In Our Pursuit to Become Women Leading, Are We Instead Becoming Women Worn Out?


Each new school year begins with positive spirit and bustling activity. It can be energizing to get caught up in the enthusiasm and long list of goals we hope to attain when returning to campus. It is also a good time, however, to take a moment to be reflective about the qualities that truly define our success.

As we kick off a new school year, I am happy to share opening day assembly remarks from Nanci Kauffman, Head of Castilleja School. Nanci’s reflections are valuable and instructive as we consider what it means to be a successful leader and prepare to model healthy leadership for our students. I encourage you to embrace in your own ways Castilleja’s theme for the year of Women Learning; Women Leading; Leaders Thriving.

Megan Murphy, Executive Director, National Coalition of Girls’ Schools

To kick off the school year, and to introduce our theme for the year, I want to start with a story that is currently in the news. Arianna Huffington recently sent an open letter to Elon Musk. Ms. Huffington, who was a keynote speaker at the National Coalition of Girls’ School’s Global Forum on Girls’ Education I, is founder of Huffington Post and Thrive Global, and the author of 15 books, including, most recently, Thrive and The Sleep Revolution.

Elon Musk is a business entrepreneur, investor, and engineer. He is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX; the co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; the co-founder and CEO of Neuralink; and a founder of PayPal.

So why would Arianna Huffington send an open letter to Elon Musk? Ms. Huffington admires and respects Mr. Musk, not only because of his vision, but for the passion he shows for innovating and changing the world. But recently, Musk’s tweets and his New York Times interview caught the attention of many of us. And, they raised some red flags for Huffington, who two years ago launched Thrive Global, a media platform whose mission is to change the way we work and live.

Through Thrive Global, Huffington wants to put to rest once and for all, the delusion that burnout is the price we must pay for success. So, in her public letter to Musk, she asserts that working too hard has not only harmed him physically and emotionally, but it actually has diminished his success.

When Tesla struggled to meet production goals at the end of last year, Huffington and many others noted that Musk’s tone and energy had changed dramatically. In his New York Times interview, he spoke in deeply personal terms, admitting that, “This past year has been the most difficult and painful year of my career. It was excruciating.” Overcome by emotion, he admitted, “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside. This has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”

How many of us have worked too long and too hard, at the expense of our friends and family, convinced that we had no other option? In our pursuit to become Women Leading, are we instead becoming Women Weary or Women Worn Out?

Huffington acknowledges that Musk is under tremendous pressure to lead. She also makes it clear that the world has never needed leaders more; but we need leaders who are thriving not wilting! That is why, this year, to ensure that your leadership in and out of the classroom has room to blossom, we will strive to thrive. With guidance from Huffington’s Thrive Global, we will take the time to wonder; we will grow in wisdom; and we will tend to our well-being. We each will find the keys to thriving; and we will fulfill our purpose – to take our places as responsible leaders!

Welcome to the new school year – a year of Women Learning; Women Leading; Leaders Thriving!

Nanci Kauffman, Head of School, Castilleja School

Editor’s note: This article originally ran on Thrive Global and is used with permission of the author.

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