Strong Leaders Find Time to Take Care of Themselves

Guest post by Annette Wallace

Thirteen days into my principalship, at the age of 30, I suddenly and violently lost my father. He struggled with mental health issues and alcohol addiction for years  and tragically succumbed to suicide.

I wasn’t ready.

I wasn’t ready for the huge task of turning around a high-poverty, low-performing high school, and I certainly wasn’t ready to lose my No. 1 supporter, my dad.

Our nation is facing a mental health crisis, and school leaders are not immune to the struggles of personal emotional welfare. In fact, high demands and surmounting pressures of the job cause school leaders to come face-to-face with mental and physical health struggles. As a leader, physical and mental health is paramount to personal success.

How might leaders balance pressures with personal welfare?

I navigated losing my father and gaining a huge responsibility all within a 13-day time period, and nonetheless, since that day five years ago, I have struggled. In fact, the evening I was named the Maryland High School Principal of the Year, I remember lying in bed thinking, “Is this all?” At a time in my life when I should have been grateful, my thoughts instead drifted to how unhappy I felt. How did a driven young woman reach such depths? Whatever had sunk me so low became a wake-up call for me. I knew negative things in my life had to change and change quickly. I began praying, reading, and connecting with joyful school leaders. It has taken me some time to find my groove, and now, at this moment, I am a joyful, fit leader loving every moment of life!

Here are some tips I have learned to help school leaders maintain mental and physical health:

Find those who grind like you and stay connected with them. As a leader, your “bucket” is constantly being emptied by both problems and people who need you. Use your tribe who grinds like you to refill your bucket. These people can have daily presence in your life, as well as those you connect with on social media. I recommend following leaders who use the hashtag #JoyfulLeaders if you are looking to connect online. Through this network I have discovered books, blogs, and tweets that have kept my bucket overflowing!

Build a strong belief system. While navigating this thing called life, faith will keep you grounded. #JoyfulLeaders, for the most part, have a common thread that keeps them in a good place: a strong faith and a strong spiritual commitment. My faith propelled me through some of my toughest days, personally and professionally, losing my dad, and taking on a high school principalship. 

Keep physical health at the forefront. A fit leader is a strong leader. As a school leader, I have no time after school to workout, thus 5:30 a.m. workouts were born! I developed a close-knit workout group that meets three times per week. We push and support each other. My workout group also shares my faith, so working out with them restores my body and soul. The time I carve out in the morning is time for “me to work on me.” I also recommend yoga, massage, and acupuncture to keep in tune with body and mind. Follow #FitLeaders for fitness inspiration.

Seek help. After losing my father, I have strived to bring awareness to those in need. Should you or someone you love struggle with notions of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. You are important, and you have a responsibility to get help, as your life has meaning and value.

School leaders, please, do not spend a single day thinking “Is this it? Is this all there is to being a school leader?” Refill your bucket before your bucket is empty. Should you find yourself “nearing an empty bucket,” contact me via email or twitter, night or day. I will do my very best to connect you with people who will help renew your life and fill your school leader bucket!

Annette Wallace is the principal of Pocomoke High School, a high-poverty school on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She believes that in order to change her community she must provide students with access to an education beyond high school by breaking down any and all barriers that might get in the way of her students achieving their dreams. Annette is also committed to being a #JoyfulLeader and a #FitLeader. Since losing her father, she has become an advocate for suicide prevention. Annette is the 2017 Maryland Association of Secondary Schools Principal of the Year. Follow her on Twitter @Aewallace8

1 Comment

  • Michael Thomas says:

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Annette. It is hard as a leader to find time for yourself, and your post is an important reminder that leaders must take care of themselves not only for their own sake but for others too.

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