount of sleep on a weeknight this year has been a number with a 5 in front of it. 5 hours of sleep is just not enough for me. 6 hours isn’t enough. If I’m honest, I’m at my best at 8 hours of sleep a night; always have been, always will be. For sure, I’m not yet at a place mentally where I can imagine consistently getting 8 hours – but I do know that 5-6 hours doesn’t cut it. I need at least 7 hours a night to perform at my best. How did I get to a point where I have bought into, as Arianna writes, “the prevalent cultural norm of sleep deprivation as essential to achievement and success”?
So, here are the things I’m going to try to do differently in 2019.
Sleep. I’m going to prioritise getting as close as possible to 7 hours of sleep a night. I am blessed with the ability to drop off to sleep very easily, but I don’t go to bed early enough. I need to count backwards from the time I need to wake up, then simply get myself to bed earlier. This is going to mean watching less TV. As I write it, that sounds so easy to accomplish and trivial to worry about; but if that hour of escapism is my only ‘downtime’ in the day, it still feels like a sacrifice right now. I need to change my mindset so that I feel like the extra sleep is more of a ‘treat’ to myself than the next episode of the box set.
Electronic devices. Over the last month, I’ve moved my iPhones out of the bedroom. I’ve absolutely felt the benefits of not aimlessly scrolling through social media until I fall asleep, and not having my work email be the very first thing I reach for when my alarm rings in the morning. But the lure of addiction remains strong – I’ve definitely popped out of the bedroom for a sneaky last-minute check before sleep, and I’m not waiting long enough to pick them up in the morning. Whilst I’ve been on holiday this week, I’ve also noticed quite how often I get an urge to check my phone. Walking along, waiting in a line, when I’m in the vicinity of my kids but for whatever reason not feeling the need to be fully present – my instinct is always to fill any perceived ‘gap’ with my phone. That’s the behaviour of an addict. It’s also behaviour which fills my mind with trivia and doesn’t leave any space to breath or reflect.
One of the dots that I’ve joined on this topic came from some writing that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since I read it. Every week, I get an email from the Rabbi of the synagogue where my daughter goes to Hebrew school with his reflections on the week. (I often joke that his emails are worth the synagogue fee alone, such is the profound beauty of his prose which seldom fails to move me). In his last message of 2018, he wrote this. “I mostly pray to go downwards, not up. I try to pray like a digger of wells who persists until fresh water seeps through the dry earth and fills the hidden depth. That depth is not in the earth, but in myself. Can I get there? Can I listen, travel down below my flitting, floating thoughts, beneath my irritations and preoccupations, and feel life from my heart? At that moment, new sweet water flows and sings its way back into the dried out receptacle of the soul. What I feared was empty is replenished”. (Sidebar: when I grow up, I want to write like him). That’s how I am increasingly feeling about my phone. It’s keeping my mind full of flitting, floating thoughts, and stopping the new sweet water flowing and singing. I need to find more ways to make the water flow in 2019.
Wellness. As I’ve mulled over all of this over recent weeks, I’ve asked myself a lot why it is that of all of the standards to which I hold myself (model employee, caring boss, inspiring parent), I care so little about being a healthy human being. I eat badly and don’t move enough, and I give myself a free pass on it because it comes lower on the priority list than doing a good job and being a good parent. A close friend recently tried to get inside my head before a big presentation I was nervous about by telling me, “You’re 36. When are you planning to get comfortable with presenting? When you’re 40? 50? If not now, when?” His words have been playing on repeat in my head since then, and I keep thinking about them in the context of my health. At what point in my life am I going to get my act together and spend even a fraction as much effort on my own health as I do on my career or my kids? When I’m 40? 50? If not now, when? What makes me think that I don’t deserve this modest gift to myself? What makes me believe that investing even marginally in my own health won’t pay dividends in my relationships, my work or my parenting? It’s an unhelpful mindset that I’ve struggled with my whole adult life. I don’t have the answers to fix it all, but I’m naming it to myself (and, I guess, to you!), and I’m on the lookout for microsteps to address it in 2019.
So that’s my plan. More sleep, less phone time, more focus on health. And trying to integrate all of that with a year of work which I’m more excited about than any year in my career so far. I’m writing this here because, despite feeling a little exposed about sharing personally in this way, it’s clear to me that one of the most profound influences I can have as a leader, particularly as a female leader, is to acknowledge that I’m trying to make changes like these. Not to pretend that 24/7 availability is the key to my success; and to say out loud that I will do more insightful, more creative, more value-creating work if I sleep just a little more, find a few moments to breathe, and take better care of myself.
SBIA friends, lots to follow on this theme for us as a community this year, but here’s me putting my money where my mouth is, and inviting you to hold me to account. Here’s to thriving together in 2019!
This article first appeared on Linkedin.com