Brick Walls and Nourishment

Leadership LessonsBrigida SwansonComment
When we get overwhelmed and can't live up to the full potential of our strengths, how can we recharge our energy to get back to being our most confident selves?

When discussing stretches in leadership class, we talk about what to do when you reach a stopping point that you can’t get past. One student described this experience as a brick wall, and the name has stuck to become part of the leadership curriculum’s vocabulary. In class, my students and I talk about how brick walls feel like something you can’t climb over, you can’t go around and you can’t break through.

Brick walls

Brick walls are the experiences and emotions that stop you in your tracks and prevent you from continuing to work on your stretches and live up to the full potential of your strengths.

I asked fifth graders to list out the brick walls they experience in their lives. The girls talked about perfectionism, deadlines, overwhelm, working too much, being late, change, stress, exhaustion, peer pressure, friendship problems, hunger, and lack of sleep.

Once the girls started sharing, I began to realize that these were the same brick walls the girls might experience up through adulthood. When talking with my adult female friends, they spoke of the same types of challenges. While our daily activities are different from when we were in the fifth grade, we still get held up by the same types of experiences, worries and emotions as we did when we were ten.

Think about the brick walls that affect your sense of wellbeing the most. Do you struggle with perfectionism? Do you feel anxious when you’re running late? Do you wish you could get more sleep so you wouldn’t feel so exhausted all the time? Do you say things you regret when you’re hungry?

When you don’t fulfill your basic needs, you can’t live in the way that expresses your strongest, most confident self. You start to feel run down, you get grumpy and snap at your loved ones or you don’t put your best performance into the work you know you should be able to do successfully. In order to get past your brick walls, you need to recharge your energy so that you can start living as you’re meant to, as a powerful woman and as a leader.  


When you take care of your basic needs first, you can start to climb over your brick walls with more ease. In order to make this happen, you need to know the things that bring you nourishment. In leadership class, we refer to nourishment as being the things you do to recharge and get your energy back. Some people might also refer to this as self-care or relaxation.

After discussing our brick walls in class, I asked fifth graders to talk about what nourishes them. They came up with a wide variety of responses. They talked about listening to music, reading, eating, being alone, being with friends or family, doing yoga, organizing or tidying up, napping, crying it out,  playing with a pet, playing sports and being active, watching television, playing video games, being outside and drawing.

Each girl knew exactly how to recharge when she didn’t feel like herself. Introverts talked about going into their rooms to read in silence, while extroverts talked about playing with their friends or siblings. Some girls talked about watching reality tv while others liked to go on hikes in the mountains.

Again, what the girls spoke about wasn’t too different from what they might choose to do as an adult to recharge. Their needs for quiet or noise, activity or rest won’t change too much once they’ve grown up.

Although it would be wonderful to experience any of these forms of nourishment whenever you run into a brick wall, the reality is that they usually won’t be a viable option in the moment. Even so, you can take small steps to get a boost of energy back.

I asked my students how they could take a mini nourishment break when they felt overwhelmed by a brick wall at school. Their ideas could work for anyone, whether you’re at work, at home or with family or friends. The girls suggested getting a drink of water, stepping outside to take a breath of fresh air, closing your eyes and practicing deep breathing, eating a snack, taking a bathroom break or doodling.

You can give yourself nourishment in small ways to move past a momentary brick wall, but it’s important to create the time to nourish yourself fully on a regular basis. By giving yourself permission to fulfill your basic needs, you’ll be more likely to reinforce your confidence and take on brick walls with grace and strength.

What are some strategies you can use to nourish yourself when you hit a brick wall?