Let’s imagine for a moment that the kids are screaming during your Monday morning Zoom call. They’re behind on their homework, years behind it seems, soccer practice is canceled, and their school is likely not opening back up for months, or millennia… who knows for how long. Time is elastic these days and so are your ever converging titles: mom, business executive, chef, home-school teacher, romantic partner, Jill-of-all-trades.
The lyric “this is not my beautiful life…” keeps ringing in your ears. Oh, David Byrne, this once-in-a-lifetime experience of Covid-19 has put into focus something that the simple joys of escapism in its many delectable forms can no longer hide from plain sight: you are chronically stressed. The weight of those words sits heavy on your shoulders. But why?
In a culture of glorified busyness, we often equate finding time to care for ourselves with a lack of work ethic. So self-indulgent! But what if we turned this around? How would it affect our performance if we chose to optimize ourselves first — with a focus on us as our greatest asset?
In a recent conversation with David Stewart in the SuperAge podcast, Chōsen co-founder Robin Connelley speaks about her journey as a ranked martial arts athlete, a leading cleantech venture capital investor, and how she found fulfillment by focusing on life balance and self-care during the time of Covid-19.
Urban professional life is burnout culture at its most toxic
Urban professional life is centered on prioritizing productivity over everything else. Our identities are defined by the work we produce. The more it costs us, the bigger the badge of honor. This is burnout culture at its most toxic, and the root of chronic stress.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Robin was driven to excel in her intellectual, athletic, and professional pursuits. She was the 2nd ranked kickboxer in the US while she was the president of her law school class. After finishing her MBA at the University of Oxford, Robin went on to pursue a career as a cleantech VC in Dubai and Hong Kong for over 10 years.
Despite working to bring eco-innovation to market, Robin witnessed firsthand how happiness and contentment can go wayside in high-pressure work environments — inducing anxiety and mental health struggles that wreck professional and personal lives. She saw burned-out innovators desperately trying to push their businesses and technologies forward to save the planet while sacrificing everything in exchange: time, relationships, and especially their health.
The inability to cope with stress greatly affects our decision-making, which leads to short-term thinking
“I found myself sacrificing my health and wellbeing to keep the wheels on,” says Robin. “Coming to terms that I saw sacrificing my health as a badge of honor was a challenge for me. When I let go of the comfort of constant pressure, I was finally able to find that balance that seemed impossible before.”
This epiphany led Robin to start Chōsen with her co-founder and fellow eco-innovation VC John Stanton, as a way to support innovators so that they could perform at higher levels for a longer amount of time; Creative Longevity, they call it.
The inability to cope with stress greatly affects our decision-making, which leads to short-term thinking: i.e. survival mode stress-decisions. When a leader (be her a mom or an executive) feels diminished, then the whole enterprise or family unit is diminished.
And chronic stress is what we are all dealing with currently. Stress was designed to be a helpful response to danger. Here is how it works in your body:
DANGER! → Adrenals are stimulated to release Cortisol → Glucose flood, for your muscles to help you escape danger → Insulin is inhibited to keep the glucose available to flee or fight → Epinephrine rocket fuel → Escape! …and then once the danger is gone, we are calm and can hang out, reproduce, or play.
With chronic stress, we never get back to our baseline state of calm. Our bodies don’t enter recovery mode. This messes with our hormones, our digestion, our fulfillment, and our capacity for creativity.
“Creative longevity is a core Chōsen concept, and represents my life passion”
“Creative longevity is a core Chōsen concept, and represents my life passion,” says Robin. “It takes guided practice to establish an optimal level of mental performance for the long-term.”
Adequate physical and mental recovery is the key to creativity; that’s when a high capacity for problem-solving can kick in! In this time of too many problems and too many roles, this is key.
Robin has boiled down foundational stress-resilience to four important pillars:
- Brain health & mental performance (you are what you practice)
- Nutrition (you are what you eat)
- Movement (creativity comes from flexing your body and mind)
- Recovery (your most productive time is recovery time!)
To cover these four areas daily, we need a habit-based self-care plan, one to which we can default when stress mounts — that means it doesn’t tax our intellect, but which leaves room for spontaneity and learning.
Habit-Based Self-Care Plan
A sample plan, for example:
- a meditation and journaling practice in the morning followed by exercise
- turning off digital distractions an hour before bed & an hour after waking
- ensuring 8 hours of sleep at night
- avoiding processed sugar
- and always eating a diet that focuses on blood-sugar balance with healthy fats, fiber, and protein that are sustainably sourced.
Living without time for reflection can also lead to depleted health and wellbeing. This is why a quick self-check-in practice is important to Robin in how she deals with stress. This practice allows her to make better decisions towards her self-care and overall life balance. For Robin, this involves four components:
- Body: listening to cues of pain, tightness, numbness and adjusting movement accordingly
- Intellectual: structuring daily to-do list with a limit of 2 or 3 major tasks in a day!
- Emotional: being in touch with feelings and needs, and finding ways to meet those needs
- Spiritual: defining life vision and goal setting
“The most effective leaders perform at their highest levels for longer due to an unwavering focus on taking the best care of themselves,” says Robin.
During these stressful times, Robin and her team are now even more committed to supporting those of us (including her) who are experiencing unusual levels of stress. This year, Chōsen launched a Stress Resilience program designed to cultivate that default plan and connect us to others who want to make a proactive shift in their lives away from chronic stress and burnout culture.
“We want to be part of the solution to the glorification of chronic stress,” says Robin. “The answer is simple, yet hard to implement without some help: You are your greatest asset. Take incredible care of yourself.”
Main illustration by the great Robert Neubecker.
Check out Chōsen’s Stress Resilience Program at thisischosen.com (use the code AGEIST for a 30% scholarship upon registration) or join the team on an incredible experience in 2021 at ChosenExperiences.com