Self Care Interview with Ph.D, Photographer and Marathon Runner, Simone A. Winkler.
We all have the best intentions for better self care, but often the big question for ourselves is “Where can I find the time in my busy schedule?”. That’s why I’m so excited to share an interview with one of the most multitalented individuals I’ve ever met who is able to make plenty of time for self care despite having multiple careers.
In my field of work, I examine routines, time management, behaviors and happiness, so I was curious how Simone successfully handles two very opposite professions at once, in different parts of the country, and finds the time and energy to be an avid marathon runner.
While I never suggest comparison as a form of success measurement (everyone’s circumstances, beliefs and desires are different), I do believe in learning from one another.
That’s why I love taking a deeper dive into the habits and self care of individuals who are thriving with their wellness routine. For those that have found a way of life that allows them to thrive, what’s their key to success? For those that struggle with certain areas of life, what’s the root of the challenge? That’s what we explore here on the Live Happier blog.
So here’s a peek into the routine of Simone – owner of EyeCatchLight Photography, Biomedical Engineering Professor at Cornell, and an avid marathon runner.
Lauren: Tell us a little bit about you and your careers. How did it all begin? Does your business relate to a personal story?
Simone: As a child and teenager, I was always good at math and physics. Naturally, I went on to train in the sciences and in engineering. But something was missing in all that. I was always drawn to hobbies like music and other artistic endeavors. I think it was when I went through some serious soul searching during my graduate school years in Montreal, Canada, that I bought a camera. Honestly, I thought it was going to be one of those hobbies that I’d start and not really build. Boy was I wrong.
I think the jump into making it into a career started when I needed money as a student. I put my ad on Craigslist, and a few days later I was suddenly hired to photograph for Blackberry at the Black Eyed Peas Concert! Thankfully it wasn’t of the actual musicians with my meager experience. During those days I went through a lot of emotional pain, and I think I found myself a little more every day by playing in a band, trying out acting, writing little fairy stories, drawing – and – photography, which by then had become an actual professional endeavor.
This was 12 years ago. I never stopped the engineering career, mostly because I am good at it. It’s what made me the income when I had to build the visual arts career. I went on to do research at Stanford, and now I am a professor at Cornell. In 2018, I also founded my own engineering business. I can’t quite say which is my favorite. They all continue to exist (and thrive) because of each other. I think that my life would be very different if I hadn’t found that symbiosis.
There is an important piece I want to point out about Simone’s journey in regards to making changes in your habits and routines… If your brain sees an action as pleasurable enough, it will find a way to choose that action again. Simone notes that photography was first a hobby and it continued to serve her as a way to find joy during a time of emotional pain. This will create a strong impression in your brain that this action (photography in Simone’s case) is a choice your brain wants to continue to make. And participating in a pleasurable hobby is in fact a form of self care. So if you relate this example to exercise, you must find something that you really enjoy in order to choose exercise over something else (like social media scrolling or tv) in order for it to fit in your week.
Lauren: You manage two careers and are an avid runner. Can you walk us through your wellness routine/self-care routine?
Simone: Many people ask me how I juggle it all. I think the reason it works is that both careers are so different from one another. It seems to me as though one is a break from the other. When I am fed up with calculations and science, I can swaddle a newborn baby and create wonderful memories for the parents. And when a long headshot day exhausts the introvert in me, I can sit down next’ and crunch some numbers all alone behind my desk, without having to speak to anyone.
But I digress. The quintessence of what I want to express with all this is that I chose this path in life because it gives me the freedom that I need to be well. I never feel trapped because I always have the other career as a way out. And when it does get too much, the trails and the runs will do the rest. My self-care routine is pretty simple as a result. I take as much time as I need for myself. One ritual is to sit with coffee in the morning as long as I need to. I work efficiently and take a ton of time for myself.
I think that having found this path with two complementary careers and tons of self care has emerged from a longstanding health journey and a lot of exhaustion when I was younger. I’ve worked with a functional doctor over the years and have ironed out a complex history of autoimmune troubles, and through all that I learned the hard way that nothing matters more than my own peace.
Lauren: What allows you to find time for both jobs and fitness in your week?
Simone: Setting strong boundaries. Putting my own peace at the very top of any list of priorities. I do not invite toxic people into my life, not personally, and not professionally. My personal and professional lives are separate, and so are my phone numbers, email addresses, and more. My phone is set up such that business notifications won’t get through during non-business hours.
I have found that the main stressors in life are of the mental kind. The headspace kind. The type of thing that keeps on nagging. The type of thing that reminds you just enough such that you can’t ever disconnect at a full 100%, only at, say, 80%. Adding up several of those little things will take up so much headspace that it’s as if you’ve never even started to disconnect. Declutter your mind, simplify life, turn off anything that’s nonessential.
This is why we spend time on decluttering at the beginning of the Wellness Bar groups. In order to focus on what’s most important, you need to make space for it – mentally, physically, emotionally and logistically. Don’t underestimate the importance of this step. When your clutter is removed, it’s much easier to see what step is next.
Lauren: Do you ever struggle to take care of yourself and please your clients? If so, how do you go about that challenge?
Simone: This used to be more of an issue. I think many business owners start out by taking on any client that gets in touch. But as we grow, we learn that we need to say no to some things. When things are unhealthy or otherwise zap our energy, it’s time to say no. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at doing that. Because I went through so much in life, I’ve developed a pretty serious radar detecting things that could end up being unhealthy for me. Of course, nothing is foolproof, but when these things only happen occasionally, it’s easier to get the more difficult projects that do come through to fruition and move on.
This is sound advice applicable to almost anyone, whether you’re a business owner, working for someone else or a working-in-the-home parent. It’s worth taking some time to figure out what you can say “no” to. Evaluate the opportunity cost of saying “no” to that action. When you say “no” to one action, what are you saying “yes” to? Or better yet, who are you saying “yes” to? This is a common exercise I do with clients who work long hours and have trouble finding time for rest or exercise. When saying yes to working another hour at night on a project instead of going to yoga because you don’t want to let your team or boss down, who are you highlighting as the first priority in this situation? Essentially, this client is telling themselves the coworker or boss is a higher priority than themselves.
Lauren: If someone were to approach you asking for advice on how to manage a large workload without letting your own health take a backseat, what would you say?
Simone: Delegate the majority of things. Build a team. Set boundaries. Declutter your time and headspace. Sit with coffee every morning for as long as you want. And during lunch, in the afternoon – whenever you need it. In my opinion, those moments are what matter to our health.
Lauren: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Simone: I think there is so much more that I could say on this topic. It’s almost as if I don’t want to open that book because it is thousands of pages long. I’ve been through a ton of stuff in life. Abuse, chronic disease, domestic violence, and then some. There’s always a way out. It can be tough, but there’s hope. I have found my journey very rewarding. Had I known that it would be decades long, I’d have despaired. But the truth is that you don’t just arrive after those decades of hard work. Every day, every week, brings a new life, and every day I feel like I’ve arrived anew. Life is a journey, and I can’t wait to see where else it’ll take me!
I don’t think you can get a more inspirational closing thought than that one. Thank you so much to Simone for sharing her story with us. She’s made an impact on me and I know her story will impact many others.
If you’d like to learn more about Simone and her business, eyeCatchLight, check out her website and Instagram. And if you’re looking for newborn/family photos or portraits, be sure to see her service packages.