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Mornings Are Hard. Here’s How One CEO Makes Her’s A Bit Easier

Lavinya Stennett, the 24-year old founder and CEO of The Black Curriculum, shares the habits and rituals that keep her work-life balance far from burnout

By Emma-Louise Boynton

19 April 2021

avinya Stennett, 24, was born and raised in south London. In her final year of African and Development Studies at the University of London’s School Of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) she spent three months studying in New Zealand, where the commitment to teaching minority indigenous culture made her realise how little children in Britain are taught about Black history. She returned to London resolved to do something to help remedy this. In 2019 she founded The Black Curriculum, a social enterprise dedicated to the teaching and support of Black history all year round.

Māori gathering outside a Marae in New Zealand (between 1880 and 1920)
Image by Ping News / Flickr

I wake up at around 6 am to an alarm on my phone...

I don’t like early mornings. I am more of a night person, but I get more accomplished in the morning, so it just feels better getting up early. I do love the snooze button, though. I have about five alarms set: 5:55 am, 5:59 am, 6:03 am, 6:05 am… Usually I get up at alarm number three.

I’m a Christian, so…

Every morning when I wake up I pray and read the Bible – if my physical Bible isn’t next to me, then I’ll use my phone. I have a Bible app and I’ll play that for half an hour (you can play the passages aloud). My day feels better if I start it feeling connected to God.

I grew up in the church. I didn’t go to church for a while, but I started going again when I was a teenager and in a hard phase in my life. I was going through a lot and felt lost. But my mum was continually reminding me: “God loves you.” I’d be having a bad day and then she’d send me a text saying: “Jesus loves you.” There was always that reminder from my parents and people that I was around, so that threw me back into it. I can point to a lot of things that I’ve done that have changed my life, but for me my faith has always been an anchor. My church has always supported me. They prayed for me to do The Black Curriculum. During lockdown my Christian neighbours would sing hymns in the middle of the street, and then the people across the road would join in.

Image by Nathan Dumlao / Unsplash

After reading or listening to the Bible I put on music...

This morning I played Family by Popcaan. The song I pick depends on how I’m feeling.

I try and exercise before I start work…

Which my neighbours don’t like. I was using Body By Ciara, and then I moved to YouTube, where I do high-intensity interval training and Pilates classes.

I’m already really hyper...

So me and caffeine are not a good mix. I love camomile tea though. I have three different camomile teas in my house right now, and I’ll have one of those first thing in the morning. It just smells so nice and is really calming.

Sometimes I can’t be bothered to stomach something for breakfast…

Other times I will make shakshuka, and I’ll have Cheerios and a banana as well. I love cooking. For my shakshuka, I will do the onions first, sauteeing them for a while, then I add in garlic, cumin, paprika, and some salt, then the tomatoes. I’ll let that cook for a bit, then pop in the egg and let it simmer for about 20 minutes.

Image by Elfie McGilp / Flickr

I don’t read the news.

It just feels so depressing. The announcement that we were going into the third lockdown came on my birthday. I just didn’t want to know. And then every so often you’ll hear of someone local dying. If I do read the news, I’ll make sure I’m hearing what’s going on around the world and not just in Britain. Like last Saturday, I spent the day watching loads of documentaries on Al Jazeera to get my mind back into what’s happening in the world.

Getting ready for the day involves…

A shower, first of all. Then I’ll do my hair – I use gel to get it smooth. I love nice smells and aromatherapy. I have a diffuser in my bathroom and in my bedroom, and I used Deep Relax Sleep Mist by Aromatherapy Associates. It really helps to soothe me.

I have a whole facial routine...

Which starts with a base filler that plumps your face and feels so nice. Then I’ll mix that with some SPF, apply a primer or toner and then a bit of concealer. I’ll throw on a top and wear joggers instead of trousers – half my days are on Zoom so I really don’t need to get dressed properly. That is, unless I’m going to the park. Some days I’ve gone to the park looking like I’m going to a rave just because I’ve wanted to feel nice. I’ll wear a cropped hoodie or a cropped top and high-waisted leggings, then I’ll put on some nice boots, loads of jewellery, a necklace…

Image by Kerryn Castle-Tauroa

The first thing I do when I sit at my desk is…

Look at The day before, I will have written down what I need to get done the following day, so I’ll look at that list again and make a mental note of everything before I go and check through my emails. I used to be in the habit of answering emails as soon as I saw them, but now I just scan through everything first.

