How to intentionally thrive in your personal and professional lives.

When my children were four and two years old, I suddenly and unexpectedly became a single mother. Life as I knew it fell apart. Overnight, the energetic, optimistic, forward-moving Shelmina disappeared. I became angry, betrayed, and full of self-pity. My negative mental chatter was on overdrive with the stuff I had heard in the news: My kids are gonna become drug addicts, my daughter’s going to go after an older man looking for a father figure, our lives are doomed.

I was constantly overwhelmed, preoccupied, and exhausted. I was a sales leader responsible for generating $120 million in revenue, but I couldn’t be present at work. I was failing my team. I was failing as a mom.

These were the darkest days of my life, and they also turned out to be the most transformative days. The person I became and the lessons I learned helped me thrive in both my personal and professional lives.

1. Make your inner well-being your number 1 priority.

Your life is made is made up of a series of experiences. Each experience is divided into two parts: the situation you’re presented with, and the way you respond to that situation. Your response is influenced by your inner well-being. When you are feeling out of sorts, you will inadvertently hurt the people who did not inflict the pain onto you—oftentimes, they are the ones you care about the most.

Your inner well-being impacts everything. When you take care of your well-being, your energy levels go up and you can pour that positive energy into whoever you interact with. Becoming intentional every day about prioritizing and protecting your inner well-being is the most selfless thing you can do, because it enables you to bring your best self to all your interactions.

Schedule what energizes you and brings you joy on your calendar before anything else. Begin with a morning routine that leaves you feeling energized when you start the day. For me, it was eating a healthy breakfast, doing some yoga stretches, and spending 5-10 minutes sitting in silence. And then, make sure to take frequent breaks throughout the day, either 5-10 minutes every hour, or 15 minutes every couple of hours. Make sure to build in a little buffer time between meetings or phone calls so you can recharge. That way you can show up fully energized and ready to fully engage. And you’ll show up like that every single day—every meeting—every interaction.

2. Intentionally focus your attention and energy on your highest priorities 

With more tasks to do than there are hours in a day, I had to learn to allocate my most precious and perishable assets—my attention and my energy—to what mattered the most: my family and my stakeholders at work.

Always be asking: Does this deserve my attention and my energy?

Allocating your attention and energy on your highest priorities requires saying “No” to lesser priorities by setting and respecting your boundaries. Say “No” in a kind and firm manner.

When you structure your days around your highest priorities, nothing important will fall through the cracks and nothing less important will consume your precious attention and energy. When your priorities are clear, you can make better decisions about what deserves your attention—both long-term and in the moment.

3. Intentionally pick an empowering response to a disempowering stimulus.

When I began my career, I was the only woman of color in an organization of 2,000 engineers. Everyone there had better educations, more experience, and better English. I became a victim of my own mental chatter: I’m undereducated, I’m under-experienced, there’s nothing I would know that they don’t already know. What value will I create?

I was full of self-doubt until I realized that I had gift wrapped my power and handed it to my circumstances which were beyond my control.

I coined a term called my “Power Quotient (PQ)” to overcome my fear of speaking up. I used this to intentionally pick courage over fear. No matter our external circumstances, we own the power to scan our mental chatter and intentionally pick an empowering response. Once I reclaimed my power, it became a game changer.

The reality is that your life and career will hand you amazing highs, devastating lows, and everything in between. You don’t get to choose what happens to you, but always remember you own the power to choose your response.

4. Intentionally view every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.

On my journey to thrive, I came across many challenges.  Not only was the field of technology changing at an accelerated pace, but my children’s needs were also constantly changing.

I learned to view every challenge as an opportunity for growth.

Whenever you are faced with a challenge, ask yourself: What can I learn from this? How can I improve as a result of this situation?

You can take the worst situation of your life and turn it into a narrative of learning. Seek help and support if needed. Remind yourself that you’ve faced challenges before and can do it again.

To do this, you must first and foremost be kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up for your mistakes, learn from them so you don’t make the same mistakes again. Seek progress and not perfection. Celebrate yourself for the progress you are making.

The individual experiences will not matter over time, who you become as a result of these experiences does. The incremental learnings will become transformational over time and enable you to make better future choices so you can thrive in your personal and professional lives.

Excerpted from   Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work by Shelmina Babai Abji, Published by McGraw Hill(2022)


  • Shelmina is a TEDx speaker, board member, former vice president at IBM, and an angel investor. She started her career as a software engineer and then moved into sales and sales leadership, leading global teams to deliver over $1B in annual revenues and serving as a key decision-maker in hiring and promoting hundreds of professionals. She received extensive leadership training at IBM, Harvard University, and UCLA. As a global empowerment speaker, Abji has addressed attendees at companies, conferences, and colleges that include Google, Edward Jones, National Center for Women in Technology, Black women in STEM, and Harvard.