Learn to strike a balance in your personal life and career

“Our male counterparts have time to play golf, go to the gym and regularly go out. Women need to incorporate more than work and parenting in their busy schedules,” – Catherine Olaka

Catherine Abisaki Olaka was born and raised in Kenya. The mum to two adult kids, Stephanie and Mathew, says she has always been a chubby girl even when growing up. “I grew up in South B with my seven siblings. I have three brothers and four sisters,” says Catherine. The Kenya High School alumnus who was there from Form One all the way to Form Six says she started doing billable work from the age of 16. “Everything I know, I have learned from my mum after our dad passed on when I was 16 years old. Mum raised the eight of us,” she narrates.

Catherine was hired by the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications after she completed her university studies. “I kick-started my Human Resources (HR) career at 23. I later did my post graduate diploma in HR and my masters in Business Administration,” she says. In 2017, Catherine was certified as an Executive Coach and has enjoyed her career form close to 30 years. This, however, came with its challenges as a sedentary lifestyle saw her pile up on the kilos.

“The earliest memory I remember of my weight was when I was in Form One and weighed 72kg. Most of my adult life I weighed about 120kg,” she reminisces. “I was 85kg when I got married at 27. And after my second baby, my weight oscillated between 110 to 120kg,” she says. Catherine says she tried a couple of things to lose weight but her weight always had three digits. “Diets and an exercise regimen did not work for me,” says Catherine.

She attributes her weight gain to her lifestyle. “Life is extremely packed and if one is not careful, it is easy to put some important things in the back burner. You don’t realise the weight gain and you keep buying new, bigger clothes,” she says. Catherine was active in high school where she played hockey but she says her life’s milestones all seemed to happen at the same time. “I completed university and next embarked on a career in HR. But since I hadn’t studied that in campus, I enrolled for evening classes for my post graduate diploma in HR. Other family responsibilities followed and I hardly had time for myself,” says Catherine.

As a young career woman on the fast lane and covering 10 countries, she realised it was hard to budget time for herself. “When you work, you eat at your desk. And most of the times you eat fast food,” says Catherine. However, towards the end of 2018, she started reflecting on her life. “I was turning 50 and I started reflecting on the second half of my life. The desire to lose weight had been with me a long time. I took the time to self-reflect and overcome self-defeating habits.

“I wanted to achieve optimal health. I looked at the issue of obesity and wondered what I could do about it once and for all,” narrates Catherine. “I opted for bariatric surgery,” she says. Catherine decided to invest in her health. “If I can get into a bank to get a loan for a car, I can also do the same for my health,” she reasoned. “With some credit and a little help from hubby, it happened. And together with my daughter, Stephanie, we opted for the procedure,” shares Catherine. “I had invested in my MBA and I didn’t view the surgery as an expense. It was an investment in my health and when you invest, I believe you get a return on investment (ROI),” she says.

Catherine says she had done a bit of research on bariatric surgery though she felt for her daughter who was in her early 20s. “I talked to my daughter and she said she would do her own research.” Just before she hit 50, Catherine realised she had a low self-esteem, which she says was coming from her appearance because of all the weight she was carrying. It was easy for her to make the life-changing decision in January 2019 and says she was lucky to meet someone who knew someone who referred her to Dr Theo. “I felt comfortable with the support, which had a lot of scientific backing and I didn’t have issues at all,” she says. “I was turning 50 when I did the surgery. My kids were adults and I found myself with time to be able to prioritise,” she says.

Catherine narrates how Big Ted and Khadiha took her through their personal weight loss journeys, which made it easier for her emotionally. Dr Theo also talked to her daughter, which she says was the greatest support for her. “We were taken through counselling sessions and a lot of support was given to us even on return back home after surgery,” she says. “I’m glad I went with my daughter. Being much younger, she was up within a few hours and she was able to move around and assist us. Being her mum, this surgery for me and her had improved the quality of our lives. There’s a significant reduction on the medication I take for hypertension and life is much more enjoyable. I can now cross my legs, which I couldn’t do before and also tie my shoe laces,” narrates Catherine.

However, she says she battled with emotional issues when she started losing weight after the surgery, especially due to people’s comments. “I was used to carrying my weight and underneath it a lot of emotional baggage. With the weight going, the baggage begins to fall off and those around me were not ready for this new change. Some even told me I shouldn’t lose weight. But as the weight went, I was able to be more physical,” she says.

“The impact of the weight loss is about the whole wellbeing and has touched every aspect of my life. You don’t realise how obesity can bring obstacles. The greatest thing is that I’m able to feed my emotions more and put myself first. Now I guard that jealously.

Catherine currently weighs 91kg and she says her goal is to get more active. “I don’t think I’m at my ideal weight; I think my ideal weight should be 85kg,” she says.

A word of caution to career women is that wellness is all rounded and encompasses all aspects of your life from the emotional to the physical and spiritual etc, says Catherine. “We often set targets around career but rarely around our mindsets, heartsets etc. As you make progress in your career life, let it not be skewed. Strike a balance,” she advises. “The external world is too demanding, especially to women. There is the pressure to have everything, to be able to progress in your career and compete with men for the top.”

Catherine says she has enjoyed a good career having achieved top management level at 28. “We need to incorporate more than work and parenting as women. Look at your male counterparts, they have time for golf, gym, meet-ups etc. Make time for a balanced lifestyle,” advises Catherine.

Send this to a friend