Too often, we neglect our health while we pursue our dreams and grow our business; but this is a surefire way to do more harm than good. Kiara LeBlanc, VP and Creative Director at Saje Natural Wellness knows this all too well. After joining the family business, she started suffering with a debilitating illness — but didn’t say anything about it. Only when her business performance was suffering did she admit that she needed to take care of herself.
Now, she lives with a ‘nothing to hide’ attitude, where managing her health is just as important as managing the Saje brand. She describes her ‘aha’ moment that changed her definition of living her best life.
It’s really hard to admit that something is ‘wrong,’ at work. Especially when you want to be a strong, take charge woman. I’ve felt this pressure. How did you know it was time to say something?
Here’s a question for you: would you allow the health of your company to slip by ignoring the symptoms? Would you avoid looking at your balance sheet if you were suffering financially, or avoid customers with complaints? My guess is, you wouldn’t. So then why do we ignore our own health when we’re trying to meet our business goals? Why do we choose to live in a way that places more importance on our business than on ourselves?
Those are such excellent questions. We’ve been trained to think that we’re only successful if our careers are on track. But that can be so self-destructive. Was there any fear involved in your decision?
In my career with Saje, I learned the hard way that your business has nothing without your personal health. Eight years ago when I joined the company, I was on a mission to make as much of a contribution as I could, no matter what that looked like. I wanted to show up as what we called an A-player — someone who shows up at their maximum in terms of work proficiency and culture alignment — and wasn’t going to stop until I got there. I was so passionate about my work and the people in the company and didn’t want to let anyone down, including myself.
Jump forward three years, and I find myself in the doctor’s office for intense stomach pain. I figured it was just something minor and was completely unprepared to be told that I had something major: ulcerative colitis.
I didn’t know what to do. I told myself ‘I don’t have time to be this sick”, and “maybe it’s not that big of a deal.” Turns out it was game-changing, but I still didn’t want to talk about being sick, and I definitely didn’t want to talk about problems with my digestive system. So, I didn’t. That was my first mistake.
What was your second mistake?
After hiding my pain for almost a year, my mom (also my boss) gave me some feedback on my performance: I wasn’t showing up as an A-player. I was a B-player, and showing up ‘like a stormcloud’. And that’s when it hit me: I had let my health slip to such a degree that my work was suffering. I was not only letting myself down, but I was also letting the team around me down.
I had let my health slip to such a degree that my work was suffering. I was not only letting myself down, but I was also letting the team around me down.
What have you learned through this process?
The truth is that you can’t ignore your health. Your body will find a way to send you a message and get you to change. I had to take some time off and address what was going on with my body. And to do that, I actually had to face reality: I had lost 20 pounds, I was losing ounces of blood every day, and I couldn’t eat anything without extreme pain. I was endlessly embarrassed.
After a long road to recovery, I learned some hard lessons about showing up for myself first, and not hiding the truth of my life and my body. I started prioritizing my needs even higher than the needs of the business. It turns out when you put yourself first, you are really putting the business first. Without a healthy you, your business isn’t healthy: when you are suffering, your business is suffering.
A lot of us have something we’re hiding, some truth that is going to find a way out whether we like it or not. But when you take charge of your life, live true to your values, and show up big, that’s when you’re living your best life.
Would you say you’re working to redefine balance?
For me, it’s not so much about finding balance as it is about living one life. When you make a distinction between different parts of your life, you’re creating a barrier to living your fullest. Where I’m at now, you could wake me up at 3 am to talk about ideas, because my work lights me up. I’m never going to say no to something that lights me up.
It’s odd to me that we tolerate work situations that don’t bring us as much joy as our personal life. Compare it to dating: if you’re on a third date with someone and you’re not feeling it, you don’t book a fourth date. But, if you’re at a job that you don’t love, sometimes you linger, hoping it will change, or tell yourself it’s ‘good enough’. When we choose to stay in situations that don’t light us up, we’re not going to find ourselves on a path to dharmic success.
So how do you now live with ‘nothing to hide?’
I live audaciously. The definition of audacious is “to be extremely bold or daring; fearless; highly inventive and without restriction from prior ideas”. I love this word to describe the energy that happens when you’re living full-out. I often say” “live so audaciously as yourself that you will succeed in the right situation.” And living audaciously is when you have nothing to hide from yourself, your friends or your colleagues.
When you don’t feel like you’re succeeding, think about the situation you’ve surrounded yourself with. If you’re not surrounded by people you love, doing what you love, you should probably just pack up and go home. Trying to fit ourselves into someone else’s mold will never end with you seeing as much success as you dream of. Living audaciously also attracts the right people into your circles, and before you know it, your entire network will be full of people who light you up and push you into your greatness.
For me, living with a nothing to hide mindset is the key to achieving an audacious and powerful life. We need to have less shame around our bodies and what’s happening with them. We need to see it as powerful to share our truth and take care of ourselves. Choose to live with nothing to hide: the results will excite you.
What do you do when you feel run-down?
I fill my tank. I live full-out. SO yes, get up at 3 am to write down all the amazing ideas that just came to you. But also yes: take time in your life to recharge. Everyone refills their tanks differently. For some it’s a long run, for others it’s a meditation; for me, it’s an intense conversation with someone I love. No matter what method you choose to recharge, honor it and make time for it. A real, well-rounded balance sheet would list your health as an asset: treat it like one, because the gains are undeniable.
Kiara LeBlanc is VP of Brand and Creative Director of Saje Natural Wellness – a twenty-five-year-old natural wellness company that has become North America’s leader in plant-derived essential oil products that help you feel your best, naturally. Founded in 1992, Saje began introducing 100% natural, plant-derived alternatives to pharmaceutical medicine and has grown from 14 to 71 education experience-based retail locations across North America within the past four years – and has been included on the PROFIT 500 list of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies for the past three years.
As a member of the founding family, Kiara champions the product innovation, store environment, and creative departments within Saje and was the recipient of the 2015 Notable Award for ‘Best in Design’. A previous student of Emily Carr University of Art + Design and involved in the business since childhood, Kiara has inspired and assisted in the vision and development of most of the 100% natural products and formulations available on the shelves today.
Kiara’s passion for technology, brand strategy, and the retail experience continues to inspire Saje as they push traditional retail boundaries and continue to expand their offering across North America and digitally on www.saje.com.