Maya Johansson – Well Clinic CEO and therapist – was recently invited to give the keynote presentation at a wellness expo.
For those who were not able to attend, here is Maya’s inspirational, honest, open and empowering speech.
I’ve been asked to share a little about my own ongoing project of keeping mental and emotional wellness central to my life.
There are a lot of very predictable pieces of advice I could give you, that you’ve probably all heard already. As a mental health professional, I’ve been learning about and giving a lot of wellness tips for many years. And they’re all really sound:
- Exercise daily, meditate
- Do yoga
- Get outside each day
- Learn a deep breathing exercise and use it when you’re stressed
- Manage your relationship with technology and social media
- Don’t sleep with your phone
- Don’t multi-task
- Spend time with friends and family
- Hug puppies, etc.
But, like most things, there often exists a gulf between what we know is good for us, and what we actually do.
This is especially true for those of you who are “change agents.” You have ambition. You’re a leader. You want to create something new to benefit the world.
As a kindred spirit, I think we are especially susceptible to not practicing what we preach. Either we think we don’t really need to do things the way others do … or, we simply put ourselves last.
This insidious belief system was tested in me when I became CEO of Well Clinic after being an employee for three years prior. The increased responsibility of my new role made me an even busier woman than I’d been before. I now found myself scurrying — instead of walking — around the office and around the world, with a furrowed brow.
One of the most important changes I wanted to make at Well Clinic was to increase the sense each employee had of really feeling valued and essential to the community.
Holistic leadership is important to me, and this means really seeing the people I work with as whole beings, and truly appreciating what they contribute. This is hard to do when you don’t actually have time for anyone.
Keep in mind, our company is a group of therapists, so they’re pretty tuned in. I can’t really fake it with them. This is a group of people dedicated to being present with others, so they really deserve the same in return.
After a while, I recognized that there was a clash between my ideals around good leadership, and the bandwidth I had to actually show up. In order to be the kind of leader I really valued I had to make an internal shift around busyness.
I had to truly understand my attachment to being so busy on a different level. By doing some deeper emotional work, I came to realize that, for me, feeling busy is the same thing as feeling important. It is virtuous.
There was some sick pleasure I took when my staff would stop me and say “Maya – sorry – I know you’re really busy, I just have a quick question…” It was oddly validating to be seen this way.
In order to make the changes in my schedule that would allow me to have more time, first there was some psychological work I had to do around my identity. I had to actually want to do it, not just say I wanted to.
I’ve always been a person who does a lot, achieves a lot, and gets a lot of gratification from being perceived this way. This is not uncommon. We’ve all been in those conversations where it turns into some weird competition about who is more overwhelmed … where each person listing how crazy their day or week has been.
Changing this is much more complex than just taking a 10 minute walk each day and doing some deep breathing. It involves letting go of the feeling of validation that we get from operating this way.
This is the personal piece. But, there is also a societal piece that adds to this feeling. As a queer woman occupying a title and role traditionally allotted to straight white men, I also felt — and feel — a lot of pressure to demonstrate my worth. Some of this is conscious and some of it is operating at an unconscious level in me in ways I probably don’t even know.
Additionally, some of my attachment to being seen as an important person is driven by this need to prove my worth. I am sure this is an experience that most — or all — of you can relate to also.
The more marginalized identities we inhabit, the more challenging it can be to believe that we truly belong in positions of power. We have to be really aware of how these internalized prejudices operate in us, and make us behave in ways that may not actually represent our values.
We use the word “wellness” to mean lots of things. And self-care strategies are crucial for sure. But, what I’ve experienced — and what I’ve seen in my clients and staff — is that there is usually a deeper psychological underpinning that keeps us from really living and working the way we want to.
It’s certainly not the same thing for all of us, but it’s important to investigate for ourselves. If change and transformation were only about information, all we’d have to do it read one self-help book and all our problems would be solved. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and we all know that.
I’d encourage you to be curious about that ways you get stuck, when trying to implement better self-care and reduce stress. How might you be benefitting unconsciously from not changing? This inquiry is what has helped me the most.
Although I’m speaking in the past tense, this is not something I’m done working on. Not even close. I’d just say that the insight around my identity as a busy — and therefore important person — began to develop over the past couple of years.
The work of actually letting this go is ongoing, and sometimes it goes better than others. But, it has been hugely beneficial already. I am more accessible to my staff, and probably more fun to be with. I enjoy my work more, because I have a more reasonable workload.
My employee retention rate has dramatically increased since I’ve been actively working on myself. And I say out loud as often as I can “actually, I’m not that busy.”
The importance of presence and connection cannot be overstated. It’s actually what we live for. And these are the first two things to go when we’re rushing through our days and our life.
Yes, of course, sometimes there are unavoidable moments of overwhelm, and we can’t always control that. And definitely there is merit in rigor, and a good work ethic. But these qualities don’t have to be sacrificed just because we come into balance.
Examining the addiction to busyness in our lives, and what we’re secretly getting from it has to happen on a personal level before we will really create a new pattern. And definitely before we can help others do the same.
It’s important to ask ourselves who we are besides what we do, or what we produce?
What is the deeper value of what we bring to the world other than a long, crossed-off to-do list?
If we start getting curious about these questions, we may also come to understand what we actually need for ourselves to be truly well.
About the Event
The above speech was presented during a women’s networking event, hosted by the Gyal’s Network.
Gayl’s Network provides events, platforms and resources for the emerging female leader who wants to make a positive impact in the world.
About Maya Johansson
Maya Johansson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who specializes in couples counseling and helping those in nontraditional relationships.
According to Maya, “I am not the stereotypical therapist who sits back and nods. I am engaged and curious about you and your process and will find your edge with you in a way that also feels safe and empathetic.”