Girl Scouts’ 58-year-old CEO has run over 8 marathons around the world. Her ethos on work-life balance is ‘the opposite of what most people think’

The Girl Scouts have been around for 112 years, and are often best recognized for their iconic seasonal cookies. But beyond these delicious treats, the Girl Scouts dedicate themselves to a variety of different programs throughout the year. From field trips to community service projects, and environmental stewardships, the organization has empowered over 50 million women across America to date.

Ironically, the woman leading this charge, Bonnie Barczykowski, was never actually a Girl Scout herself.

“There’s always a mic drop when I share that I was never in Girl Scouting,” she recently told Fortune. “My daughters weren’t Girl Scouts, my sisters weren’t Girl Scouts, and my mom wasn’t a Girl Scout.”

When Barczykowski joined the organization 14 years ago, she knew “nothing” about Girl Scouts, but quickly developed a passion for it. In 2012, she became COO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri council, then assumed the local CEO position after just one year.

In 2023, after a decade on the local council, Barczykowski relocated to New York City to take on the role of Girl Scouts’ national chief executive. Now, at the forefront of the nonprofit, she continues to inspire 1.1 million active members and 50 million alumni.

To balance the demands of leading such a large organization, the 58-year-old relies on what she calls a stress-free activity: running. To her, these workouts resemble a career, each requiring careful “planning, strategy, and commitment.”

From the terrains of Patagonia to the icy sheets of Antarctica, Barczykowski has completed eight full marathons and a jaw-dropping 65 half marathons around the globe. As a member of the Seven Continents Club, Barczykowski participated in races across five continents, with aspirations to conquer her final two, Asia and Africa, by the time she turns 60 years old.

“The Antarctica run was amazing,” Barczykowski recently told Fortune. “The ability to actually know that you’re standing on ground that most people won’t ever be on, is breathtaking.”

Next up on her itinerary is Madagascar, slated for the summer of 2025. Usually, Barczykowski will turn her international races into 10- to-14-day-long trips to “really take in the area” she’s visiting. But it’s not just the incredible views that motivate her runs; it’s the business ideas she comes up with along the way.

“It’s just me and my head; I don’t listen to music. I don’t listen to podcasts,” Barczykowski said. Instead, she uses her runs as a time to unwind and often finds herself thinking about the future of the Girl Scouts.

“People I work with panic a little bit when they know I have a 20-mile run because they’re afraid of the ideas I’m going to come back with,” she joked.

The CEO follows a disciplined weekly routine dedicating four days to running, two days to cross-training, and one day to rest and recover. Her runs range from three to 20 miles, sometimes taking up to four hours to complete.

Balance is imbalance

Barczykowski likens work-life balance to her own marriage of 36 years, and says her strategy is the “opposite of what most people think.”

While most people see balance as a perfectly even scale, with each side holding the same weight, Barczykowski learned a different perspective from her father over 30 years ago—a lesson in imbalance.

On the morning of Barczykowki’s wedding, her father explained that in marriage, it will “rarely ever be 50/50.” Sometimes one partner can only contribute 20% and the other must be willing to give 80%. However, the goal is to always strive to achieve 100% together. Barczykowski applied this principle not only to her marriage but also to her approach to balancing work and life.

“I know the days that my family needed more of me, and I know the days that my work needed more of me,” she said. “It’s about creating a balance that is right for that time and place.”

Barczykowski said her greatest priorities for a “fully fulfilled” life are her family, faith, fitness, and career, but revealed she once received advice early on in her career from a fellow female leader who said, “no, you can’t have it all. It’s actually not possible.”

“I can remember that just stopping me in my tracks [and] thinking, ‘What am I going to have to give up? What am I going to have to say no to?’” the CEO said. However, she emphasizes that creating balance between her “faith, family, and fitness” has been essential for her career.

“I often want to go back and find her because I feel very blessed that I have been able to have it all.”

Barczykowski offered Fortune an exclusive look at how she balances her time, with a daily routine that begins before the break of dawn at 4:30 a.m.

Cereal, PB&J’s, and 12-hour Workdays                  

4:30 a.m.:
Barczykowski wakes up to an alarm clock on her phone and quickly scans over her texts, emails, and voicemails to stay updated on her family and the Girl Scouts.

If time permits, she goes on an early morning run, but always begins her day with the same breakfast: a bowl of cereal, a glass of orange juice, and a 20oz. coffee.

“I have eaten cereal every morning since I was a child,” she said. The type of cereal varies, but her favorites consist of whole grain.

6:30 a.m.: Barczykowski is in the office two to three hours before everybody else. With a five-to-seven minute walk from her apartment to the office, Barczykowski savors the peace and quiet of the early morning hours, strolling through the streets before the city comes alive.

At the office, Barczykowski makes sure to plan for the day ahead with research and pre-reads.

Although no day is exactly the same, Barczykowski says the one variable that is always a constant is “back to back Girl Scouts stuff.”

9:00 a.m.: Once the work day officially begins, Barczykowski dives into meetings, engaging with a diverse array of stakeholders, colleagues, community partners, donors, volunteers, and the Girl Scouts themselves.

“If I’m traveling, my day consists of visiting a camp or a STEM Center, or going to a Girl Scouts program,” she said.

12:00 p.m.: A creature of habit, Barczykowski also has the same exact lunch everyday: peanut butter and jelly, a bag of pretzels, and a piece of chocolate.

And like most CEOs, her afternoons are spent on calls or Zoom screens, “but every meeting is different.”

7:00 p.m.: Barczykowski wraps up her 12-hour work day and often spends her free time on a run through Central Park or Manhattan.

The rest of her evening is spent trying new recipes for dinner, reading news articles–instead of books–or studying up on individuals she’s scheduled to meet later in the week.

10:30 p.m.: The CEO is in bed by 10:00 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. at night, but before closing her eyes, Barczykowski sends a goodnight text to her loved ones.

“I have a list and each night I make sure that they have heard from me, and I’ve said goodnight before I go to bed.”

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