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It’s Time We Valued Motherhood in the Workplace

May 6, 2016 in Published & Press Working Mothers Workplace Wellness

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m reminded of a day not long ago when I watched Anne-Marie Slaughter lean off the edge of a stage. She was demonstrating what would happen if she “leaned in” too far.

It was meant to drive home the point she makes in her new book, Unfinished Business, about women, men, work and family. It’s the culmination of the three years of research and contemplation that followed her Atlantic article entitled “Why women still can’t have it all,” that broke the Internet, and of her life as a woman, a mother, and a successful and ambitious professional. In it, she shares that the intricate web that creates a home and family has more value than she ever placed on it, until she leaned in too far.

Two years in, Slaughter left her dream job as director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, to be closer to her adolescent boys. She also returned to Princeton as a tenured professor. Really, nothing to scoff at. By her description, though, the response to her resignation was that she just wasn’t up for it. That she decided to take the slow lane, the “mommy track.”

I’d been following Professor Slaughter for years for her scholarship in foreign policy and international law. She was already a celebrity in my geeky world, and her courage to lay out the costs and balance in her personal life catapulted her to my highest esteem. I was definitely the groupie at this event.

You’d think that someone like Sheryl Sandberg or Anne-Marie Slaughter have really made it, so they are free to say whatever they like with abandon. But I think the opposite is true. Anyone who has ever made anything of themselves professionally will tell you it took years of work and dedication to earn their reputation.

These women had plenty to lose as they spoke out as women in what remain male-dominated fields. They spoke out about being women in the one place where, knowingly or not, they’d both been trying to keep gender invisible. Only it isn’t.

There are times when we can pretend that it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female. Morning sickness at work when you’re not telling anyone you’re pregnant yet is not one of those times. The loud whirl of a breast pump (or crying baby) in the background of a conference call you take from home when your baby is five weeks old but you’re needed for the team (or your own business), even though your basically delusional from lack of sleep, is not one of those times. Transitioning back to work while juggling your life-altering new identity as a mother is not one of those times.

Motherhood is often treated as something we can do on the side, while we keep charging ahead with our preconceived plans about what other parts of our lives will look like. The thing is, none of us actually know what we’re getting into before we’re in it.

What Slaughter drives home so elegantly is that we are out of our minds to think that caregiving and child rearing are invisible, background and secondary. They are what keep us going — they need more attention, and the people (usually women) who fulfill those roles should be valued and supported.

There is no question that work is changing when it comes to women, mothers and families.

JP Morgan just expanded a re-entry program designed for returning to the corporate world after at least a two-year “break,” with photos of woman all over the landing page.

The freshly launched Apres is a LinkedIn just for moms who’ve taken time away and are reentering the workforce, but not into the entry level jobs that have been the mom career tax we’ve grown accustomed to — rather, into roles for experienced professionals with organizations that value the many strengths that work experience (and motherhood) yield.

Corporate clients overwhelmingly embraced an online resource I launched in January to support women in their transition to motherhood, eager for a way to support their new mom employees on maternity leave and in the transition back to work., a site that provides intel on employers’ female-focused policies, had more than 100,000 visitors this month, with traffic growing steadily by the week.

Daily I hear from in-house women’s and professional development committees from organizations across North America, trying to find or create best practices.

It sure is slow, though.

These pioneers are trying to forge a way that we can be successful, professional and still female. Or more specifically, still mothers in a meaningful way. Not females dressed up as and acting like men, but women living full expressions of their femininity, motherhood, creativity and professional skills. Women who feel confident in the value of what they bring to this world so that they can lean in, and frankly, lean out when what is core to them is to do the invisible, necessary and joyful work (I know, it’s so ironic) — of being a mother.

As Slaughter explains, we all benefit from cohesive family lives. We all benefit from not running around like lunatics trying to do it all and have it all, all at once. Moms birth the world. They need some support.

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How to look like you can cook (well) if you don’t know how, don’t want to, or don’t have time (or all three)

June 3, 2015 in Healthy Eating Inspiration Physical Health Published & Press

This post also appears in the Huffington Post.

Last week a client came over for dinner with her family. She is a law firm partner, a graduate student, a mother and totally clueless in the kitchen. This post is for her and for those of you who also want some kitchen literacy, if only to be able to use it in a pinch. I promise this is all easier than you think, takes less time, and like everything else from Curated Wellness, is cherry-picked to give you maximum impact with minimal effort.

The day of the dinner had been a hectic one for us, topped off with a teething toddler who didn’t sleep much during the previous night. Work was busy, the house was a mess and I didn’t think twice about putting a gorgeous dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. I’m not Martha Stewart, but I know how to make dining a nearly effortless pleasure. In about five minutes from now, you will too.

