The evening started out with getting ready for a charity gala, ended with a life-changing experience. Jenny McCauley, SVP of Southwestern Energy, was socializing and dancing at an event she had been looking forward to when intense pain almost made her collapse on the dance floor. She determined to stay in control though.
She declined an ambulance and headed to her hospital of choice in a car.
Things began slowing down and the pain intensified. She was still in control.
Her breathing became more labored so she asked to stop at the nearest hospital. She was still in control.
Upon arrival at the hospital, the doctor’s couldn’t figure out what the issue was and Jenny kept explaining her symptoms. She was still in control.
Until she wasn’t.
“I now have a scar down my chest all the way past my belly button, that reminds me every day to take care of myself.”Jenny McCauley, SVP of Southwestern Energy
This is her daily reminder of what happened to her. Jenny shared her deeply personal and at times alarming story of near-death and physical collapse in a packed auditorium in Houston during Pink Petro’s April Coach’s Corner.
The theme of the coaching session was “Get your SHIFT Together”. This resonated with Jenny – her refrain after a profound physical breakdown is simple: ‘your body keeps the score’. The cost of not getting your stuff together, she said, is far too high for women. “I need to take care of myself in order to be my best, and most authentic self, at work and at home.”
Jenny’s message was clear to other women, that despite the plentiful opportunities now open to women, we aren’t taking off, but still ‘putting on’. In other words, we are often pretending to have our stuff together when in reality we are overburdening ourselves and not serving ourselves or others.
“We have to get better, more intelligent and purposeful about how we take care of ourselves. Self-care is NOT selfish. Self-care needs to be right up there as a priority with caring for others.”
Jenny says that often, men are more effective at objectively compartmentalizing their needs from those of others. There’s something there for women as well.
“As women, our tendency is to take on more. What the research shows, is we don’t take off. When we take on more, we add it to our plates.”
For Jenny, the road to wellness was not easy. Turning over her work phone to her CEO, who was supportive and encouraged her to do so, was the first big realization that her physical “unwinding” would take a long time. She had a habit of doing the ‘rinse-repeat-cycle’ of managing her life. Physically she had to give up control to her family. “We don’t deliberately think about how we are going to shift priorities, responsibilities and behaviors – health, eating, exercise. For most women, I don’t think it’s natural for us to take care of ourselves at the same level of priority as everything else on our plate, especially loved ones”
The Journey of Self-Care
Jenny talked about how her journey wasn’t a conscious one, but forced upon her by years of self-neglect. Almost one year ago, she was late to a gala after preparing for a Board meeting and on a work call only minutes before. She was at the Houston Hilton Americas, when “literally it felt like my abdomen exploded. If I’m going to go out, I’m going to go out big!” She doubled over in pain. Her sister, alarmed, started to call 911, but Jenny ordered her to get a car. “I am not going to get onto a stretcher in the middle of Hilton Americas on a Friday night! I was hunched over on the escalator, and said ‘fine, just get a car!’” In the car, she started giving instructions as to which hospital to get to.
When she stopped breathing en route, she knew she had to get to a hospital immediately. “This was not a good sign. I remember every detail. I just said, ‘I won’t make it…’” They got to the nearest emergency room. After figuring out that a lung had collapsed and pressed on her heart, the doctors wanted to cut her dress off. Jenny’s response, “No, you’re not cutting off my dress!” She laughs today, but the enormity of what was happening to her had not yet hit her. Jenny shared, “What they found, was an ulcer on the back of my stomach that had perforated and burst. I had no idea I had an ulcer! None. No symptoms.”
“There were a number of signs that I didn’t pay attention to prior to that. Your body tells you everything you need to know. And it will always win.”
No matter how successful you become, she says, the price is too high if it’s at the expense of your health. “The body keeps the score, and we have to be more purposeful, mindful and intelligent about how we take care of ourselves.”
Jenny hopes her story can help other women to start checking in with their emotions and their bodies. After years of the belief that a woman in business shouldn’t express emotion in public, she’s now a champion of authentic expression – at work and at home. Suppressing feelings, intuition and instinct for years, and overprogramming every waking moment had led her into a physical freefall. Now, she is committed to self-care and ensuring others take care of themselves, even if it means physically taking a little walk in the middle of a meeting if she needs to center herself.
Jenny shared her authentic story of failure and resilience with her colleagues and Pink Petro members in the belief that if she can help even one woman on the journey to wellness as well as success, then her ordeal was worth it.
During Coach’s Corner, biometric screenings were happening in the next room. These health screenings that Southwestern does annually are an example of the company’s commitment to the health and well being of its employees and is saving lives. According to Jenny, “I know of a couple instances in which employees were taken directly from the biometric screenings directly to the emergency room and their lives were saved” Jenny believes there is a direct link between compassion for and wellness of employees and company results, and understands from her personal journey how to help her company: if SWN employees are healthy and well cared for, they will deliver exceptional results. This links back to the start of SWN’s Formula: ‘The Right People Doing the Right Things.’
Jenny’s practical tips included:
- Listen to your body – have any symptoms checked out and work on resolving the root causes.
- Schedule regular check-ups and get blood work.
- Find what relaxes you and do more of that – whether it’s yoga, deep breathing, talking with a friend, walks or listening to music, find it and do it.
- Limit TV time, especially before you go to bed, it doesn’t serve to relax you before sleep.
- Move – find time to exercise.
- Eat well – no one has a perfect meal plan, but she now finds ways to eat healthfully.
- Maintain a healthy weight for you – find and maintain a weight that you are comfortable with.
- Don’t overload your schedule – maintain and gate-keep your personal and professional schedule to ensure reflection time and downtime, however you define it.
Pink Petro members can watch the recording of Coach’s Corner with Jenny McCauley in the member app.
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