My May column previewed the NAFSA: Association of International Educators Annual Conference session that I delivered with Anne D’Angelo and Anna Kelly. Our purpose was to make a space for women IE professionals to consider how we can ameliorate the changing realities of our work that affect our mental and physical health so that we can take care of ourselves, others, and our work. We introduced three leadership theories that engage the whole individual, including coaching principles, mindful leadership, and somatic leadership, and talked about how they can be applied by women (or any) leaders in International Education. In that column, I promised to share more details this month. I’ll also share some reflections on the conference as well, and have included a resource list at the close of this column.

My conference presentation was based on work I’ve been doing over the past 18 months in which I’ve been considering my own strengths, challenges, and practices through a program called Guts & Grace, founded by LeeAnn Mallorie. LeeAnn holds two master’s degrees in psychology and is a certified coach specializing in women’s leadership. The program is built around the framework of “somatic” or “embodied” leadership, which LeeAnn describes as a consideration of “who I am being at work, how I show up, how I stand in my mission, my energy, my presence, my invisible and early survival skills.” Put another way, it is about “. . . practicing leadership instead of intellectualizing about leadership” (George Mason University), an idea which continues to make this academic chuckle since I’m accustomed to pretty much living in my head. ☺

So, what does this mean in practice? How do I do this? How can you? Here are some of the key steps in the process I’ve been learning. Please note, this is an oversimplification of this content as each of these takes weeks, months, a lifetime? to develop and internalize. Accepting this is also part of my learning process.

  • First, practice joy. Figure out what makes you happy and make the time to practice it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to take a long time. It just needs to be done.
  • Take time for yourself. Put another way, make time for yourself. (I know, this is easier said than done.)
  • Figure out what you want to say “yes” to and what you want to say “no” to, and then do that. In other words, take charge of how you want to use your time.
  • Teach yourself how to “lasso your brain” (Mallorie), i.e., how to stop the flow of unhelpful thinking when you get into a mind spiral. Personally, I’m learning that by observing my body, I can see physical cues as to when this begins to happen. And yes, it’s still hard to do, as it is a skill that takes time to master.
  • Think about the one thing, the one habit, that may be holding you back from achieving your goals. What do you think it might be – knowing that it is probably rooted in your personal history?
  • Figure out your “North Star” (Mallorie). This refers to something that is most important to you, that captures who and how you want to be.
  • Practice something physical every day. You choose what it is. You choose for how long you will do it. Whatever it is, you need to do it, consistently. Also, it doesn’t have to be the same thing every day; it just needs to be something physical.
  • Practice making decisions based on how they make your body feel. Your body is full of intuition and wisdom. We just need to learn “to listen to our gut” as I’ve told my own students many times over the years.
  • Lastly, reflect on the story of your life and try to identify two or three themes that repeat themselves. Consider their role in your life, and especially if you are older (like me), accept the possibility of their relating to a new or deeper understanding of your life purpose.

I want to leave you with one final thought from LeeAnn that really speaks to me. It is that “in these turbulent . . . times, one could make the case that getting together with a bunch of like-minded women to do . . . self-reflection and inner work is a luxury that just can’t be afforded.” This sentiment echoed comments made by many of the women I surveyed several years ago when I started researching women’s leadership in International Education. They kept acknowledging that taking time for themselves made them feel as if they weren’t doing their jobs well, as if they were diverting their attention from their primary purpose to something more selfish in nature. Hopefully, opening up this discussion will help us all to see that the opposite is true. As those of us who work in International Education have heard multiple times, if we don’t put on our own oxygen masks first, if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we will never be able to rise to be our full selves, to lead our organizations, to impact our students, to be able to support and mentor each other. We just need to keep practicing . . .

What else did I take away from NAFSA’s Annual Conference? This year, I found the keynote speakers to be especially inspiring. Nadia Murad, a Yazidi human rights activist and recipient of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, talked about being the youngest of 15 children in a poor family within her marginalized community in northern Iraq, and about how her mother encouraged her to never give up hope. Baratunde Thurston, an author, activist, and television host who grew up in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, talked about racial and cultural representation, about the need to work across difference, and about how the seeds of curiosity and open-mindedness were planted by his mother who often took him from the city on bike rides through Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. 

Both Nadia and Baratunde talked about the need for people to live across cultural difference, whether as nations or as neighborhoods. And perhaps coincidentally, they also both reflected on how their mothers encouraged them to learn, to be curious, to pursue education. Their comments brought me back to thoughts of my own mom, as I had the good fortune of her being my kindergarten teacher. While decades have passed, of course, I continue to reflect on that time as my mom-teacher also cultivated a love of learning, especially through experiential education in her classroom even before it was a commonly accepted approach. I even keep a photo of my kindergarten class on the wall of my office, right next to one of me in graduate school 20 years later and the service award I received from NAFSA’s Region XI some 30 years after that. Together they create a physical reminder to practice the last point above offered by LeeAnn, i.e., to reflect on the story of my life and continue discerning how I work to fulfill my life purpose. Both speakers also reminded me of the connections between our work as international educators and global change agents, and the importance of us all planting seeds of curiosity in those around us. To Nadia, Baratunde, and my mom too, many thanks.

As I wrap up my first year as a columnist with GlobalEd, I want to express my appreciation to Bryan McAllister-Grande for opening this space to me. Having a commitment to share reflections and ideas about our field every two months encourages me to observe, ask questions, remain curious, and learn about International Education in new and different ways. I hope that you enjoy reading these columns as much as I enjoy writing them. Please tune in to my next column for a preview of the coming year, including an “Ask Sora” feature. And as always, please feel free to contact me with your ideas, questions, or thoughts at so that together, we can continue our practice,


Selected Resources:

George Mason University. (n.d.). Leadership Education and Development. Available at

Hanh, T. N. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation (1st ed.). Beacon Press.

Heartmath. (2023). Available at

Hudson, F.M. (1999). The adult years: Mastering the art of self-renewal. Jossey-Bass.

Mallorie, L. (2020). Guts & grace: A woman’s guide to full-bodied leadership. Conscious Capitalism Press.

McLean, P. (2019).  Self as coach – Self as leader: Developing the best in you to develop the best in others. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

O’Reilley, M. R. (1998). Radical presence: Teaching as contemplative practice. Heinemann.

Rogers, J. (2012). Coaching skills: A handbook. Open University Press.

Strozzi Institute. (2023). Available at

Thompson, B. (2017). Teaching with tenderness: Toward an embodied practice. University of Illinois Press.


  • Marty Tillman

    Thanks for your thoughtful reflections! In my four decades as a NAFSA member, women have always played important leadership roles as Presidents, in the regions and as heads of “sections.” And following the appointment of Marlene Johnson, as CEOs.

    I think the field needs a history of women in leadership so their contributions over the past 75 years offers an anchor to showcase pathways for women professionals for decades to come.

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