10 March 2021
On 2 March 2021, local emerging and established women leaders gathered to attend YWCA Canberra’s first She Leads Workshop of 2021: Resilience and Mental Agility in the time of COVID-19 with Heidi Prowse. The session began with a story of resilience, preservation, and stress: Heidi’s own story about how her husband was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, and how Heidi continues to support her partner’s health while being the CEO of an organisation that impacts 30,000 people per year.
For Heidi, our ability to lead others is directly related to how well we can take care of ourselves. It starts with the self because people look to leaders for guidance on how to do their jobs, when to take leave, and generally, how to succeed in life.
“When a manager comes to me asking how they can get their people to take more leave, I always ask, ‘Well, when did you last take leave?’ Usually, the manager responds by saying they are far too busy to take leave,” Heidi explained.
While this may be true in some instances, not leading by example creates a culture of “do as I say, not as I do” and does not build a culture dedicated to the care of its people. In other words, how can we believe leave and rest are acceptable to our people when we ourselves don’t practice self care?
“Until a few years ago, I wasn’t practising self-care. What I was practising was crisis coping, which meant I was reaching the point of burn out before convincing myself I ‘finally deserved’ to take time for myself,” Heidi said. Crisis coping isn’t intentional or pre-emptive; it buys into the culture that says women do not have value unless they are working, that we shouldn’t take time for ourselves unless we absolutely need to take time for ourselves.
At one point during the workshop, Heidi projected a graph examining the journey from boredom to burnout. “The key to productive working”, says Heidi, “is to remain between the green and yellow parts of the graph.” Once you’ve reached the colour fuchsia, you’ve reached the pressure level “strain” and gone too far.
Participants shared anecdotes of how they have coped with stress, creating conversations about how the fuchsia and red “crisis” aspects of performance can be avoided through tactics like laughing yoga, gardening, going for a long walk, and blowing bubbles.
The night ended on a very optimistic note, with Heidi providing stress tool kits to each participant, containing more information about mental health and bubbles, “because they’re fun and help you breathe deeply.”