As we approach the end of 2023, I’ve been reflecting on my experience so far as Deloitte’s Human Sustainability Leader. It’s been a busy year, filled with purposeful work, collaborative projects, and dedicated people. When we talk about organizations creating value for people as human beings, not just employees, the call to action is clear that now is the time for leaders and organizations to reflect – and act – on the role they play, making a commitment to prioritize, measure, and improve human outcomes. And yet, the more conversations I have with thought leaders, authors, industry experts, and individuals in my own life, the more I can see that there is an incredible momentum building to make meaningful change. As I reflect on the year behind me, I feel so much hope and excitement for just how much we can accomplish when we prioritize people and move forward with purpose,
Here are six key lessons I’ve learned this year as Deloitte’s Human Sustainability Leader:
- Don’t be afraid to evolve.
This year has been a transformative one for me, and at times, a challenging one. I’m constantly reminding myself that personal transformation can be hard, but it’s part of life. We’re always evolving and changing, and even if it feels uncomfortable, it allows us to step out of our comfort zones and step into what’s next. I opened up in a recent newsletter about the small butterfly tattoo on my wrist. It helps remind me of the power of transformation and metamorphosis! Just as a caterpillar evolves into a beautiful butterfly, we are all evolving into a new, beautiful version of ourselves — and that is an incredibly powerful thing.
- There’s power in vulnerability.
As an introvert, I’m not always the first one to open up about what’s going on in my personal life, but I decided to take a chance earlier this year, when I shared my story of being diagnosed with breast cancer in my TEDx Talk. I also shared about my experience with burnout several years before, which I was less open about at the time. I had hit the point of exhaustion and slowly started to lose myself, but I didn’t want to tell anyone that I wasn’t okay. Looking back, I’d actually felt more comfortable talking about my cancer diagnosis than about my debilitating stress at work. It wasn’t until I was willing to be vulnerable that I was able to see what needed to change — not only in my own life, but in our workplaces, and our society. That vulnerability fueled the work I do now, and I’m grateful for that.
- We’re miscalculating purpose.
We talk a lot about finding our purpose — and for good reason. Research shows that having a strong sense of purpose can lower our risk of cardiovascular problems, reduce our risk of stroke, and can even help us live longer. And yet, I’ve realized recently that we’ve been approaching purpose all wrong. Instead of seeing purpose as an elusive thing we’ll spend our lives looking for, we need to see it as an outcome of combining our values and our actions. When we can recognize our values and align our actions accordingly, we can find a sense of purpose in our relationships, our day-to-day tasks, our jobs, and our small daily actions. When we make that mindset shift, we can see the collective impact of our purpose — and that is what allows us to advance human sustainability.
- Starting small is key.
It became clear to me early in my role as Human Sustainability Leader that the challenges we face are incredibly complex, and in many cases, they require systemic action. With that said, that change can start with our own small, daily habits. When I interviewed Heather White, author, founder, and CEO of “One Green Thing” on my WorkWell podcast, we spoke about the concept of taking on one daily practice of sustainability. She told me, “The daily practice [of sustainability] isn’t so much about counting your personal carbon calories. It’s more about being a cultural change agent in your community.” Sustainability can feel overwhelming, but our small actions do make a difference. She also explained that this practice can be something joyful and exciting. It can be joyful to work toward a greener, healthier planet — and that’s something we can all take with us.
- Our relationships are the secret to a happy life.
I’ve always been fascinated by the research behind our relationships: how they can boost our mood, allow us to tap into our creativity, and improve our well-being. It’s something I delve into in my book, Work Better Together. Some of this research came to light when I interviewed Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and Zen priest, on my podcast, WorkWell. We spoke about the Harvard Study of Adult Development that started in 1938, and similar ongoing studies. Dr. Waldinger explained the study’s findings, which show how our relationships truly influence our physical and mental health. The link between social connection and health can tell us so much about how to live happy, sustainable lives: by investing in our relationships, fostering a culture of belonging in our workplaces, and making meaningful connections with the people around us.
- A better future takes all of us.
When we talk about all of the problems we face — climate anxiety, inequity, distrust, burnout — the conversation can feel overwhelming. And yet, this year has taught me that these are human problems that we, as humans, can fix. The solution to all of these problems is Human Sustainability. When we come together to address the systemic issues that are plaguing our workplaces and our society at large, we can create real change — because our problems won’t be fixed by by human resources alone. They will be fixed with all of us doing our part. So let’s all go into 2024 with the hope and trust that we can make a change and hold each other accountable. A better future takes all of us, and that’s incredibly exciting.