As a young girl, I used to think my period was something to hide or be ashamed of. Every month, I would curse when it arrived. I would push through the PMS and cramps, and pretend it wasn’t there. (Sometimes I’d work so hard that I forgot I even had a body all together!)
Honestly, I was afraid that I’d be perceived as weaker than a man if I admitted to my menstrual suffering. And as my career was first taking off, I sure wasn’t going to let that happen. I continued ignoring my body in an endless pursuit to prove my value.
I used to think that cramps and PMS were normal. “Just comes with the territory of being a woman,” I thought. But then I read a book that would change my whole outlook on my feminine body and catapult me into a 5 year journey of cycle syncing and helping female founders do the same. In the Flo by Alisa Vitti debunks many myths about the menstrual cycle, including this widely accepted belief that cramps are normal.
It turns out, they aren’t. They are merely a signal that you have a hormonal imbalance. “How am I just learning about this?” I thought, now furious that my sex education in school was so lacking. The book went on to debunk everything I thought I knew about periods, and replaced those beliefs with a new body wisdom and new level of self-love that I hadn’t yet accessed as a woman. I learned that women are cyclical, and operate on a 28-day cycle (called the Infradian Rhythm) that has 4 distinct phases. I learned that modern work and exercise culture is burning out women and destroying women’s health one productivity hack and exercise study at a time. I can’t “unlearn” what I read, and my eyes are now forever open.
This is where my journey to biohacking like a woman began.
I decided I could no longer be a part of a work culture that ignores women’s health. But I also didn’t have any great examples of an alternative. So I set out to create my own and to uncover what leadership practices might support my health, rather than degrade it.
I noticed a huge gap in the literature available when it comes to applying cycle syncing to work, entrepreneurship, executive leadership, and working together in teams, so I've spent the last few years developing guide books, cheat sheets, peer learning circles and a Cyclical Leader Program that help take this body of work to the next level. We use these practices at Living Leaders and also used them in my previous company.
Here's what cycle syncing within a growing small business can look like:
“We honor the 4 phases of our cycles through our leadership practices, workflows, and creative processes. We’ve created a culture where mindfulness, intuition, and channeling creativity are just normal parts of the day. Not only is our company growing faster than I thought possible, but we are more energized and healthy than we ever thought possible.”
Success shouldn’t require you to sacrifice your health. I am proof that when you take care of your health, MORE success is possible.
Here are some concrete ways that we are honoring our female bodies and health at work:
We track our cycles and plan to take the first day of our periods off from work each month to rest and let go of the month that just occurred. This gets blocked out on our calendars (as an approximation) to remind us it’s coming. This follows a trend we are seeing in other countries where companies are offering PTO for menstruation.
We don’t schedule important meetings or PR appearances (when possible) during our menstrual phases. Of course, if Oprah asks you to come on the show, you’re not going to say no just because you’re bleeding!
We use our menstrual phases to do our most important business reviews, strategy reviews, financial reviews, and performance reviews, honoring the contemplative nature and increased intuition of this slow, deeply inward phase of the cycle.
We schedule our most important meetings and PR appearances during our ovulatory phases, when we are naturally most social.
We do photoshoots and record promotional videos during our ovulatory phases when we are “glowing” and naturally better at communication.
We time block creative time each week, to stimulate our more feminine qualities of creativity and intuition. This recharges us from “the grind” of productivity.
We eat foods that support our hormonal cycle so that we can show up as our best selves, without cramps and PMS.
As our team grows, we are bringing these practices to the team as well. We encourage our teammates to honor their individual cycles, and we also honor that businesses have cycles or “seasons” too.
Knowing this, we are building a team culture that incorporates our the cyclical rhythms of our bodies and nature herself, regardless of gender.
Here are some of the team-wide practices we're experimenting with:
Use the phases of the moon as your guide to establish a company-wide, month-long cycle for priorities and projects. This way you won’t forget to leverage each phase and get trapped in productivity obsession. You could also simply use the monthly calendar for this.
Preschedule meetings with a monthly cadence such as financial reviews, strategy reviews, and performance reviews. Cluster these meetings around the new moon, or the end of the calendar month, so that they team can step into this reflective mindset together.
Give every employee an extra personal day per month, encouraging premenopausal women to use it for the first day of their periods.
Encourage senior leaders and managers to hold their most important meetings during their ovulatory phases.
If you have an EA, ask them to help schedule board meetings, podcast appearances, photoshoots, or partnership meetings during the ovulatory phases of key leaders.
Honor the men on your team (whose primary internal clock for their hormones is the 24-hour circadian rhythm) by scheduling individual work in the early mornings, team meetings in the late mornings, meetings with external partners in the early afternoons, and having the team tie up loose ends in the final hours of the day.
Be open (and a little loud) about the ways you’re honoring feminine health at work, so that we can continue experimenting and spreading the word about menstrual health! Women are suffering, and they don’t have to with a few changes that honor their unique power.
Remember, if we park ourselves in high gear and only value productivity, we miss out on the power of reflection, intuition, somatic wisdom, letting go of what isn’t working, and laying the strategic groundwork for the months and years ahead. Sometimes we have to slow down to go faster. Moving from a place of deep alignment and well-being is often more energy efficient and gets us to a better outcome because we didn't burn ourselves out along the way.
Day after day productivity has a way of keeping us short-sighted and suffering from both short-termism and reactivity, rather than proactivity. Our entire planet is suffering from only seeing the world and ourselves through this lens. A more feminine approach to leadership is empathetic, long-term, vulnerable, and honors periods of rest, and we all have access to this wisdom regardless of gender.