I have quite a strict schedule...

As in, I know what I’m doing this time next week. I don’t have a PA but I use Calendly as well as I also have regular calls with my team, which help structure my day as my one-to-ones always take place at the same time, so everything else falls around that. I manage five people day-to-day, but by May my team will total 30 in all.

I set boundaries because…

They are important to me for preserving my mental health. Passion is a good thing. It’s a great gift to have. But it’s important to erect your boundaries, because otherwise you become too consumed by the thing you’re doing, and then you don’t give yourself the space to love it, so you end up becoming quite resentful towards it and not honouring yourself in the process. It’s important to recharge.

I don’t think about being a CEO at 24...

Age – it’s not what I see. I don’t feel like wisdom or experience necessarily comes with age. I respect people on my team who are older than me because of the skills they have. But if I’m wrong about something, I do expect the team to challenge me whether they’re older or younger.

I’m currently reading Rising to Power by Ron A Carucci and Eric C Hansen, which looks at the experiences of CEOs in the past: their failures and the things that have made them really good. Reading this book has made me realise that I hadn’t really grasped I was a CEO, I’d just done it. But this book has made the reality of what I’m doing more apparent to me. It’s good, but it’s tough. I’ve disseminated this book to everyone in my team.

‘I journal every evening before bed… I have five different journals for different things, including one for life, one for work, one for my hopes’

I’m never out of work-mode...

Even if it’s not The Black Curriculum, I’m still thinking about making money. I’m always thinking: “How can I turn this into something?” I’m a true Capricorn. My mum said when I was younger I’d make paper fans and sell them to everyone in church because it got really hot. I also used to make perfume. I never used to actually use them because I’d get a rash... I’ve always had that drive though.

I don’t work past 7 pm…

And in the evenings I usually read or watch something. Yesterday I started Bridgerton. Sometimes I’ll cook in the evenings, but the bulk of my cooking happens on Sundays when I do batch-cooking for the entire week. I love butternut soup with sweet potato, because it’s so easy.

I journal every evening before bed.

I have five different journals for different things, including one for life, one for work, and one for my hopes. I’ll pick one to write in each evening. My work one, for example, is just for my goals. The reason I started doing this was that I was going through life without realising what I was doing and how far I’d come, so someone suggested that I write down three things I was proud of each day. I’ll write those down in my work one. Then in my life one I’ll write down something like: “I didn’t really feel comfortable in that conversation because…” Or: “I really didn't like how I responded. So it’s like I’m talking to myself and giving myself the space to feel sane. Usually, the work one is the one I go to most often, but it depends on how I’m feeling that day. I tend to spend at least five minutes writing every evening. I’ve always written down how I feel and gone to a diary to put my thoughts on paper, but the practice of journalling started because of this group I’m a part of called Golden. It’s a space for Black women to realise their purpose, and it’s just beautiful. The woman who runs it is incredible and she’s really into this process.

Two Māori woman performing a hongi (greeting) in Rotorua, New Zealand
Image by Simple Insomnia / Flickr

After a long day I’ll have a bath with Epsom salts…

And use a range of other products that have names like Inner Strength and Peace of Mind. They all have similar scents, like geranium, marjoram and lavender. I also use a lot of essential oils, so I’ll mix those in too. And I love candles. I have candles burning all evening. The one I’m using now is called Oud Rose, and it smells like heaven.

The last app I use before bed…

Is TikTok. I love this one account, @vctrknda. TikTok helps me feel like I’m not alone. Instagram, not so much, as it feels like everyone is pretending, putting on their best face. But TikTok is just real people.

The last thing I do before I go to bed is pray...

A different prayer every night.

The Short Stack

Fighting for change is all-consuming, which is why clear work boundaries and daily rituals are vital to avoid burnout.

By Emma-Louise Boynton

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