Rachel Slaybaugh

Moved by a mission to create clean energy that works for all,
she courageously chose to grow her leadership to keep pace with her quickly expanding work,
and is delighted by the unexpected benefits in her personal and love life
(6-minute read)

The increasing chaos and overwhelm that propelled Rachel to get help…

Right before I started working with Susanna, my career had significantly upleveled and I was stepping into more leadership. I’d been an assistant professor of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley for several years and was on track for tenure. As part of that, I was teaching, mentoring doctoral students in my research group, and I’d also recently launched a successful Nuclear Innovation and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.

Plus, I had just taken on being a program director at ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy), a U.S. Department of Energy agency tasked with promoting and funding both the research and the development of advanced energy technologies. This is all a reflection of my passion for supporting the emergence of clean energy that works for everyone.

I was scaling up professionally and trying to do everything, including keeping my home in Berkeley while also moving to Washington DC for the multi-year ARPA-E project. It was crazy! Basically it felt like my career was growing much faster than I was and as things started to fall apart at the seams, I was pretty much just holding on for dear life.

At random times I’d burst into tears from the overwhelm I felt. I knew that what I was doing wasn’t working, but I had no idea what skills I needed, just that I didn’t have them. I care a lot about people and I always want to do the best I can. But I was operating on the edge of chaos, and not in a thoughtful or efficient way.

As a leader, I wasn’t very strategic and I lost a lot of energy trying to make everyone happy. I also had no idea how to delegate or empower people to step into their own leadership. So I ended up having to do everything myself, which was exhausting.

The hardest part was that I didn’t have much balance in my life. I was just focused on work and how to do more of it. It wasn’t even about how to work smarter, but just how to fit more in. Even my students were worried about me!

In my personal life, I was canceling a quarter to half of my social engagements. Over time it took a toll and I became less connected and less reliable as a friend.

My dating relationships were far from great. I was usually the one putting in the effort and hoping it would work out, which of course it didn’t because I was picking men who weren’t emotionally available.

In a twisted sort of way, I was always trying to prove that I was amazing by dating cool people. But then if they wanted to be with me, I thought, “Oh man, something must be wrong with them”! So I was doomed either way. Deep down I believed that I wasn’t good enough, and that men don’t like women who are highly educated, so I was never going to have a meaningful long-term relationship.

The whole situation felt really bad and I realized I wasn’t having any fun, which is actually very important to me. I mean, I’m also a Burning Man kind of gal! Instead, I was stressed and worried all the time. Am I doing the right thing? Am I making a difference? How am I going to get everything done and pull this off?

The combined effect was that I wasn’t thriving. There was no joy in my life. And I was plagued with feeling that I simply wasn’t good enough for the work I was doing and the impact I wanted to have.

The miracle of who Rachel became as a leader…

Through Susanna’s guidance and support, so much has changed in the last year and a half! I have a foundation of stability, acceptance, inner peace, and certainty that simply wasn’t there before.

It’s still my nature to ride on the edge of chaos, but it’s no longer that everything might fall apart if I do. Instead, I know how to do it skillfully, and I can find balance pretty quickly and not fall into constant pushing. I now understand that there are multiple, non-negotiable things needed for me to be sane, fulfilled, and do my best work. And that if I push too hard on any of them, it throws the hold thing out of balance and it doesn’t work.

Through the leadership growth I’ve experienced, I’m able to say yes to continually bigger things because I’m thoughtful about the choices I make and how I work with others. And I have a much fuller experience of taking care of myself through all of it, even though I still have two big jobs and I still live on two coasts. But now I’m thriving with it all.

I’m proud to say that my ARPA-E teams and I have a healthy and highly functional relationship where we support one and other and collectively we make sure all the necessary things get done so the research teams we fund can do their best work. I’ve become skillful at delegating and realizing what does or doesn’t need my full attention. And also letting go of everything needing to be perfect! Plus, I’ve learned a lot about asking for help – before it’s an emergency.

I’ve also developed the ability to assess ahead of time what I’m going to have capacity for, what additional resources I’ll need to tap into, and what are reasonable timeframes for accomplishing things. All around I’m much more facile at deciding how I want to intentionally use my energy to further my mission.

In fact, I’ve gotten so skilled at all this that I recently took on leadership of another sizable research program that interested me. The scale of it, in addition to everything else I’m already doing, would have sunk me previously. But instead, I did it confident that I have the essential skills to navigate it well and grow it into what it needs to be, without ever selling out on my own well-being.

