If there is one lesson I have learned in the past five months of this fellowship, it’s that in order to care for others, you have to care for yourself. I know - that’s old news, right? But sometimes when you’re in the middle of it all, when people are asking for your contribution, when events are popping up left and right, when grants are due and reports need to be finished, it’s hard to practice that truth. When working for transition, every opportunity has the potential of being an important piece… So what do you say “No” to so that you can say “Yes” to a full night’s sleep?
Working on issues that you care about passionately can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand I love my work and feel morally good about it (can my friends in the investment banking world say the same?) But on the other, everything in my life revolves around this passion. I’m at huge risk for an early burnout if I don’t do something soon, and I know it.
Within the Fellowship are some specific circumstances that exacerbate the challenge of separating work and personal time. The first is the state of being a newcomer to a community. As an outsider I was eager to prove that I could and would throw myself into contributing to the community in whatever way was needed. The second is working in the context of “transition.” It took me time to fully know that the transition is not entirely dependent on my contribution to every single thing that might help Appalachia move toward a brighter future. I had learned to say “no” in other contexts, but in the context of a new community in the midst of transition focused on issues I care deeply about – I was a rookie.
I am not alone. Most of the people I work with struggle to find personal time or to separate their work from their life. In no way do I think we should always and strictly have a separation between work and life – I would not want to work on something I don’t care about – but I also need that mental space. We all do.
These were the points raised at a pre-conference session at the Brushy Fork Institute. The session was titled, “Self-Care and Leadership: Tools for Balance.” We were told to turn off our phones (but I had emails to answer!), be present (but I had to think about making the agenda for our meeting!), and leave work behind (but but but!!). If this session had been a graded class, I would have failed miserably; my colleagues had to take my phone from me. Despite my failures, I came away with some valuable tools that we can all use, no matter what our work is.
The first is utilizing the power of a moment. A moment of quiet. A moment of peace. A moment of stillness that has nothing but you in it. A simple thirty seconds of recentering by closing the eyes and breathing deep has amazing results for focusing and calming down from situations of heightened chaos. And it’s only thirty seconds! It takes less time than checking Facebook!
The second is creating a priority list – it’s not that you don’t care about some things, it’s that you care too much about all things and it’s time to narrow down the list. When I am approached by someone about an opportunity, I look at where it fits in with my priorities. How can it further what I need to work on? Who does it help? What is the time commitment? If I can’t make it work within my forty hour week with the things I know I have to do – I have to say “no.” It’s hard, but I’m healthier for it.
The third is perhaps the hardest in this day of constant connection. It’s turning off the phone and the computer. Decide times when you won’t be answering emails or the phone. Make the space that is your own.
These are probably nothing new to you, reader, but they are important reminders. Consider also that self-care is a form of community engagement, and community engagement is a form of self-care. When we surround ourselves with people who care, we see why we do this work. When we attend a community event out of an interest to have fun and forget about work, we are fostering our neighborly connections and rejuvenating our spirits which in turn helps our work. And when we take the time to create our own space, perhaps through taking a walk or sitting on the porch, we often discover more reasons to love the place we are in, and more reasons to do our work. [Associated photo: AppFellows Blog Post 2 Self Care 5k with caption: When I took time to run in a community race, I strengthened my relationships with my friends, colleagues, and town.]
So just a reminder to all my fellow Fellows and the leaders of this Appalachian Transition – take time to care for yourself so we can care for Appalachia.
- Mae Humiston