Our culture and society revere the self-sacrificing individual. The person who puts aside their own desires to advance some cause, effort, or endeavor. They are our revered captains of industry, revolutionary leaders, and trailblazers.
While giving to others, is surely a virtue. If we go about engaging in acts of kindness from an empty tank, it’s bound to cause problems. Giving needs to be genuine, to be meaningful. And genuine giving comes from a strong foundation.
I once had a job where I received a ton of criticism. Part of the problem was I had two bosses. Everyone knows that every great organization has two leaders, right? (Insert sarcastic eyebrow raise)
It would have been one thing if they just complained about me. But they also complained about members of the staff in a very unskillful way.
When this happened I had a choice. I could take that criticism and dump it onto the staff. (Knowing that wouldn’t help them perform better.) Or I could absorb the brunt of the criticism. I chose the latter.
I took the yelling and then turned around and showered the staff with encouragement, kind words, and constructive feedback. It worked, for a while, but then I started to get tired.
Eventually, my energy filter was getting clogged more often. At first I got a little snippy with my employees. Eventually,it became when I get yelled at, you get yelled at.
I felt like a failure and started to feel depressed. I was turning into my bosses and it was making everything worse. But I didn’t know what to do.
Looking back now I can see it was inevitable. I was making a critical error. It’s the same mistake nearly every successful person makes.
No, it wasn’t a mistake to be kind to my employees. And telling my bosses to go to hell wouldn’t have worked either. My big mistake was that I wasn’t taking care of myself.
I wasn’t setting good boundaries with work. I wasn’t sleeping enough. I wasn’t exercising.
I was working myself to the bone, because I thought I had to. I thought I was taking care of my bosses and my employees. But the hard truth was I was really taking care of my ego. I was more concerned about how I looked then how they were treated.
I stopped taking care of myself because I thought I was tough. I was the man in charge after all. I had to rise to the challenge.
I thought self-care was simply selfish. But even that was just my ego getting in the way of the reality. I imagined overworking made me a sort of secular saint.
If I had really wanted to help, I would have taken better care of myself.
If I had been well rested, I could have been more patient. If I had exercised, I would have been less stressed. If I had set good boundaries with work I could even have helped my bosses set boundaries of their own.
But instead, I got caught up in the ego game of self-sacrifice. And because of it, I suffered and so did everyone around me. Instead of having a calm levelheaded boss, they had an exhausted, cranky boss.
I realize now that if I really want to help my partner, friends, and colleagues one of the best things I can do is take care of my self. I know that by learning to access my own resources I have more space to be present with others.
In addition, by engaging in self-care I show others that self-care isn’t selfish. It is in fact one of the best things you can do to help those around us. If we can’t take care of our selves, no one can do it for us.
Engage in at least one act of self-care this week.
Then come make a comment or send me a message and tell me how it went.
Here are some simple examples of self-care.
Take a walk/Run
Go for a short 10 min walk or run by yourself. Go without an ipod or other stereo. Be clear that you are taking a walk for you and no one else. Listen to the birds, breathe in the fresh air, and just enjoy moving.
Take a Long Bath/Shower
Set up some candles, grab your favorite book, and turn on some soft music.
Take a long soak or rinse and relax completely.
Notice the sensations of warmth on your skin and let it help you let go of your day/week.
Do Body Work
Go to a restorative yoga class, get a massage, or see an acupuncturist. Whatever your flavor, go see someone who is trained in caring for others. Sometime paying someone can remove the guilt of self-care. And it’s always nice to be pampered.
Let’s Talk: What’s you favorite type of self-care?