There are no recipes here but my top 10 tips for being able to make a healthy beautiful meal easily and without going for a big shop, because who needs to add that to a busy day…

  1. Fresh herbs. Always buy them, or plant them in your garden if you have one. Anything except rosemary is easy to add to most dishes. Rosemary can taste like spicy twigs, so unless you have a specific plan for them, chose something else. With a little salt and olive oil, you can add instant flavor, colour and phytonutrients to anything from plain pasta to a sprinkling over any dish. You don’t have to fuss about which one — tarragon, basil, mint, chives — no idea which they are when you see them? Assume that the trend of combining unusual flavors applies in your home as it does in a fine restaurant and go to town. Instant upgrade.
  2. Fish filets. You can choose whatever kind of fish you like, but high quality organic salmon and rainbow trout freeze well because of their high fat content and cook under the broiler in less than eight minutes (once thawed). An easy sprinkling of herbs mixed with butter or oil and salt and you have a restaurant quality dish in under 10 minutes. Add pressed garlic and you’re in the Mediterranean.
  3. Condiments. Pick them wisely and use them freely. I always have three key condiments in the fridge that make everything tastier. A good pesto or tapenade, like the ones from Sunflower Kitchen in Toronto. Put this on fish or pasta and it looks like you can cook. A good mustard, like the ones from Kozlik’s. Spread this on meat or fish with some fresh dill or other unidentifiable herb, or mix it with olive oil and balsamic for an easy delicious homemade dressing. I always have a wild card preserved food on hand — preserved lemons or caper berries are current favorites. They keep forever in the fridge and can be added to cooked grains, salads, or even an appetizer plate (imagine if you had time to make an appetizer plate…).
  4. Pre-cut veggies. We live in a time and place where beautiful organic produce is available washed and prepped for you. No need to let that squash sit on the counter until it’s time to throw it out! Have whatever veggies you like on hand in the fridge and freezer so you can grab them and steam them or roast them with any of the above for instant plant-based perfection.
  5. The oven! I have a secret. You don’t have to cook anything; the oven does it for you. You just need a wee bit of planning because it takes some time. Fish takes under 10 minutes, root veggies take about an hour and all other veggies are ready for you in 30 minutes. Add five more minutes to preheat the oven, and always make the oven thing the first thing you start when making a meal. This means that if you’re making a meal with roasted root veggies, you can put them in the oven, make a salad in about five minutes, prepare fish to broil in another five and have 40 minutes to do something else while your “assistant” makes the rest of dinner.
  6. Salad. I’m a staunch salad liberal, a wild woman, really. You can put anything on salad and it can be your main course or a great way to fill up half of a plate. As a basic, always have greens you like that you don’t have to do anything to — no cutting, no washing — on your shopping list. Then see above — add herbs, your wild card preserved food and one other fresh fruit or vegetable or cheese. You are now a gourmet salad maven.
  7. Home-made dressing. Bottled dressing is full of preservatives and tastes like it. It is the one condiment that is out of bounds. For a versatile basic dressing, mix equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a spoonful of honey and a spoonful of Dijon mustard. Shake it up in a little jar and keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks. It makes your roasted veggies, salads and even cooked grains into “dishes.”
  8. One exotic seasoning. Eating should be a pleasure. Trying one new spice from time to time keeps your meals creative and, if you’re a foodie (in which case you’re likely not reading this anymore) — exciting. I love Middle Eastern food and currently have sumac and zatar in the cupboard. They go on salads, grains, meat and cooked vegetables. You can sprinkle some on store bought hummus and transform it into a different, and much better, snack. They are readily available in the “ethnic” aisle of many mainstream grocery stores.
  9. Nice olive oil and salt. You don’t need to break the bank, but having good quality extra virgin olive oil and sea salt or Himalayan salt adds wonderful depth and flavor (and some great fats) to everything.
  10. The found object meal. This is better than it sounds. This is what happens when there is “nothing to eat” in your fridge or cupboards — that grain you have never tried cooking, half a block of feta, an endive, a can of beans. If you have those herbs, condiments and olive oil listed above — you have potential. Before opting for toast or take-out, consider yourself on a private episode of Top Chef and put the unexpected together. Some of our favorite staples have been born this way. As with everything, confidence will take you a very long way.

You’ve got this. Bon appetit!

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Curated Wellness featured in Toronto Is Awesome

September 4, 2013 in Published & Press

What an honour! Here’s an excerpt:

“We are not strangers to the idea of balance and yet it is so difficult to achieve it. Even Rachel herself was once living in one extreme or the other. Which is exactly why she understands her clients. I totally believe in Rachel’s philosophies; I often forget that wellness isn’t just physical – hitting the gym and eating healthier food – but developing a balance between the physical and our relationships, career, and spirituality. We could all learn a thing or two from Rachel so read on…”

You can find the full review here.

