As most type-A overachievers can attest, it is easy to treat the idea of 'well-being' as an afterthought to achieving success.
My departure from and journey to well-being began when I was just 5-years-old, when I was first spotted as a talented gymnast. In the decade that followed, I experienced the highs of victory during national competitions, the lows of mental blocks and sabotage, and the devastation of injury. When a broken spine and snapped hand ultimately ended my gymnastics career, the stress I endured, along will ill-timed family trauma, caused my hair to fall out... just in time for high school.
My high school years were plagued with social rejection, lunch periods spent eating in bathroom stalls, and a belief that if I were my own worst critic, then nothing and no one could hurt me.
Pumped with steroids, bi-weekly injections in my scalp and burgeoning insecurity, I pushed myself to accomplish anything and everything I could to make up for the inadequacy I felt. So I aced every AP class, won piano competitions, acted in school plays and became an All American lacrosse player. Despite these accomplishments, I still felt so small, ugly and unsuccessful.
When college came and my hair fully grew back, I pushed even harder. I double majored and minored (in all the subjects I was 'supposed' to major in), ran 13 miles a day, captained my lacrosse team and served as a vice president for my sorority. Midway through, I adopted an eating disorder and soon after was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease that made me incontinent and bleed every time I went to the bathroom. I graduated summa cum laud.
After college, I was offered my dream job as an NBC Page, but I turned it down for a job at Google -- a more secure path to success and universal praise. In the years that followed, each day I wondered what my career and life would look like had I given my dream a chance and not chosen from a position of fearing failure.
The great irony was that for all my 'accomplishing,' I was sick and unhappy. I rose to the top of everything I touched and was grateful for the privileged life I led, but I was still deep in hiding -- from everyone, and from myself. I spent years in San Francisco, São Paulo and then New York crying myself to sleep at night, exhausted and confined to the choices I thought I should make. I weighed heavy in all my relationships, and I hated myself for living a dream that did not feel like my own.
However, one year ago, after another stressful period at work and another round of autoimmune flare ups, I made a decision that changed my life. I requested extended time off from work -- for space and time to rest my body and mind, reconnect with my intuition and grow the courage to follow it.
During my sabbatical, I slept, skied, and began training to become a Baptiste power yoga teacher. I found solace and inspiration in small but miraculous things -- a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning, snow in Central Park, a great book. Through my yoga training, I realized that my purpose in life is to be a leader and empower others to live more fulfilling lives. But the only way I could do that was by loving myself, living authentically and dropping the negative thoughts, loyalties and relationships that no longer served me.
Since my sabbatical, I have entrenched myself as a yoga teacher at my mentor's studio here in Manhattan, Lyons Den Power Yoga, accepted a volunteer position to lead a young professionals group within the United Way of New York City, and re-prioritized family and friendships that bring value and happiness to my life. I am a stand for their greatness, as they are for mine.
I still work for Google, but I now sleep eight hours a night (sans tears), co-prioritize my passions outside of work, and appreciate the adventure, support and career trajectory my fabulous company has given me. My health and my performance at work have never been better.
My time off was certainly a reset button, but it is still a daily choice and effort to maintain the balance I know I need to be happy, healthy and successful. It is very easy to slip back into old self-limiting habits, but I hold myself accountable to take notice and give up what I must in order to be present and move forward.
The lesson I have learned this year is that focusing on well-being is the most vital step to achieving sustainable success -- and that regardless of circumstance and choices made in the past, it is never too late to be transformed.