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Getting Free from "Grind Culture"

Updated: Mar 10

Welcome to FreeToLead, the blog of the Center for Liberated Leadership. I’m so excited that you’ve chosen to join us!

I’m Chinyere and over the coming months, I will be sharing reflections and lessons learned from three decades in nonprofit and higher education leadership.  I’ll also invite you to engage with powerful questions designed to surface the places where you may be stuck and to take action to liberate your leadership. 

Ready to get started? 

First, I invite you to pause, put your hand on your chest and take three deep breaths. Take a moment to get in touch with your deeper  intentions. What drew you to open this email? What yearnings does the idea of liberating your leadership spark in you? 

Okay, let’s dig into today’s reflection.

It has become a commonplace to bemoan how exhausted and overworked we are. We shake our heads over  burnout in ourselves and those around us and then we get back to business as usual. Long grueling days, evenings catching up on email, nights when we just can’t switch off our overstimulated  brains. Sound familiar?

What if there is another way? As leaders, we have the power to disrupt what Trisha Hersey so powerfully calls grind culture and to create space for everyone to breathe. We can model what it means to be a human being rather than a human doing: taking lunch breaks away from the desk, having five  minutes of mindful stretching at the start of meetings, asking one another how we are, really, and making space to listen deeply to the response. We can put boundaries around our work; unplugging from email in the evenings and weekends to be present with family, taking real vacations and returning enthusiastic  and re-energized. 

I know grind culture intimately, and have had my own journey with neglecting my wellbeing to meet the relentless demands of academic leadership. One story stands out in my journey from superwoman to simply human. When I was pregnant, I was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition and almost lost my unborn daughter. Several weeks after returning home, I was still weak and exhausted but I was worried about how my students and academic department were faring without me. Instead of surrendering to rest and recovery, I insisted on returning to a grueling schedule of teaching and chairing. When I recall dragging my exhausted body from the parking lot with multiple pauses to sit on the curb and regain enough strength to carry on, it seems so cruel. But it's what I thought I needed to do for the students and community I cared about so deeply. That experience was a wake up call for me however, and since then I have dedicated myself to a practice of wellness and self love that, I hope, will prevent a return to such a driven, inhumane life.

So today’s invitation is to explore what it would take to break up with the grind. (You’ve been married to overdoing and over-giving for too long).

Take a moment to reflect on the following questions:

  1. What practices help me to feel nourished, rested and energetic and how frequently do I engage in them? 

  2. What triggers me to abandon these practices?

An invitation:

Pick one self care practice that you will do at least 3 times this week. Add one accountability mechanism to serve as a reminder or check in. 

If you have enjoyed this blog, please forward this email to a friend and invite them to subscribe and join the conversation. In the future,  I will be curating guest blogs from some of the leaders I respect and admire. If you have something you’d like you would share with our community, please get in touch!

Until next time,


Julia "Chinyere" Oparah has served as provost at two institutions of higher education. She is an executive coach, strategist and founder of the Center for Liberated Leadership.

Want to dig deeper? Sign up for a consultation to explore how executive coaching can help you do your best work and live your best life!

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