Say “Mindfulness” One More Time! I Dare You! - PEBC

Say “Mindfulness” One More Time! I Dare You! 

We hear the terms “mindfulness,” “self-care,” and “wellness” so much that they have lost a bit of their meaning and their power. The concepts of caring for oneself are essential, but in the midst of a stressful position, a toxic environment or unrealistic expectations, attending to one’s self can feel like another item on a checklist. We lie to ourselves by embodying the belief that if we get things done for others, we will have time to do for ourselves. Sometimes that time is not found; instead, the time continues to be stolen from us. 

I have worked in the education field for almost twenty years. In that time, I have held several leadership positions, the most stressful was being a school principal. DeMatthews et al. (2021) found a considerable amount of stress and exhaustion accompanying the principalship. While recent research attests to the complexity of the role and the multitude of priorities and expectations (Gill, 2021; Syed, 2020), additional research indicates that the principal role has gotten more stressful over the past decade (Bartanen et al., 2019). While I loved the work of school leadership and enjoyed the community of learners, the litany of competing expectations, compounding interests and the lack of self-care caused me to experience a significant health crisis. In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which I strongly believe was due to a consistent and persistent level of stress.  

Intellectually we know that we need to be in a healthy space, but acting upon that knowledge requires an additional level of resolve. For example, I knew it was important to eat vegetables and drink water, but it was easier to grab something fast, devoid of any sustenance, minerals or vegetables. I knew it was important to get my heart rate up, so I went to the gym regularly, but because I was so exhausted after work, I relied on caffeine and pre-workout energy supplements to push through. I felt incredibly successful after spending an hour or two at the gym and could now redirect my focus and energy to my husband and two young children. But here’s the thing about the principalship: when you go home, your work goes home with you. 

As a principal, I realized that I was not operating as a whole person. I was living and breathing what the school needed, what teachers needed, what students needed and what the community needed. It is reasonable to believe that one can be in a leadership position and maintain a healthy work/life balance. Given the opportunity to engage in school leadership again, I would operate very differently. I captured some ideas over my time in school and district-level leadership to provide concrete and tangible options towards being a whole leader. 

Here are some key learnings I’ve gained over the years: 

  • Setting boundaries is healthy. Individuals will respond to firm and consistent boundaries. Some will push on those boundaries; therefore, it is important to be steadfast in your boundaries. Remember: You do not owe anyone an explanation for the boundaries you have set. 
  • Protect your peace! Stress begins in the mind and manifests in the body. So manage your thoughts. 
  • Listen to your body! Know what your body feels like in a state of health. Be cued in when there are things that seem out of place. 
  • Find meaningful ways to unplug from work (emails, phone, computer, laptop). 
  • People are well intentioned when they ask, “Can I have just a minute of your time?” We all know that it will be more than a 60-second conversation. Encourage people to reveal what they need so that you can determine whether you truly have the time to devote to their question or concern. You owe to yourself and them to be present. 

American culture assumes a certain amount of stress in the workplace. The presence of stress does not presume the absence of serenity. Overall, as leaders, we know what we need to be in optimal spaces to think, feel and function at our best. 

One resource that provides actionable steps, ideas and techniques to create a healthy environment for your body is Breath by James Nestor. This text has engaging narrative and anecdotes with specific techniques to decrease stress, improve sleep, and optimize your body’s performance. It may sound cliché to hear things like, “Take care of yourself,” or, “Put yourself first,” but the truth is that if you cannot pour from an empty vessel. It is essential that you prioritize your whole health so that you can make a difference in the lives of others. 

Dr. Ashlee Saddler is a Leadership Coach through PEBC and based out of Aurora, Colorado. She serves as a District Support Chief for the University of Virginia. Dr. Saddler is a public speaker and passionate about leadership development.






Bartanen, B., Grissom, J. A., & Rogers, L. K. (2019). The impacts of principal turnover. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 41(3), 350-374.

DeMatthews, D., Reyes, P., Corolla, P., Edwards, W., & James, L. (2021). Novice principal burnout: Exploring secondary trauma, working conditions, and coping strategies in an urban district. The University of Texas at Austin Education Research Center, 1-17. 

Gill, J. (2021). Yes, principals are that important. The Wallace Foundation. Syed, S. (2015). Building principal pipelines. The Wallace Foundation.