Four Insights on Personal Growth

Dr. Romie Mushtaq speaking at Booth Women Connect Conference 2019Many business professionals push themselves to the limit. Working overtime, sacrificing sleep, and coping with chronic stress becomes their day-to-day. This not only takes a toll on mental and physical health, it inhibits their ability to achieve the success they’re after.

The 2019 Booth Women Connect Conference offered a session track devoted to personal growth, helping busy professionals find better balance in their lives and find more peace in the workplace and at home. In these sessions, experts covered a wide array of topics—from mindfulness to flexibility to intersectionality. Get the top takeaways below.

Stress Hinders Success

Dr. Romie Mushtaq, chief wellness officer at Evolution Hospital, said American work culture is pervaded by what she calls the stress-success cycle. “We think that to achieve success, we must stress, obsess, and worry,” she said. “When we achieve the goal, there’s this temporary euphoria, then we stress all over again.”

In the session “Brainshift: Uplevel Your Memory, Mood, and Your Leadership Performance,” Mushtaq discussed how damaging this cycle is to our health. “When we’ve got this heightened stress response, inflammation, cortisol, and adrenaline pump through the body,” she said. As a result, many people develop anxiety, depression, insomnia, stomach and chest pain, and/or difficulty breathing. Stress can also impair the memory and critical-thinking skills, which also inhibits job performance.

To break the stress-success cycle, Mushtaq recommends mindfulness and meditation, which she said trigger a relaxation response. “That same autonomic nervous system that was inflamed calms down,” Mushtaq said. “We open up areas of our brain that are needed to analyze and create without negativity and fear. We become more focused and more productive.”

Mindfulness Fosters Creativity

Jacqueline McCarty, owner of Om at Work and Living Yoga, did a deep dive into mindfulness and meditation during the session, “Harnessing the Power of Meditation Practice for Everyday Benefits.” She defined living mindfully as paying attention to the present moment without judgement. “Instead of being lost in what I’m doing next or what I did before, I’m here,” McCarty said. “You can do anything mindfully by putting your full attention on that thing.”

McCarty described meditation as a structured, seated exercise to practice focusing on one thing. “You’re not getting rid of your thoughts; you’re creating a different relationship them,” she said. “You can choose not to get entangled in them and to focus on something else.” McCarty recommended practicing five to seven minutes of meditation or one mindfulness activity daily. “When you live more mindfully, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system,” she said. “It produces oxytocin, which makes us more resilient and more content. The benefits are creativity, better listening, and more compassion for the self and others.”

Flexibility Improves Productivity

In the session “The Future of Work,” an expert panel discussed how workplace inflexibility compromises our health. For example, some people, like caregivers or people with chronic illnesses, may even leave the workforce in order to better meet their needs. “We expect people to be chained to their desks from nine and five, but that doesn’t work for most people,” said Lindsay Dreyer, director of audience at Werk. “We all have things we need to attend to—everybody has doctor’s appointments.”

Dreyer and her fellow panelists argued that the workplace needs to move toward flexibility in order to retain employees and help them achieve their best. This could be the ability to work remotely, shifting schedules, or allowing people to leave for appointments. “Why do we need ping-pong tables at work or free beer on tap?” Dreyer asked. “The investment that needs to be made is not in the physical workplace, but in acquiring the data that’s going to inform how companies alleviate points of friction in the employee experience.”

Inclusivity Drives Growth

“None of us lives by one identity, even though we may get labeled as one,” said Trish Foster, senior director of the Gloria Cordes Larson Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. The failure to acknowledge intersectionality—the unique set of identities we each hold that interact with each other and impact our lived experience—can lead to discrimination. During the session “Intersectionality in the Workplace,” Foster discussed the importance of an inclusive, supportive work culture to employee recruitment, retention, and engagement.

Some of her strategies for creating an inclusive culture include:

  • Expand your perspective by diversifying your network.
  • Use inclusive language and behaviors, such as adding pronouns to your signature.
  • Ask for and share feedback about blind spots and how you can avoid them.
  • Have courageous conversations with a “focus on listening and learning to better understand the other person’s issue.”

Ultimately, Foster said, supporting intersectionality can build bridges by making us more sensitive to the dynamics that impact our coworkers and employees. This helps drive better outcomes and improves corporate performance.

—Melissa Brooks

Booth Women Connect Conference is organized by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The 2019 event brought together more than 1,400 professionals for an extraordinary day of bold ideas, spirited discussion, practical insights, and impactful networking.