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How 3 top Aussie female leaders stay happy and healthy

We chat to McGrath Foundation CEO Holly Masters, Paralympian Jessica Gallagher, and MasterChef judge Melissa Leong about how they look after their wellbeing and stay healthy at work.

Holly Masters has been CEO of the McGrath Foundation for 4 years. The organisation provides funding and professional development for McGrath breast care nurses across Australia, who help support patients from the moment of diagnosis and throughout treatment.

HCF: Describe an average day for you.

Holly Masters: Lots of time with stakeholders! I work with other CEOs, both in cancer and other for-purpose organisations, on how we can drive improvements for patient care. I work increasingly with government, both Federal and State, from whom we get support. I meet one-on-one with individuals who have very generously put something into their will, or maybe they’re cutting their hair [to raise money] or holding an event. I also go out and meet with our nurses and patients and get to see firsthand the impact our McGrath breast care nurses are making to people’s lives.

What do you love most about your current role?
The days when I visit patients and nurses in hospitals are extraordinary, because that’s how I really viscerally understand the impact our nurses have. And that helps me to consider strategically how I need to evolve the organisation so we can help more people. Then we have moments like the Pink Tests, where we reach millions of people, and I see that pink isn’t just a colour anymore – it’s become symbolic of hope and connectivity.

What are some of the biggest challenges with a demanding schedule?
Before this role I was in an incredibly high-pressure job, managing businesses in 14 countries with thousands of employees, and travelling 220 nights every year. I wasn’t getting enough sleep, which is critical for good health, and had few boundaries when it came to work. Now I go to bed at 9.30pm, and do something quiet and calm, ideally non-screen based, before bed so that I’m already in that pre-sleep mode.

How do you look after your physical health?
I discovered trail running a few years ago and did the AAA Mount Kosciusko event, which I’m doing again this year. When I’m not training for a big run, I go to the gym and do some yoga. I also tend to eat healthily most of the time so I don’t feel bad when I have a bit of a blowout.

How important is mental health for you and how do you prioritise it?
I made clinical supervision compulsory for our nurses, as we have to support them psychologically and emotionally as well as professionally. Death is a part of their lives every day, and in this role it’s also part of mine. So, I have a psychologist who I see once a quarter. It’s like a maintenance program. If there’s a lot going on I can add extra sessions. But even when life’s in great shape, I don’t cancel because I see it as an investment in my mental health. It’s building my mental resilience muscle.

Who inspires you and why?
I meet a lot of women who are part of their communities, doing the most incredible work, which is often quite thankless, and I think that’s incredibly admirable. Tracy Bevan, our ambassador, is like that. She made a commitment to Jane [McGrath] to be Jane’s voice and she’s done that. She’s an extraordinary woman.

Her passion for food and people inspired Melissa Leong to move from a successful career in advertising into the world of food full-time. Melissa is currently a writer, TV and radio presenter, cookbook editor and MasterChef Australia judge.

HCF: Describe an average day for you.

Melissa Leong: There’s no average day, which is great for me because what I dread most is repetition. If I’m filming MasterChef, it’s a super early start to the day which begins in hair and make-up, then into challenges, deliberations and a hell of a lot of eating. When I finish work, the make-up comes off, I try to fit in a workout, catch up on other work and have an early night.

What do you love most about your current role?
It’s a culmination of many skills I have honed from former experiences, jobs and life in general. I draw on everything from project management, advertising, PR, copywriting, marketing, journalism and even make-up artistry in this job. It’s the most ‘me’ I’ve been able to be in a single role.

What are some of the biggest challenges with a demanding schedule?
Television production is intense. It’s hard to switch off and to dedicate time to other things during the season. I have built in some fail-safes like meditation and a few self-care things I don’t compromise on, which keeps me healthy and balanced.

How do you rate the importance of physical and mental health?
Staying on point with physical and mental health is crucial and equally so. What we do is not ordinary, especially the volume of food we consume. I find time to move most days and create space for myself to decompress so that I can make this life sustainable.

Describe how you look after your physical health.
Regular exercise – Pilates and LIIT [low-intensity interval training] are my favourite ways to move right now. I eat in a balanced way when I’m not on set, and I prioritise sleep.

What are 3 ways you look after your mental and emotional wellbeing?
Meditation, daily self-care in the form of abhyanga (Ayurvedic self-massage) and breathing exercises, and more sleep. (Yes, it’s that important to me!)

Who inspires you and why?
There are so many people, and for so many reasons. Right now, I am floored and amazed by everything Grace Tame is doing – her strength, resilience and utter fierceness is important for us to celebrate.

Jessica Gallagher is a Paralympian, motivational speaker and osteopath. In 2016 Jess became Australia’s first athlete – Olympic and Paralympic – to gain medals at both a Summer and Winter Olympic Games.

HCF: Describe your average day.

Jessica Gallagher: My schedule varies a lot. As an elite athlete I’ll typically train 9 to 12 times a week and as a speaker I might be presenting at a conference or event (in person or virtually), working with clients, preparing keynotes and more. I love the variety. 

What do you love most about your current role?
As a speaker I love the impact I can have, the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, the chance to hear and share stories and, above all else, experience the human connection through storytelling. As an athlete I love the pursuit of a goal I set myself, and knowing that it’s what I learn along the way that will make me a better person.

What are some of the biggest challenges with your work?
Managing high training hours and load with running a small business that often requires me to be on the road. It’s always tricky. I don’t always get it right and there are sacrifices I make, but at the end of the day I love what I do. It brings me joy and happiness and I feel privileged to do everything I do. It’s 100% worth it.

How important is good physical and mental health to you?
As an osteopath I get to see firsthand the privilege of health and the challenges when it doesn’t exist for someone. I’m incredibly passionate about helping others find their whole health, whatever that looks like for them.  

Tell us 3 ways you care for your physical health.

1. Prioritising sleep. My life requires high energy, which means I also need a strong focus on recovery. Without recovery there is no energy to draw from, so for me, sleep is a priority. I love a nap!

2. Looking after and listening to my body. We expect a lot from our bodies so it’s important to look after them. For me this might be seeing my osteopath for a treatment, choosing healthy and well-balanced food, and keeping things as simple and stress-free as I can.

3. Have fun! Honestly, this is probably the most important. Having fun and enjoying what you do will allow you to find your pathway to health, whatever that might look like for you.

And how do you look after your mental and emotional wellbeing?
Over the years I’ve developed more self-awareness. Learning to self-reflect and understand how I respond when I’m getting tired and run-down allows me to recognise it and have strategies to support myself. At the age of 17 I was diagnosed as legally blind and it turned my life upside down. I was fortunate to have a lot of support and now it’s really important to me that I can be that support for others. I’ve been an ambassador for Vision Australia for the past 12 years and have been a Board Director at Vision 2020 Australia for the past 8 years. 

Who inspires you and why?
I find inspiration from everyone. We all have a story, we all experience challenges and highs and lows. If we are open to listening, we can take inspiration from everywhere.

Words by Kerry McCarthy
First published March 2022

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