Gail Forrest is the executive vice president – administration for Chugach Alaska Corporation. Gail leads HR, Facilities and Information Technology for a native Alaska corporation of 5,000 employees worldwide. She has 38 years of experience in running human resources and various other staff functions for major corporations.
How did it affect your life and work?
I spent my first twenty years of my career in companies that I would call “alcohol embracing.” It was the Mad Men era, and drinking in the office, liquid lunches and early cocktail hours were all part of the culture. Partying and trying to keep up with “the boys” was a survival mechanism, but I still managed to work 60-70 hours a week and produce a good product. I rarely missed work, but I always wonder how amazing I could have been without a hangover. New Year’s Day 19 years ago, I just stopped, and with the help of a 12-step program, have not gone back. I take it one day at a time.
I have always felt the weight was a much more challenging issue. Food was always a comfort for me; social events centered on food and I love to cook as much as I love to eat. I had no interest in exercise and my weight constantly bounced up and down by hundreds of pounds, at many points in my life reaching 300 pounds. I stressed my heart with yoyo dieting so much that in 2005 I nearly died from congestive heart failure. It was the wakeup call I needed!
My obesity made me feel inadequate as a leader. (“If she can’t even manage her own health, how the heck could she help run a major corporation?”) There is no question that my weight, lack of fitness and appearance significantly held me back. As a result I worked harder than ever to “prove myself” professionally which made me – most of the time – a great worker but not such a great person. I had no self-esteem, and I was a lot harder on my teams than I needed to be given my penchant for external perfection. I was profoundly unhappy.
What was it like still having to perform as a high-level executive?
I always felt like a fraud, waiting to be discovered. Deep shame was my most pervasive feeling. Outside I came across as this socially comfortable, fairly on-top-of-it professional who knew her stuff. Underneath, at my core I felt like a worthless fat person who was trying to overcome constant depression by getting results and being the best executive leader to prove my worth. A key lesson I’ve learned is that grace and compassion in the journey is what matters most, and how we optimize – and overcome – what life gives us is all that counts.
How did The Truth Behind Our Titles® impact you?
The Truth Behind Our Titles® impacted me because I have always felt that as a culture our penchant for perfection and results has adversely overshadowed the “risk embracing” lifestyle necessary to make us stronger through the challenges with which we are confronted. The internet has been a great tool for developing transparency and connectedness, but it has encouraged the drive for “self-promoting” and the appearance of perfection.
We are all flawed, and if we aren’t failing, we aren’t taking enough chances, stretching, or growing. Why not celebrate our mistakes, learn from them, and just laugh it off? The world generally discourages this, but it’s so refreshing to find someone with that much humility and humanity.
What are you reading right now?
The Road to Character by David Brooks
What makes you smile?
Whatever I decide to appreciate, most of which are very simple things I can find anywhere. But especially any interaction with my dear friends, beloved family, or treasured dog Bella. Gratitude is the ultimate form of sanity and the key to all happiness. Just being grateful for waking up to another day, makes me smile. I live a privileged life!
Gail’s #ShareYourTruth Advice
Sharing your truth only makes a difference if you also share what you’ve learned from the experience. Gail shares her advice on thriving as an executive professional.
- YOU FIRST. Women are nurturers and we put everyone else before ourselves: immediately reverse that paradigm. Take care of yourself first or you won’t be there for anyone else. Everything else just flows naturally from a beautiful person with a stellar attitude who loves themselves. They have an aura that is contagious.
- LIVE TO GIVE. At the end of the day, it’s all about what you can give back to the greater world. My mom taught me that “doing for others” is the key to happiness. Her caring, giving and love have built a great circle of friends and that is the core of a happy existence.
- CHARACTER COMES FROM ADVERSITY. If you are a half-glass-full person, it may sound counterintuitive to say “expect the worst;” but this is an important balance to maintain. Whenever I travel, I am prepared for things to not go as planned and look forward to seeing what new door opens when the plans don’t pan out, like an unexpected few hours of people watching in a remote airport. An avid gardener, I used to get so agitated when I put out my bird feeder and the squirrels took all the food. After years of trying to get rid of them I realized that I was getting more joy out of watching their antics than I was out of any of the bird visitors! So celebrate are the squirrels in YOUR life.