Us, Interrupted: How Entrepreneur Meena Harris Is Balancing Purpose & Self-Care
Meena Harris is the founder of Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign and is recognized as an influential voice for women's equality. Currently, she is head of strategy and leadership at Uber, where she leads brand transformation initiatives focused on corporate citizenship, customer loyalty, and employee engagement. In addition to Uber, she has advised major brands on diversity and inclusion. Harris also is an attorney with extensive experience in consumer protection, data privacy, and cybersecurity.
Harris has been featured in the New York Times, AdWeek, and Elle. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School and currently resides in San Francisco with her partner and two daughters.
Here, we spoke to Harris about life during the COVID-19 outbreak and how she's learning to manage self-care with finding purpose.
1. What was your life like before we learned about COVID-19, in terms of your self-care and maintaining a sense of well-being?
I've never been very good at "self-care," and truthfully, I'm still working on it. Still, my work through Phenomenal is what fuels me and gives me a sense of purpose and hope.
2. Before COVID-19, what did you most struggle with in terms of self-care?
Exercise was a big one and not getting enough sleep. I started cooking more but not as much as I would have liked.
3. If you can remember, where were you when you first learned about COVID-19 as being a real threat to us in North America? What were your initial impressions?
It's all a blur now, and I don't really remember. Through Twitter I was following what was happening in China, but before we knew it was actually a pandemic, my first reaction certainly wasn't as fearful as it is now. I have serious respiratory issues because of asthma, and immunocompromised friends and family, so I was initially very worried what that would mean.
4.What sorts of things have you put into practice now, from a "public health" point of view to help lower the risk of COVID-19?
Because of my asthma, I've been self-quarantining for a while, since around the end of February. I've been doing the basics of washing my hands frequently and not touching my face, but I've also taken other precautions like handling delivery packages with gloves and spraying everything down with alcohol, or washing surfaces of food products with soap and water.
5. How has "self-isolation" or "social distancing" affected your sense of well-being? This includes physically, emotionally, and your relationships.
It's definitely affected me emotionally and mentally, but it changes day to day. The first week, for example, I had this big burst of energy when we were helping to fundraise for the National Domestic Workers Alliance emergency relief fund. But on other days I have felt totally unmotivated and don't really want to interact with people. I broke down yesterday for the first time after seeing back-to-back death announcements on Twitter. It's all really scary and sad. I also experience guilt in feeling sad about my personal circumstances, knowing that I am better off than so many. I have a children's book coming out in June, and a lot of the preorders and events got canceled, which really sucked. But it can be challenging to recognize and honor your own feelings and make space for yourself when so many people are impacted in much more extreme ways. It involves reconciling all of these complex feelings during this difficult time.
6. What have you struggled with most during this time?
Keeping structure and taking care of myself. It's hard to really think about that when all of this chaos is happening.
7. Do you have any ideas, resources, tips, tricks, or advice that you've put into practice to optimize your well-being and that you'd feel comfortable sharing with readers?
The big one for me is finding purpose and impact from home, no matter how small, whether that's contributing to a rent relief fund or doing something kind that brings a smile to a neighbor's face. If you have access to technology, use it to connect with others—whether it's a happy hour with friends using Zoom, or FaceTime with your parents. I also think it's important to talk to our children about what's happening, how it affects your family and others, and encouraging things like showing gratitude for medical workers and hourly workers who are risking their lives on the front lines. Lastly, be kind to yourself. I've seen people joking on Twitter about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine for the plague, but please don't pressure yourself into writing a novel or producing some masterpiece. If you need to sit on the couch and stare out the window, or binge Netflix, that's fine. Give yourself that space.
8. What have you learned most about yourself (and your family, if you choose to share) during this time? How do you believe you have grown/will grow through this?
We have a lot of love, connectivity, laughter, and joy in our family, and, thankfully, we've still been able to maintain that, even while we're all in different cities. There are other things that I've always aspired to do that I'm now doing and will hopefully carry forward, such as cooking a lot more. Cleaning my closet, though, not so much. Most of all, I'm growing a lot in trying to find peace in accepting the things I cannot control and letting go a little bit.
9. Any piece of advice, a quote, anything motivational that you'd like to share for our readers?
In moments of crisis and fear, people can turn inward, but we're seeing incredible acts of humanity right now. Let that give you hope and be a reminder that all of us have a role to play. If you're inspired to do something, go do it.
10. What makes you most hopeful right now?
Seeing extraordinary acts of kindness. It gives me hope in humanity that, in this time of crisis, people are stepping up to make a difference.
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Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., M.H.S., C.P.H., is an epidemiologist, physician, and writer. Kalaichandran graduated from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with a master's in Health Science, received her M.D. from the University of Toronto, and completed fellowships at the University of Arizona and the Munk School of Global Affairs.
She has additional certifications in public health from the National Board of Public Health Examiners and humanitarian assistance from the Harvard Humanitarian Institute. As a speaker, Kalaichandran has been invited to present for wide-ranging audiences, from Stanford University's MedX in Palo Alto, California to South by SouthWest in Austin, Texas.
Her research interests are primarily focused on the use of complementary health approaches in children (and the perceptions of efficacy and risk), pediatric food intolerance and allergy, and the role of hospital organizational culture as a determinant of well-being and productivity among trainee and early-career physicians.
As a regular contributor to the New York Times Well section since 2017, Kalaichandran covers a diverse range of topics, from health and wellness to medical education. In addition to the New York Times, her award-winning writing has been featured in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Los Angeles Times, Wired, and The Boston Globe (among many others). She is a 200-hr registered yoga teacher of both adults and children and a mindfulness facilitator. Kalaichandran enjoys adventure, mentorship, recipe experimentation, practicing yoga and mindfulness, voraciously reading, and advocating for a better world as she divides her time between New York City and Toronto. She is currently working on her first book.