The Secret to Sustainability: Caring for Others AND Caring for Yourself

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of anyone else”. But with the expectations associated with leadership, on top of the long list of responsibilities you’re dealing with at home, you’re probably realizing that taking care of yourself is a lot easier said than done.

I hear this again and again from managers and supervisors. It becomes clear that the more leadership you’re given the more people need you. Staff one-on-ones, client concerns, board members and stakeholders who need your time and focus. The list goes on and on. Leadership is an others-oriented job!

And this often comes at a price. When you look beneath the surface of some of the most incredible difference-makers in history, you’ll often find family breakdowns, health issues, depression, and burnout.

Is there a way to lay down your life and have a life? Is there a secret to caring for others while not neglecting yourself in the process?

The answer is “yes”, so long as you remember that caring for others and caring for yourself isn’t a problem that you will ever solve, but instead, it’s a tension that you need to learn to manage.

Remember, taking care of others is not a task you should resent – it’s an honour and a privilege. It allows you to make a difference in this world, have a feeling of contribution, and get out of your own stresses and worries by focusing on others’ needs. But here’s the thing, when you overfocus on caring for others to the neglect of caring for yourself, you’re guaranteed to become frustrated and resentful, and ultimately, you’ll risk burnout and become unable to help anyone.

When you learn to carve out time and energy to take care of yourself, you become more grounded, peaceful, and present, and ultimately, you’ll have the energy and attitude needed to serve others well. But if you overdo it and overfocus on yourself to the neglect of others, you end up having little impact in the world around you, you get lost in your own needs and worries, and your life feels pretty meaningless.

Care for self and care for others is a package deal. One can’t exist without the other. And the great news is that when you find healthy tension between self and others, you’ll tap into the secret to sustainability.

Reflect on the past month. Have you reached out to make a difference in the lives of your clients, team members, friends, and family? Have you prioritized time to give yourself the care you need to stay strong and positive? I bet, upon reflection, you’ll find that you spend more time in one of these quadrants than the other three:

self and others

The great news is this doesn’t have to be a 50/50 equation. As a leader, it’s very likely that the majority of your time will be weighted toward caring for others. That’s OK. What’s important is that you carve out just enough time to give yourself what you need to be supportive and strong. To find meaningful and manageable ways to invest in yourself, so ultimately, you can show up well for others.

Remember, finding healthy tension between self and others doesn’t happen by chance, it happens by choice. And as a leader when you start to manage this tension well, you realize there’s truth in the words of author Katie Reed, who reminds us, “Self-care means giving the world the best of you instead of what is left of you”.

Tim Arnold

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