Wanda Holland Greene On Reclaiming Her Space and Sanity

The head of The Hamlin School shares the book that changed her life, how she prioritizes self-care and why she sets an alarm for 9 p.m.

When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?Wanda Holland Greene: Check my Fitbit app to see how well I have slept, then I stretch briefly and shuffle slowly to the bathroom.

TG: What gives you energy?
WHG: A great SoulCycle ride gives me great physical energy and inspires a renewed focus on my mental well-being. Being deeply engaged in robust conversations about excellence in education for all children also fires me up!

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
WHG: I color-code the entries in my Google calendar so that I can pay close attention to three things: self-care, family and work. I also sometimes sleep in my workout gear so that there’s no excuse about rising early and hitting the gym.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
WHG: The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I read it in 1984 when I was in 12th grade at The Chapin School. The main character Celie suffers and yet endures.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
WHG: I need my phone because it holds my calendar, my contacts, and also substitutes for a wristwatch; however, it does not control me. I use it because it helps me to get things done quickly — signing up for an exercise class, scheduling a spa treatment, buying groceries, paying bills, etc. My phone is my alarm clock, so it sleeps next to me on a night table. (I also set my alarm clock for 9 p.m. as a reminder to start winding down.) Mostly, my phone is an efficient lifeline to communicate with my husband and nearly 13-year old son and my leadership team at Hamlin.

TG: How do you deal with email?
WHG: I despise email because it is a thief of time. If there were a way to eliminate it from my life, I would do so. That said, I try to check email 2–3 times per day instead of monitoring it constantly. Moreover, I do not receive or send work email using my phone; that way, email does not follow me — I control it. Professional emails are answered from my laptop.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
WHG: Oh, there are so many fabulous options! I would make a cup of my favorite tea (called Alpine Punch from David’s Tea) with steaming almond milk; or I would sit in a cozy chair, breathe, and read a Mary Oliver poem; or I would listen to a favorite song on YouTube and sing along. If I am at work, I’ll walk into a classroom and watch the powerful interaction between a dynamic teacher and intellectually curious students!

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
WHG: Two weeks ago, I looked at my mounting paperwork, my innumerable emails, and my schedule of meetings, and I couldn’t deal. So, I sent my amazing assistant Mary an email with the subject line “Drowning.” We started canceling meetings and setting aside blocks of time for me to think, write, return calls, and to do my work. I still have many unanswered emails and tasks that are piling up, but I feel better. I am only one person, and there are many people requesting time with me. My dear friend Olivia (who is a psychologist) says, “Sometimes sanity is just one ‘no’ away.” I can reclaim my space and sanity when I change previously scheduled commitments from “yes” to “no.”

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
WHG: I’m not sure that I have ever overcome failure. I integrate moments of failure into my life and I harness the life lessons to become a stronger person. I failed to stick to healthy eating habits during and after the holiday season, and I failed to exercise vigorously all of last week, but I try hard to show myself compassion. I don’t excuse my poor behavior that falls below expectations, but I do try to understand my humanness and my brokenness. We are all in need of repair, and when I remember that failure is an opportunity, not a liability, I feel whole again.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
WHG: I am the daughter of a minister, so I often find solace in biblical passages. This quote from the book of Jeremiah is my guidepost: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”


Wanda M. Holland Greene is Head of School at The Hamlin School in San Francisco, a mission-driven institution dedicated to best practices and innovation in the education of girls and young women. Prior to her tenure Hamlin, which began in 2008, Wanda served for eleven years as a senior administrator and ex-officio trustee at The Park School in Brookline, MA. She began her career in education at Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School in New York City and continued thereafter at The Chapin School, where she was a teacher and the school’s first Director of Student Life. Currently, she is a trustee at Columbia University and Head-Royce School, an advisor to Common Sense Media, and a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow at The Aspen Institute. She is a former trustee of the National Association of Independent Schools, Concord Academy, The Chapin School, Hamilton Families, and Lick-Wilmerding High School.

An experienced leader in education with a powerful voice and presence, Wanda focuses careful attention on academic and ethical excellence, gender equity, performance evaluation, diversity and inclusion, health and wellness, and global citizenship. As a faculty member of the National Association of Independent School’s Aspiring Heads Fellowship, Wanda is a passionate advocate and sponsor for women and people of color who seek leadership positions in education.

A proud native of Brooklyn, New York, Wanda graduated from The Chapin School and earned a bachelors degree from Columbia University, majoring in English Literature with a concentration in psychology. She holds a masters degree in curriculum design and instruction from Columbia University’s Teachers College, a permanent teaching license in New York State, and has completed extensive coursework in private school leadership at The Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Center at Columbia.