For the last six months or so, we have been transitioning leadership at work away from me and to our new Executive Director in advance of my upcoming move. It has been a big shift for our organization, moving from the founder to the successor, and for MaRanda from being an extremely active nonprofit volunteer to being the Executive Director of an organization with staff to manage.
We have been working closely together to make the transition, but things will pop into my head at random times I wish I had known when I was starting this work. So I have been making a number of lists of what I wish I had known and will share them here over the next month or so.
Here are some things I wish I had been told (and had heard) about self-care.
- A surgeon must protect her hands to protect her ability to work. You must protect your energy for the same reason, and just as rigorously.
- Make friends who have nothing to do with your work.
- Buy yourself a calendar, and write things down. The calendar is an integrity document – things that go on it are promises to yourself and others.
- The longer you do this work, the more trite the concerns of “normal’ people will seem. You will have spent the day with someone who was a serial abuse victim, and your friend will want to spend your dinner together talking about the rude customer who came in her shop. Try to remember that it isn’t a competition, and that none of us are getting oppression medals for having it the worst.
- Take the vacation. In blocks of 3 days in a row or more.
- The more options you have in any given situation, the better you will sleep and the more peace you will have.
- Read books and watch movies that have nothing to do with your work.
- Eat the best food you can afford. It is both fuel and pleasure.
- Sleep is everything. If you aren’t getting at least 7 hours of unaided (without drugs, alcohol, sleep aids, etc.) sleep on a regular basis, do whatever you need to do to make that happen.
- Figure out how to turn work off before you walk in the door of your house. Transitional rituals (like stopping at the coffee shop on the way home, or silencing your phone after you park the car in the driveway, or walking around your garden before you go in the house) can help with this.
- Develop a life and an identity apart from your work.
- Develop rituals in your life. They will ground you and give you things to do when you don’t know what to do.
- People you know will often try to respond to your work in one of two ways: They will want to idolize you for it or they will want you to never mention it because it makes them uncomfortable. Both are damaging.
- Schedule non-work things – lunches with friends, trips with your spouse, doctor visits – just like you would an appointment. Guard these against work intruding.
- You are more likely to keep up with friends if you schedule them as appointments. Like, the 3rd Friday of the month at 3 PM is always “Coffee with Judy” on your calendar.
- Your ability to survive long-term in a world filled with ugliness is inversely related to how much beauty you have in your life. Search for beauty like your life depends on it.
- You need a few people you can trust without question. Schedule regular time with those people.
- The temptation to use chemicals to manage your state is overwhelming. A “beer after work” is easy to become a “bottle of wine after work”. Find non-chemical ways to manage your state.
- Daily exercise – even if it is just a walk around the block or riding your bike to work – is crucial. And no, all the steps you get in while at work doesn’t count.
- There is no such thing as guilty pleasures. Like what you like. If that is eating ding-dongs while listening to Taylor Swift, own that shit. The sheer amount of guilt people will try to put on you is nearly endless, so don’t guilt yourself.
- Most of the time, you can do everything you need to do in 50 hours a week. If it often takes more than that, you need to delegate more.
- None of it is personal. The guest who call you a racist because you could not help them, the volunteer who is pissed because you did not approve their project, the donor who leaves because you are not a magician who can solve homelessness with their $10 a month, your friend who doesn’t donate to your organization – none of it is personal. Just show up and do the work. It’s not about you.
What about you? Do you have any self-care tips to share?