Why Mornings Became this Former Michelle Obama’s Staffer’s Most Critical Time of the Day

Balancing Personal Well-being When Your Job is Improving the Health of the Country

Photo courtesy of Elyse Cohen

Isn’t it ironic that we often find ourselves struggling to practice what we preach? I’m sure I am not alone in falling into this category from time to time. There must be a doctor out there who pushes through a cold to come to work, or a dentist who sometimes skips a day of flossing, or a police officer that occasionally drives over the speed limit?

Photo courtesy of official Obama White House

As the former deputy director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, making healthy choices easier for American families was my job. Sometimes that meant briefing Mrs. Obama or pushing for healthier school meals and better food policies, other times that meant establishing partnerships with the private sector to help make the healthy choice the easy choice. No two days were ever the same, but one thing was always consistent — I had the platform, influence, and support of the First Lady to help make things happen — I was committed…and also exhausted.

Photo courtesy of Elyse Cohen

Working in the East Wing also meant preparing for the unexpected. Did we think through every possible outcome to ensure we were making an impact and effectively utilizing the First Lady’s time? It meant supporting someone who worked tirelessly to improve the health and well-being of American families, while also balancing other meaningful initiatives, being a mom, and a wife to the President.

Photo courtesy of official Obama White House

It was (and will always be) an honor to have led the Let’s Move! Initiative as Deputy Director, and a true privilege to have had Michelle Obama as my boss. Yet when the days were long, the nights were late, the stakes were high, and the flashing light on my Blackberry was always in sight, I often disregarded the strategies I knew so well and worked so hard to create and disseminate. The healthy choices I intended to make throughout the day and the exercise I planned for in the evenings often vanished when exhaustion hit, news broke, meetings got scheduled, and important deadlines came up.

I had dedicated my career to building healthier communities. Although I knew what my healthy choices were and certainly I had access to them, making those choices often seemed out of reach. It became clear my current path wasn’t sustainable — I needed a change.

Photo courtesy of Elyse Cohen

I spent time considering my personal well-being strategy — how could I shift my focus to reprioritize my health while still excelling at my once-in-a-lifetime job? After some trial and error, I finally figured out what worked for me — I had to get up earlier. I know it may seem simple, but for me, this was my a-ha moment. My mornings now started with a breakfast that was fast, easy, and chock-full of nutrients (like a smoothie), a quick workout, and a few minutes of meditation.

Harnessing my mornings allowed me to feel more in control. Fueling my body and my mind early in the day set my pace and helped me bring my A-game to my job. Simply put — it was a game changer.

Photo courtesy of official Obama White House

Not everyone is a morning person (I certainly wasn’t) — but I do know everyone could benefit from spending some time prioritizing their well-being strategy. What could make you less stressed and more productive at work? Maybe a quick guided meditation outside? Or taking a break to attend a workout class during lunch? A little time thinking this through will have a massive impact.

For me, my morning routine has stuck around even after I left the White House. I feel more centered and ready for the day when I prioritize my health. What strategies keep you on your A game?

Photo courtesy of official Obama White House