As CEO of G(irls)20, Heather Barnabe’s career has been built around improving the livelihoods of women and girls, both at home in Canada and around the world. With over a decade of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather knows what it means to manage complex, multi-country interventions.
By Heather Barnabe, CEO, G(irls)20
“On rit pour ne pas pleurer” was the refrain commonly used by my high school French teacher. We laugh to not cry. He’d typically deploy it when his students flubbed the French language and being the terrible French student that I was, I was often on the receiving end of that phrase. He would take a deep breath, close his eyes and, whisper “Barnabe, on rit pour ne pas pleurer.” And then he’d laugh, correct me and move on. I watched him do this for years with his students and did not appreciate the importance of what his phrase meant until recently, when I needed to deploy it regularly.
I have had the privilege to lead G(irls)20 since June of 2017. G(irls)20 is a non-profit organization that focuses on leadership development in young women to change the status quo and help cultivate the next generation of female leaders. Each year, ahead of the G20 leaders’ meetings, we host a global summit and invite young female delegates from around the world to participate in workshops and meaningful discussions surrounding women’s rights and global issues. The delegates work together to create a communiqué that incorporates a female youth perspective on the topics of the summit. The communiqué is then presented to the G20. The delegates also create a post-summit initiative that helps change their communities. It’s an incredible job and I feel lucky to do but, like any great opportunity, the pressure to execute is anxiety-inducing.
In May, we hosted our 10th annual summit in Japan. For a number of reasons outside of our control, G(irls)20 had to prepare our Summit in a very short timeframe, operating in overdrive to pull everything together and implement an impactful event.
Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.
At G(irls)20, we struggle over the decision about who we choose for our programs, because, simply put, the world is full of dedicated, talented young women, deserving of opportunities. In the lead up to Summit, there was a week where our keynote speaker had pulled out, one of our delegates was declined a visa, and another delegate called me up distressed as she was potentially unable to attend. Layered with numerous other issues that arose, the pressure of implementing a global summit with what felt like a lack of human capital, resources and time was already keeping me up at night. That day, anxiety kicked in and felt overwhelming. And I’m not alone — a recent Ipsos Reid poll found almost half of Canadians find the workplace the most stressful part of their life. Of those Canadians, half indicate workload is the biggest cause.
So how do we navigate workplace anxiety caused by pressure and workload? I try to reframe the anxiety and follow these steps:
- Take stock. Write down the details of the issue, list out the possible next steps, outcomes, and associated pros and cons.
- Reach out. Who in your network can help with this issue?
- Take action. You have to make a decision, so once you have run through steps 1 -3, be decisive and move forward.
- Prepare. What possible outcomes did you determine in step 1? Prepare for those outcomes with mitigating strategies.
- Step back. In looking at the bigger picture, is this issue truly significant or are there other factors influencing your anxiety?
- Move on. I did not appreciate that for my French teacher, that refrain of ‘on rit pour ne pas pleurer’ was his gentle way of reminding himself of seeing the bigger picture and then moving on. Yes, his students were incorrectly conjugating a French verb, but they were still learning French, a language he adored. It’s good to be reminded that the best plans go awry in our professional lives —but we can stay the course.
That particular day, I found comfort in his phrase and laughed at the absurdity of the multitude of issues coming at once. And then we did what we needed to — the G(irls)20 team kicked into action, going through the steps, and ultimately executing a notable global summit for young female leaders. Having a strategy to tackle workload-related anxiety is necessary to succeed in our high-performing professional environments. With a dash of humour added, you will be able to navigate just about anything.