We asked a number of leading women who are speaking at the upcoming She Leads Conference what they’d like younger women to know about navigating their leadership pathway. Below, Stephanie Lorenzo, Founder and CEO of Project Futures, discusses what it’s like to start a not-for-profit organisation at the ripe old age of 22.
Being young, ambitious and having more commitments and plans than a small government … Sound like anyone familiar?
On my 22nd birthday, I’d just been awarded Young Canberra Citizen of the Year and emerging young leader by the Chief Minister of Canberra. I worked full-time, wrote for an online magazine, ran a florist that employed people with special needs, volunteered as a crisis telephone counsellor for Lifeline Canberra and tried to keep a ‘perky’ social life.
I was in my prime, I felt on top of the world and I made it my mission and vision to change the lives of hundreds of people with special needs. Every fibre of my body was committed to everything I did – I believed what I was doing was right and that’s all that mattered.
But there came a time when push came to shove and I was exhausted, jaded and no longer thought what I was doing was worth it. It wasn’t a true reflection of how I actually felt, but it still happened.
Having experienced such exhaustion, I have 10 personal things I’d like all aspiring future leaders to know about leadership and looking after yourself.
1. Burn out. There is a thing called burn-out. It’s the state of chronic stress that feels like a bucket of exhaustion mixed with negative feelings and general incapability of being efficient. Perfectionists, high achievers and all those in between loathe the word but it still exists and plays havoc on your mind and body.
Dealing with said burnout isn’t as easy as sleeping for 10 hours and eating chocolate for breakfast or deciding that you’re “just a little tired, stressed bored or all of the above”. It’s actually a serious issue of all of these feelings and the most crippling anxiety rolled into a ball inside of your body. Seeing your doctor, taking multi vitamins, allowing time to nourish your body, exercising, taking a break and surrounding yourself with those that love and care for you are probably the only ways you’ll be able to naturally deal with burn out.
2. Vitamins. Never underestimate the power of multivitamins. Don’t get me wrong – you should be trying as hard as possible to get your daily vitamins from your everyday diet. But when you’re under incredible amounts of pressure and stress and aren’t exactly treating yourself well – your body will suck up any form of vitamin you have stored. Topping those levels up and ensuring you’re looking after your body is the only way to ensure you’re adequately prepared to deal with the daily challenges life throws at you.
3. Self-care. When I trained and became accredited as a Lifeline telephone counsellor, self-care was a word drummed into us during the 6-month process. I was young and invincible, so I didn’t pay much attention. Fast-forward a few years – turns out I’m not invincible.
Taking the time out to care for yourself may sound insignificant, but it absolutely makes a different to the quality of your life. Your self-care routine could be extravagant – a massage or a pedicure – or it could be as small as taking a hot bath, dinner with your friends or a hot date with a book by the fire. Either way, taking the time out of your daily grind and focusing on yourself is paramount to your performance and being an effective leader.
4. Supportive friends are invaluable. Those friends that forgive you for being late, forgive you for whining about your day and most importantly – encourage, help and love whenever. They’re the keepers.
It’s those people that genuinely care about you and are sincerely happy for your success that will remain beside you no matter what you do. Having friends and family along with you to celebrate the highs and support you in the lows is vital for anyone’s success. They also help keep you grounded and remind you of who you are when you’re so busy that you forget your own name.
5. Feeling crap is okay. Sometimes, feeling crap is a part of life. I’ve only learnt this recently. For some reason, I was under the impression that life was meant to be sunshines, rainbows and lollipops.
I was wrong. It’s certainly not how life goes. Really, you’ve got to experience a couple of lows to appreciate the highs. There will be days when nothing seems to go right, or you keep making the same silly mistake – but give it time. Tough times never last – tough people do.
6. Make it your mission to fulfil your vision. We need more people taking bigger risks and standing up for what they believe in. Everyone’s a leader in their own right and everyone has exciting plans, dreams and visions bubbling within them. Take the opportunity to weigh up your ultimate vision and go for it. Life is honestly too short not to try and make your mark on the world.
7. Making other people happy, will make you happy. Volunteering, no matter how long it’s for, will literally change someone’s life.
I have vowed to myself that for the rest of my life, no matter how busy I am, I will always find a few hours to volunteer my time. I may not have millions of dollars in the bank, but what I do have is time. Not a lot of it – but I still have it and it doesn’t cost me much to give it up.
Quite often, donating some of your time or buying someone a coffee will mean so much to them, long after you’ve forgotten all about it.
8. Exercise is related to happiness. Each day has 24 hours – 1 hour can definitely be devoted to a light stroll, heart pounding run or a speedy session at the gym. Those things called endorphins literally can change the way you’re feeling in a blink of an eye. Never underestimate the power of getting your heart racing in the name of exercise. Especially when you sit at a desk all day.
9. Don’t underestimate the power of a diary. I love iPhones and adore technology, but I still carry that trusty diary around. I just can’t get the IPhone calendar to work for me and have sometimes been truly let down by it not reminding me that I had a keynote address that very day. The diary allows you to map it all out and have the confidence to know that it’ll be there the following day.
A natural side effect of being a leader is that you’ll have hundreds of commitments coming at you from every side of your life. Being able to lock these in the diary will keep the chaotic nature of your life at bay.
10. Flowers, smile and a cuddle make everything better. That’s why I’m here. My florist, GG’s Flowers is a socially sustainable florist that employs people with special needs. We’re all about spreading the love around Canberra and ensuring simple gestures such as receiving flowers, are topped with some of our own personal additions. For instance, my sister, Gayana delivers these flowers with a cuddle – something she’s chosen to do for a special touch.
Sometimes, it’s the simple things that matter to those around you that you’re leading. So next time you think someone needs to be cheered up – consider sending some flowers (from GG’s Flowers, of course) and giving them a much needed smile and cuddle. You’ll never know how much it means to them.