As long as I can remember, it has been instilled in me that my purpose in this world is to serve others. Whether I can attribute this to my upbringing, my faith, or my life’s experience…I’m not entirely sure. Regardless, I have always believed in the philosophy of servant leadership and find great joy in serving others.
While I personally find fulfillment in serving others, which is probably a good thing working in a field like human resources where this is paramount, always looking to serve others has its’ set of challenges. I find that I can often end up overcommitting, underdelivering, sometimes becoming frustrated with myself and even depressed.
I’ve had an experience recently where I quite frankly felt like I “hit the wall.” I had recently started a new job, was studying for a certification exam, becoming very involved in many volunteer activities and at times felt like I was underachieving in it all. I felt that some around me that I was counting on let me down, I felt overwhelmed, and most notably, I felt like I was letting myself down by not meeting the high goals and expectations that I consistently set for myself.
What I’m describing is certainly not uncommon, and I’m sure that many of you have either felt the same in the past or even now. Each of us is an individual, wired differently, and with that, we each handle life’s challenges in our own unique and personal ways. Like any challenging situation, recognizing and admitting the problem is step one. My personal nature is often to just bite my lip, forge ahead, usually resulting in a deeper and deeper hole to climb out of.
I haven’t always recognized when I have reached this point of self-doubt and frustration, but fortunately, I have a few individuals in my life that have helped me both realize where I am in life, who I am, and then help support my journey back to “normal.” However, I’ve also learned over the years that this state of being is truly something that I have found that I must figure out and address myself, no matter how helpful and supportive others may be to try and assist me.
As I reflected upon my most recent challenges, I noted some important steps that I needed to take to help me to move up and move forward. One thought that struck me was a quote from Brene’ Brown who many of us had the honor to hear at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference in Las Vegas. Dr. Brown said, “Want to be happy? Stop trying to be perfect!” High personal goals and high expectations are great, but when they consume you, it’s time to step back and refocus. Dr. Brown’s message of “self-care” resonates with me when I’ve reached a certain point and with that, I’ve identified a few strategies that I would like to share with you. These are strategies that I have to constantly remind myself to engage in regularly.
These strategies are:
Sometimes, CARE less
What I am referring to with this phrase is that I need to do a better of job of not overcommitting. In my zeal to help and please others, I often lose the use track of the word “no” from my vocabulary when asked to volunteer for something. Each of has our own commitments, responsibilities, and quite frankly…breaking points that we need to be aware of. Too many times, I’ve eagerly said “yes, yes, yes” to whatever I am asked only to regret this decision a short time later.
I’ve come to realize that I am not being helpful to anyone, including myself, if I am not able to give my whole self to the task or responsibility that I have agreed to. I can’t guarantee that I will also be able to self-reflect and make a conscious decision to say “no” when I should, but one of my goals is to do a better job of making sure that I am better at assessing my capacity before taking on more than I can handle. In this respect, I am hoping that I can “Be CARE-ful.”
I will admit, I struggle with this a lot. Truth be told…I am a perfectionist. I didn’t say I am “perfect”, far from it as a matter of fact. Add to that, I am also extremely competitive, not just with others, but with myself. If I had to choose a pop culture phrase to describe this, I guess my motto to live by would be from Ricky Bobby in the movie Talladega Nights. “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”
“Good” has never been good enough for me. I’ve often spent more time re-visiting, re-analyzing, and re-hashing things that I have done and maybe should have done rather than being able to just step back, savor the moment, and appreciate what I’ve accomplished. I think this drive has helped me to achieve much in my life, but like anything in life, I’ve found that it can also be a curse.
As I was struggling with some new duties at my new job, I had a great discussion with my supervisor (who by the way is a great friend and also deals with the similar challenge of setting high personal standards) and I told her that I realized what I needed to do right now…I needed to start to “care less.” Probably not something that would work for most employees to say to their boss, but she got it and agreed. Her best advice, which she has shared with me more than once in my career is to “stop beating yourself up Jeff!” She’s right, and I also take joy in being able to say the same thing back to her on occasion, and then have to remind myself that to move forward, it’s OK to “sometimes, CARE less.”
This last point is an obvious one. As the industry standard airline safety instruction states, “put your oxygen mask on first before helping others!” What this means is, if we don’t take care of ourselves first, we are not of much use to others. As I mention in this blog post title, self-care doesn’t need to be selfish. Society often tells us to put others first, which is still a good tenet, but can miss the point that we can’t be there for others without first taking care of ourselves.
For me, I have a difficult time to remember to take care of myself and by the time I realize that I need to, it can take some time for me to recover. When I reach this point, there are several steps that I try to take. First, because of my faith, I choose to pray and may also ask others to pray with me and for me as well. I give thanks for all I have and then pray for His strength to help me move forward. My faith means a lot to me and letting go and realizing that I can’t do it all, but He can is where I always try to start. [Philippians 4:13]
Besides prayer, I have also found a somewhat unique activity that I’ve engaged in several times in my life, usually when I either need to recharge or if I’m facing a major life change, such as starting a new job. Quite simply, I take a full day, jump in my car, and devote the entire day to myself which I jokingly refer to as the #DayOfJeff (a spin on a Seinfeld episode when George Costanza referred to “The Summer of George.”)
For each #DayOfJeff that I have taken, and the number is probably 8-10 in my life, sometimes they have been loosely planned and other times have been entirely spontaneous. I have taken a brewery tour, traveled to other states, visited casinos, spent time at a shooting range, toured Lambeau Field, checked out my childhood homes, and engaged in a variety “day trip” activities. Each time was a solo adventure with no rules, no timetable, stopped when I felt like it, and did it all for me. Driving alone in a car and doing whatever I want for a day is one way that I’ve found that re-energizes me and is a way that I approach self-care. I recommend that everyone tries to have a #DayOf[fill in your name] to have some “me time.” This is not selfish, but rather, one way to make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you are best self to take care of others!
Putting yourself first doesn’t mean you don’t care about others. It means you’re smart enough to know that you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.