Our own Angelina Brathwaite – one of our talented Board of Directors members – shared what motivated her to make herself a priority, so that she could better help others at home and work).
“One of the most difficult things is not to change society – but to change yourself.”
Like many female leaders I know, I am driven.
Driven by the desire to give my all at a fulfilling job, and to coach and mentor rising talent. Driven by a passion to make a difference in the lives of marginalized communities. And driven to be the best partner and daughter I can be.
As a senior partner for a global recruitment and staffing agency, I am also responsible for our inclusivity, diversity and belonging initiative, which includes North America, Brazil, Guyana, and Surinam. I also contribute significant time volunteering with racialized communities providing training, education and mentoring for women’s organizations, marginalized groups, and newcomers to Canada.
Yet recently, I have been driven in a different direction as challenges in my personal life have required me to adjust and rethink priorities and shift the balance. And to measure the value of health – and peace of mind.
Over the past couple of years, my Mom was hospitalized. As her primary caregiver, I was running back and forth to the hospital every day – working while at the hospital wearing COVID-standard PPE clothing, keeping up with my volunteer commitments, and running a busy household (the typical trope of trying to do it all, and all at the same time). When we were finally able to bring Mom home, I took on too much and injured my back caring for her, unable to stand up. Bedridden, I was still working from my bed on Teams, doing everything I felt I needed or was obligated to do.
Just as I had overcome this hurdle, more recently I was given another wake-up call. About two months ago I was walking in the mall and lost the vision in my left eye. At Emergency they diagnosed me with Polypoidal Choroidal Vasculopathy, an eye disease prevalent in Asians and people of African descent. I am currently visually impaired in one eye but improving with monthly injections. My physician shared with me that the condition was stress related and I needed to integrate relaxation techniques into my daily lifestyle. In other words, I needed to focus on my health and wellbeing – and put myself first.
While these health scares were hard lessons, I recognized that to maintain myself as an effective leader and help others as a caregiver, I must help myself first. When I prioritize my personal health (be that physical, mental or spiritual), I reduce stress, increase my happiness, and improve my energy – so that I can show up fully at both home and work. And while it looks different from person to person, here is my top-three list of commitments on how I prioritize myself, which I hope might provide inspiration.
Start with self-care. Maintain a healthy lifestyle including good nutrition. Get enough sleep. Read. Get off the screen. Take a walk outside every day. Incorporate joy, reflection, and relaxation into your life.
Ask for help when you need it – and connect with others. Connect to your community. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes when you admit you need help, you are helping others in their journey too. This sense of connection is why I joined Women Leaders in Pharma; it was an opportunity to strengthen important relationships, as well as get support from other female leaders in my field. I encourage you to do the same.
Look for the positive and express gratitude – big or small – daily. I believe too much judgement has a negative effect on your thoughts, emotions and even your physical health. Give compliments, share appreciation, call out wins. Say thank you.
And while I still shoulder considerable responsibility in the workplace, at home, and with my volunteer activities, I ensure a sense of balance so that these activities fill me up, instead of draining me. I like the road I am on. I am now driven to put myself first so that I can be there for others and give my best, whether it be guidance, my opinion, or to be physically present.
Making myself a priority is not selfish; it’s a necessity.