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How to regain your adrenaline edge

in Published & Press

This post originally appeared on August 20 in the Huffington Post.

One of my instructors at nutrition school, Dr. Mark Hyman, said something that really resonated. He said that most people don’t know how bad they feel until they start feeling good. Now the idea of working in wellness obviously isn’t to put everyone into a panic that they, unknowingly, feel awful (though I have seen that tactic used to my horror). What is clear as day is that many people settle for an abysmal state of “health”.

Working with type-A urban professionals, I see that while most people will do just about anything to feel better if they’re unwell, those same people can’t seem to motivate themselves to budge much in the name of prevention. Or even in the name of improvement, perhaps because such a vibrant state of well-being is so foreign that it’s unimaginable.

This curious epidemic is especially notable given the relatively recent rise in adrenal fatigue, also called adrenal burnout. Once relegated to the hippie alternative column in the minds of medical practitioners and prospective patients, this health issue is gaining traction because its identification and treatment really works.

Scott Davis, co-owner and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner at Toronto’sOctopus Garden Yoga Centre, cites adrenal fatigue as one of the most common issues he sees in his busy clinic. Six years ago, he treated me for this very condition.

According to Davis, the symptoms of adrenal fatigue are things that the busy professional might just take for granted as part of life: chronic back and muscle pain, constant fatigue even after caffeine or a full night of sleep, frequent colds and flu, low libido, inflammation and anxiety. A combination of these symptoms may be an indication that your adrenal glands, responsible for helping your body respond to stress by producing adrenaline and cortisol, are out of juice.

The stress that used to fire you up to work harder or faster or better simply stops having that effect, because the physiology of constant stress without recovery has worn out the mechanism that gives you your “adrenaline edge”.

What’s a skeptical adrenaline junkie to do? Davis offers three “free therapies” that complement TCM treatment, helping to “close the hole in the bucket” so that you can start restoring your energy in a sustainable way.

1. Exercise regularly, and in a way that honours your natural expansion and contraction from a state of exertion to a state of relaxation. Yoga is ideal. If you run, try alternating sprinting and walking instead of maintaining a steady pace.

2. Subtly change the way you eat — not so much what you eat, but how you eat. Make eating the primary activity at mealtime, rather than multitasking. An easy way to remember to do this is to take a moment at the start of a meal to say thanks.

3. Practice deep relaxation, like meditation or restorative yoga, regularly. Your body can re-learn how to unwind, shifting from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest”, and this is a terrific way to practice.

None of these are rocket science, and while they might take trying something new, they are all practical and easy to incorporate into even a busy life. The question is, are you ready to start feeling better yet?

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The fear behind the fear of slowing down

July 31, 2013 in Published & Press

This post originally appeared July 31 in the Canadian Bar Association online magazine, which you can find here.  You’ll be seeing more of me there as the new wellness blogger!

 It’s no secret that the care lawyers show for their clients and colleagues (and perhaps also family and friends) pales in comparison to their self-care.

 The statistics on lawyer well-being are also no secret, with notable issues being addiction, depression, and substance abuse.  Burnout is just part of the work cycle when you’re a lawyer. 
Despite these trends that we know so well, I’ve noticed a marked hesitation among lawyers, again and again, in taking even the most conservative and incremental steps to take care of themselves.  The fear seems to be: “If I step off the mill, will I be able to get back on?” Perhaps more daunting: “Will I want to?”
So first things first:  I’d like to dispel the notion that feeling well requires a life overhaul (more on that below), and that taking care of yourself and being an excellent lawyer are mutually exclusive goals.  In reality, prioritizing well-being allows you to do whatever work you decide to do even better. 
It may be that if you shift to run on things like sleep and nutrients instead of adrenaline and coffee, you will decide to jump ship and do something else.  But that was always an option. The fact is, attrition is notoriously high in the legal profession, and the old adage that we find lawyers everywhere may mean one of two things: that legal training is a highly transferable skill; or that lawyers are prone to flee far and wide.  The fear of what’s next, however, could be keeping you from considering another option: That you might just discover a sense of calm and clarity of purpose and thinking that you didn’t know was available; and that your practice will reflect that new state beautifully. 
When the 11am and 4pm (and potentially 11pm) slump are memories of the past (along with the glucose-deprived brain that accompanies them), and important parts of your life – like relationships – are nourishing you rather than adding stress, you may wonder if you have acquired a superpower.  And then, you can do with it what you will.
Whatever you decide, the distance from here to there is much, much closer than you think.

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