Before we jump in, you have a really interesting job Virginia, can you tell us a little bit more about it?
I work for a think tank that specialises in security, defence and foreign policy. There I run a research programme on Conflict, Security and Development.
I've always had an interest in those issues so I enrolled on a degree in War Studies, and then an MA in Intelligence and Strategic Studies. I was lucky enough to be offered internships with relevant organisations following by studies. I then progressed through the ranks.
What has been the most fascinating part of your career so far?
I love my job, especially as it is very varied both in terms of the issues and regions I get to work on and the different responsibilities I have, which range from research and writing to delivering briefings to policy-makers; from speaking at conferences and with the media to managing a team.
But above all I love conducting research on the ground, seeing first hand the impact of insecurity, talking to local civilians as well as local military, police, government officials, NGOs and anyone who can help me get a better understanding of local dynamics whether with regard to drug trafficking patterns, jihadist recruitment, urban secuity, etc....
What would you say is the most challenging thing about your job, and how do you deal with it?
At the moment my biggest challenge is staying on top of everything. I'm a pretty well organised person but my responsibilities have recently expanded and there are several projects and initiatives that require my attention. I have to prioritise and regularly revise my list of priorities. Sadly there are items on that list that keep on being pushed further down.
I know that your health is important to you, what part does keeping fit play in your life?
It plays an enormous part. My physical fitness is key to my mental fitness and overall wellbeing. Exercising regularly and eating well are part of my daily routine and make me feel energised and more content with life.
A lot of people simply say that they don't have time, but you've seemed to make it work - how do you fit training and healthy eating into your lifestyle?
(1) planning, e.g. I call hotels ahead of business trips to find out what gym equipment they have and I then plan accordingly; and I cook in batches on Sundays so meal prep is super quick during the week.
(2) getting into a routine where exercise has clear slots in your weekly diary. Once that has become your way of living it will actually feel strange NOT to exercise.
"I feel better and it makes me happy to see improvements...
Is there anything that you've have to give up to make these changes? If so, what?
Occasionally I had to skip after-work drinks because I had planned to workout or go to a yoga class that night. But it wasn't a big deal for me. The workout was more important. Other than that, it goes back to planning: if I know I have an evening event to attend I will schedule to workout before going to the office in the morning.
What have you gained, or in what way has staying fit made your life that much more better?
I feel better and it makes me happy to see improvements such as greater muscle definition or better performance at the gym. But I also have a greater awareness about food, where it comes from, how is produced, etc. I am more environmentally conscious and I think this is extremely important.
You recently complete The Project 12 Programme, what made you decide to take part in it, and what about it appealed to you?
I wanted help in order to train and eat in a smarter way. I had been a vegetarian for nearly a year when I started Project 12 and I wanted to make sure I had some solid foundations.
Also, at that time I was going through a difficult emotional phase and being on the programme helped me feel in control of my life as it gave me more structure. The two things that made it appealing to me were the tailored-made nature of the programme and the fact that I knew and trusted coach Cj.
Knowing what you know now about the programme, what one thing would you do differently?
It wasn't until quite late in the programme that I stopped stressing out and thinking that if I got a meal not quite right or if I missed a workout all progress made up until that point would vanish.
Obviously that mindset was unhelpful and resulted in me feeling guilty. So I wouldn't want to replicate that. Yet, it is probably thanks to what I've experienced in the course of the programme, including my slightly obsessive behaviour, that made me realise that was not a healthy mindset and I needed to rethink my relationship with food.
How did the programme benefit you? And was there anything that came up for you that you were not expecting?
Beside from the visible changes in my body the programme was beneficial in so far that helped me improve my relationship with food and most things related to body image.
I used to weight myself daily, sometimes twice a day. I now stopped keeping track of my weight and rely on measurements and pictures to track progress instead. In other words I no longer obsess about the number on the scale. And this is just one example of the positive psychological impact of the programme. This in itself is something I had not expected and by which I was pleasantly surprised!
Virginia is the author of two books, Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States, Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist Insurgency, and edited the collection, Organised Crime and Illicit Trade.