Recently I’ve become more aware of the impact I and my decisions have on others and I’m thinking more broadly about my team, how to mentor and empower them, and how to most skillfully integrate them into a project. I love that I’m developing more of a collaborative approach to leadership, which before might have felt a little too threatening to the “I’m not enough” part of me.

Not surprisingly, some really big, amazing opportunities are coming my way, ones that are very aligned with the next level of my mission. Before I would just say yes to a lot of what came my way because doing so affirmed that others saw me as smart enough and capable enough. Now I assess each opportunity based on what authentically inspires me and whether it supports the difference I’m called to make, and then I make a conscious choice. So these days there are plenty of things I graciously say no to, which feels great.

Not only have I deeply appreciated how much I’ve learned and grown, but I’ve noticed that I can learn and grow much faster, and I can do it in real time. To be honest, it’s a bit shocking that things I thought would take a long time to figure out and change, just don’t. I get clear, and then, boom, it shifts. And so what’s available to me now is an ability to have a level of impact that I long wanted, but I previously didn’t have the skills to achieve.

The joy of how it transformed Rachel personally…

Now while all these shifts on the professional level are fantastic, one of the biggest impacts for me was learning how to accept and love myself differently. The process we did where I claimed that “I am a profound gift of wild love and unconditional compassion” – that was truly magical for me.

It transformed everything because I totally got it, not just as a nice idea, but I started to live it, instead of always being driven by “I’m not good enough”. So now, when an echo of that old belief pops up, which it does from time to time, I simply don’t believe it anymore. I love myself and I truly treasure me!

Another huge piece was the forgiveness letter I wrote to my dad, which allowed me to release so many of the pleasing, perfecting, and driven tendencies I had that I was unconsciously blaming him for (and that were hobbling me as a leader). With that release, my leadership leapt forward and my relationship with my dad shifted profoundly.

It’s really remarkable who I’ve become through this process. I’ve learned how to nurture my sense of curiosity and allow it to inspire my action, instead of always being relentlessly driven by my ambition and my need to prove that I’m enough. That alone was a game-changer. So I’m really enjoying a much more playful and curious way of being. I dance more! I feel a lot more joy. I’m a lot less critical, both of myself and of others.

It’s also easier for me to notice old patterns right when they pop up, ways of showing up that aren’t how I truly want to be, and to choose a more empowered response instead. A lot of the reactive tendencies I used to have, they’re much quieter, and when they do show up, I can identify them pretty quickly and easily, while they’re happening, and then I make a different choice that’s creative and joyful. It’s so much easier to be in the world!

The love Rachel was suddenly able to attract into her life…

In my personal relationships, there’s a quality of love and closeness, and an ability to be present and available that I didn’t have before. I also have a romantic partnership that’s in its early stages, and wow, I’m experiencing that it’s possible in a way I’d never believed would work out for me – a real, meaningful, fulfilling, romantic partnership!

One big shift was that I stopped feeling like I constantly had to prove I was good enough. Of course, that need was the same underlying driver that was making my leadership so stressful and ineffective. Through first addressing it in my leadership, the transformation rippled out into my personal life and it’s beyond what I could have imagined!

My experience of life is so much better than it was before. And somewhat surprisingly to me, I can do more of what matters, while also giving much more to others. I’m able to be far more present, happy, and contributing, instead of stressed, worried, and complaining all the time.

The gratitude Rachel feels…

All through working with Susanna, I felt very nurtured, supported, and safe. She was always honest and straightforward, yet also very loving, thoughtful, and with no judgment. I needed that blend because some of the work was really hard, so I thrived being held this way. It was truly wonderful!

From my heart, I want to express so much gratitude to Susanna. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to work with her. I can’t imagine that I would have experienced the tremendous success I have because I didn’t know how to create it on my own. I really am such a very different person now. I’m enjoying rich and meaningful work and am living a truly amazing life. So I’m truly grateful to her!

The advice Rachel offers to others…

For anyone considering growing themselves as a leader with Susanna’s guidance, this work is a rich opportunity to get clear on what’s in the way of you thriving in your work and life, clear out those obstacles, figure out what’s missing that’s also holding you back, and then grow yourself and your capacity to fill in what you need.

It’s highly effective, personalized coaching and mentoring that’s all about helping you get from the struggle of where you are to the joy and the purpose of where you want to be, so you can thrive while making the impact that’s important to you, at higher and higher levels.

If you’re on a mission to help make the world a better place through your work and you’re struggling as a leader or feeling overwhelmed, and your work is at risk of suffering as a result, there’s no higher choice you can make than to invest in growing yourself as a leader, so you can show up fully as the gift you are.