“Ellyn, people are not looking for your stamina. They are looking for your ability to problem solve, your creativity, and your compassion. And to be able to give that, you need to prioritize taking care of yourself.”
Those were the words my mentor, Arianna Huffington, shared when she called to check in on me in March 2020. It was the beginning of the pandemic and I was under extreme professional and personal stress. At work, we were working tirelessly to ensure the safety and resiliency of our half a million Accenture family members, while helping nearly 100 percent of our people transition to working from home in a few short weeks. And personally, I was struggling with being isolated from loved ones, the sadness of two close family members being laid off, and the difficult news of health crises within my family.
Always an avid walker, I had abandoned my daily walks early in the pandemic. I felt guilty for taking time away, especially when I perceived others needed me at work or at home. I wasn’t sleeping, I had trouble focusing, and I felt very anxious. Arianna’s wise counsel that self-care is essential, not self-indulgent, was quite literally life changing. On that day, I committed to walking daily — scheduled and non-negotiable. Most days found me in Central Park.
On January 21, 2021 I hit 300 consecutive days of movement — memorialized on my Apple Watch in the banner at the top. While the physical benefits have been remarkable — I lost 20 pounds, lowered my blood pressure, and now sleep soundly — it’s the mental resilience I’ve gained that really stands out. Practicing self-care and untethering myself from my desk helps me mentally recharge, gain perspective, experience joy in something I love to do, and be strong to help those around me — at work and at home.
As I look back on these 300 days and over 1,650 miles logged, I have three big takeaways.
1. Be willing to be vulnerable, share your story, and let others help you. Had I not opened up to Arianna and asked for help, I wouldn’t have benefited from her advice. I’ve also shared my story across Accenture, to reinforce that it’s not just OK, but essential to step away from your desk and practice self-care. Leaders’ behaviors speak volumes. Modeling self-care gives others the permission and encouragement to prioritize their own wellness.
2. Don’t go it alone. My fitness buddies — my husband, Pat; my work colleagues, Joel and Allison; my friend, Pat Wadors; and my sister, Sue — were so important. Not only for friendly competition, but also for motivation on days that were particularly difficult. They brought me much-needed human connection during this time of physical distancing. In addition to other humans, I sought out tools that helped me prioritize self-care. That included my Apple Watch, the Mirror for days when I couldn’t exercise outside, and a good pair of sneakers. I also practice Thrive’s Microsteps, which are part of the Thriving Mind course we developed in collaboration with Thrive Global and Stanford Medicine — and that over 150,000 of our Accenture people have taken. My favorite Microstep is turning my chair away from my computer and practicing 60 seconds of deep breathing to calm my mind and regain focus.
3. Be mindful about why you’re doing this and how you’re framing your goals and achievements. Our society reinforces extrinsic rewards and the many boxes to check on the path to achievement and happiness. A recent article in The Atlantic describes how psychologists have found that extrinsic rewards can actually extinguish intrinsic rewards, leading us to enjoy our activities less. The authors suggest that while there’s nothing wrong with aspiration, if one’s happiness depends on a growing list of worldly accomplishments, a fear of failure might overshadow one’s sense of accomplishment. I’ll carry this frame with me as I set goals and look ahead on my own self-care journey, focusing more on the joy and calm these experiences bring.
To borrow a favorite phrase from Arianna, we must put on our own oxygen masks first. In this time of triple crises, being kind to yourself and taking time to prioritize your own health and resilience is the best gift you can give to yourself so you can be your best for others in your life.