Call to compassion and courage — part 1

Rachael Shah (Ball)
5 min readApr 25, 2022


2022 is turning out to be a year of learning more about myself.

Back in January, I chose a word to set the intention for my year: consolidate. However, what I didn’t anticipate was just how true this would be.

That it would relate to me consolidating myself.

The word consolidate has evolved into two aspects. Firstly, it encompasses the idea of ‘consoling’ myself. When you break this word down even further, you also have ‘dating’, with the concept of ‘dating’ relating to reconnecting with people again and rebuilding my networks after the pandemic. Hence console + date.

These next two blog posts will look at the journey I’ve been on in the first quarter of 2022, which looks at how I’ve had to take some time off work (part 1) and then learning to practise self compassion (part 2).

Growing my courage and compassion over the winter months

The courage to stop and rest (part 1)

Recognising I needed to press pause

What I did not anticipate after my MBA graduation in January was the downward spiral of self-doubt and anxiety that would emerge as a result of having completed this milestone achievement. I now had self-induced pressure and an inner critic on my back.

February to March were long drawn out months of doubting myself, questioning if I even did the right thing doing an MBA as well as worrying if it would even pay off. I sacrificed so much these last two years to see no progress and it was this course of thinking that resulted in this negative spiral that saw me at my lowest in March.

What I eventually had the courage to share with my team

It was during a team session I was running where it became apparent that my levels of emotional resilience had reached rock bottom. Transformation work requires us to show up wholeheartedly and at that time, I was not in a good headspace. I was in an uncomfortable headspace. I lacked the capacity to share honestly that I was struggling. I was not in the right mindset to communicate how I needed the team to review and feedback on some of my work.

However, I did not have the courage at that moment to share this so openly. I was not able to muster the courage to ask for what I needed. So with low resilience levels coupled with a strong inner critic, I went into self-preservation mode. I realised that when I can’t embrace the expertise in the room I am unable to honour how I need to show up and work with my colleagues.

So I made the toughest decision I have made in recent years. I had to admit to myself I needed to take some time out. I don’t give up easily but sometimes we can’t keep running from what we need to lean into. I had not stopped running for 2 years.

Something’s gotta give: when you take on too much

The pandemic had finally caught up with me. Prior to 2020 I had already made some big decisions, such as taking on the JCI Manchester presidency, alongside signing up to a part-time MBA. This would have been easier to manage if I had been able to recharge and energise seeing people (my fuel is human connection). We know the last 2 years have taken a toll on us all in a myriad of different ways.

For me, it’s been 2 years of holding on and not letting anyone down. As someone with no caring responsibilities and not being a key worker I felt that my contribution to surviving the pandemic was to overwork. To pile on the pressure. To feel like my value is based on my output. I had bought into the toxic productivity mindset before the pandemic. But the bi-product of all work (and mostly remote work), no play and limited down time had finally caught up with me. As I look back I think what I have suffered from recently is a form of burnout. I believe there’s a whole separate topic on spotting the signs of burnout in a remote context — something we’ve not really adapted to post pandemic.

So in March I realised I needed time to stop, pause and reflect. To put myself first. To recharge and reset. I have read a heap of Brené Brown (which has been such a healing tonic). I am working on rebuilding my courage to show up in order to be true to myself. As well as to be true to what my family, friends and team need.

I am truly grateful to my best friend for calling out the fact that I needed to stop. She could see the signs I was struggling. My manager Hannah and Co-op for giving me the time I needed. It was only 1week, but the after effects are still compounding. This post is a by-product of the down time, and I am sure that if I had not stopped back in March I would have had a larger crisis on my hands in the future.

Why I wanted to share with my team at work

I shared a shorter version of this message with my CX and Delivery teams at work. People need to take time out of work for a variety of reasons and there is never any pressure or expectation to have to share the reason why. For me personally, I wanted to be honest and share this openly so as to help to drive a conversation on mental wellbeing that I think still needs opening up.

By the way, for full disclosure I don’t have a mental health condition. There aren’t any personal events happening in my private life that have added to my stress. I appreciate there can be reasons why people don’t want to share so openly in the workplace.

In my case this has been self-induced, and being honest to say that working through my own inner battle is important for my colleagues to be aware of. Which is why I felt it was so important to openly share my experience. Too often we can assume the people who seem the most together are fine, when in reality they are not. People can think ‘oh Rachael is doing so well, she’s done all these amazing things how does she do it!’ Well, I’ve come to realise it can come at a price.

Reimagining resilience after the trauma of the pandemic

Two years on from when we first went into lockdown it’s only now I think we are beginning to see the impact on our mental wellbeing and resilience levels. The immediate crisis is over. We are now reflecting and questioning how we rise out of this. How do we want to reimagine what we want work and society to look like after such a traumatic time?

A colleague shared this amazing Twitter post by Dr Emma Kavanagh where she highlights what an emotional rollercoaster the pandemic has been. It really resonated with me., in particular, this quote:

“Feeling broken does not mean we have failed. It means that we are beginning to rebuild.”

I am reimagining how I build resilience and compassion into my day-to-day life.

My next post looks at how I am learning to practise self compassion. This is more practical as I share some tips and tools I have been using these last 8 weeks — would love to know what you think of this piece too.



Rachael Shah (Ball)

Digital & Sustainability leader 💚| prev @coopdigital |NED @PHMMcr | MMU MBA & Mrs Vikas to @MrVikas Views my own.