Why You Can’t Be ‘Awesome’ Until You Understand the Important of Well-Being

Nobody is going to give you permission to take care of yourself; sometimes it’s the bravest thing that you can do.

I’m not sure if it’s symbolic that I’m writing this blog post on 1st May, being Workers Day (Labour Day). I can think of many an entrepreneur (including myself) using this day “off” to catch up on work uninterrupted.

This post is however a reflection on my past week spent in Millemont, France on retreat with the Wellbeing Project. The Wellbeing Project is a 3 year project co-created with Ashoka, Esalen, the Fetzer Institute, the Skoll Foundation and Synergos. We are a global community of diverse people, institutions, organizations, networks and alliances involved in the project, collectively focused on cultivating a culture of personal and inner wellbeing in the field of social change.

The Wellbeing Project believes that Wellbeing inspires Welldoing so over three days, fourteen of us spent time reflecting on what wellbeing means to us on a personal, organization and a social change ecosystem level. It was super clear from get go that all the participants are considered rockstars in our individual fields of work and impressive profiles can be found by a simple google search on any of our names. Beyond the profiles, what impressed me most was the humility, openness and non-judgmental way everyone showed up. From an Iraqi-American working in Lebanon, an architect transforming how schools work in India, a French-American working with youth in Switzerland to those nomads working in philanthropic organisations or supporting social entrepreneurs, we each have our own stories to tell. Some have recognized burnout and have already undertaken a journey of change to those living on the edges speaking of family killings in unjust and unequal systems. These are a few comments that came up in our time together:

  • Society and media are singing our praises when we are at out worst; traumatized. I feel helpless about our ability to make change

  • Travel is my coping mechanism

  • Sometimes you just want to cry; it’s not always about the political (process)

  • I couldn’t get out of bed; I didn’t think I had anything further to offer

  • I want to fill others up but I’m depleted

  • I stopped meeting people because when we’d meet they’d want to take my project on and want me to support them

Picture credit to Vincent De Coninck

Last year I shared my story of journeying with burnout; what I know now is that making change is not a once-off action. You never “arrive” but need to constantly work at sustaining and increasing mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing. As a group we will over the next 18 months deepen our collective understanding on what wellbeing means to us as well as the required changes that we need to make to get there. These are however some of my immediate reflections:

  • Just because we take social action, it doesn’t mean that we’re perfect or have all the answers; please join us in this experiment and gently forgive where we make mistakes in service of humanity

  • There is a season for everything; one of starting new projects, handing over projects and in some cases closing off projects

  • Nobody is going to give you permission to take care of yourself; sometimes it’s the bravest thing that you can do

  • Society wants super heroes and we respond to it either because of ego or to attract resources to our projects in dire need of support. When seeing someone in the media or up on stage then please be aware that they have a story that’s not necessarily public.

The terms mindfulness, well-being, self-care and mental health are used interchangeably. I won’t spend time on definitions here but I’m glad that these topics are starting to creep into mainstream conversations with many mobile apps and literature to call on for practices of support. We need to make sure that everyone has access to wellbeing; it’s not just for the rich or middle class. Mental health is not up for conversation in many of our cultures and considered “white people’s things” so there’s lots of suppression and trauma with limited healing taking place. In the entrepreneurial community and amongst high achievers in general stories of divorce, alcoholism and disconnect from family and friends due to workaholism is a silent whisper.

For now, I’m trying to figure out what it means to slow down and take focused, authentic action in the next phase of my life and work. In the meantime, being awesome can take a backseat; I aspire to be well. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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