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Post-sabbatical thoughts

There comes a time when you have to just stop. To put away the laptop, stop scheduling meetings, to listen to your body’s needs and do the thing that you’ve been telling your friends and team to do — self care.

Seyi Akiwowo

There comes a time when you have to just stop. To put away the laptop, stop scheduling meetings, to listen to your body’s needs and do the thing that you’ve been telling your friends and team to do — self care.

I founded Glitch in 2016, so I’ve been ‘responsible’ for an organisation — a non-profit, no less! — for the past five years. Two of those years was me leading a growing diverse team during a pandemic, at the height of the BLM movement and when online abuse was peaking.

The “Strong Black Woman” superpowers, I thought, were fuelling me to take up public office, sustain my rebellion against online abuse and fight the everyday and very hurtful misogynoir offline and online.

But really, being a Black woman in senior leadership is ridiculously hard. Living in a culture of misogynoir means we’re already overworking before the day has started. Constantly on the frontline. Fighting to be seen; to be properly cited, funded, remunerated, recognised and protected from internal and external risks. Fundamentally, we’re expected not to rest.

As a Black woman it’s harder to be a healthy leader — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Like so many of my friends in similar spaces and positions, we’ve had to build resilience, boundaries and rack up expenses for things like therapy against the constant undermining and the expectation that we should work harder. Because we don’t automatically ‘deserve’ in the same way our white counterparts do.

Boundaries can only go so far within a system that’s made to benefit whiteness, male privilege and those who fall in between the lines of ‘the norm’. These ‘boundaries’ become a million times harder to set when you pair them with these intersectionalities, especially as you get into more senior positions.

As an accidental CEO, re-onboarding back at Glitch meant that I was working with my amazing team, but it felt like I needed to step back and see this as a moment to reconfigure how I’m showing up in the world. And it definitely couldn’t be at the expense of me: my physical, mental and emotional health. This is some of my advice on how to approach a sabbatical now that I’m on the other side.

  1. Put money aside. I prioritised income generation and work priorities that would enable me to step away from Glitch and know the team would be more than okay.
  2. Empower and trust your team. I prioritised the growth of the Glitch team by hiring an excellent senior leadership and together fostering our org culture that was radical and built on professional trust.
  3. Create a strategy. I set out the blueprint in a two year Strategic Plan. During an offsite week, I spoke to each team member so they knew where they were leading in the movement. I also took this as a bit of a test run for when I do eventually leave — it’s important to send signals that it wouldn’t be healthy for me to stay there forever. It was time for me to decouple myself from Glitch.
  4. Build the infrastructure. I was not only wearing multiple hats at Glitch, but I also had a growing non-Glitch business (partly driven by my debut book). I literally had to sit with an excel spreadsheet to work out how I managed all my responsibilities. Now, within the goal to work part time, I’m using my remaining working week to build the right infrastructure to support me as my non-Glitch opportunities grow.
  5. Seek out an external voice. I found a coach who has experience working with Black women in senior leadership to completely guide me through the last three months. It started with a deep-dive session so she could really get to know me and the areas I was battling.

It’s kind of odd how many things come to the surface when you finally stop. Every so often I would get a flashback, an epiphany and even moments of full cringe at an overreaction I had. I had all these realisations and thoughts around how I want to show up differently in world and for my self, remaining impactful but not at the expense of me

I’m sure there will be plenty more reflections on my sabbatical. These will surface as I ease myself back into work. As I release my debut book(!!!). As the chaos that I can’t control ensues. But here are a few of my final thoughts on how I approached and experienced my sabbatical. For now.

  • New Boundaries: I did a good job communicating my boundaries to my Glitch team and work friends. I would work out my needs from my boyfriend, family and friends a lot earlier and keep them updated on what I needed.
  • Health Over Wealth: Health is really the primary wealth that matters: my body and my sense of self most importantly. It’s truly an expression of my self care, worth and love for myself.
  • Healing Doesn’t Happen All At Once: Our bodies build up with stresses and blockages that need to be unpeeled slowly, like an onion, with both discomfort and relief each time. I’ve been trying to remain focused on listening and accepting my body for where it’s at, and it’s forced me to re-establish boundaries — including with myself.
  • Patience And Comfort Reign: I’ve learnt how to be so much more patient, and I notice it more in my breathing and general way I’m interacting with the world.

And finally, energy for pleasure! I can hear and feel music again. The fog is lifting and I can hear the bass and feel the vibrations.

I am ready to face the future.

To pre-order Seyi’s book, How To Stay Safe Online, go here: www.seyiakiwowo.com/preorder