These are incredibly challenging times. I have often found myself — as I imagine you have as well — worn down, exhausted, overwhelmed, discouraged, depressed by the various blows this pandemic is dealing our world. While for the most part I have tried to stay positive (especially through the many kindnesses and amazing displays of leadership and compassion that is seemingly all around us), there are days when I am leveled by the destruction this virus is leaving in its wake.
But it is in those very moments of despair when I realize that this pandemic is also offering something pretty amazing. It is offering each one of us the opportunity to become better leaders.
And the first step in becoming a better leader is to recognize when to practice radical self-compassion.
Especially you, dear social change leaders, who are so empathetic that your first instinct, always, is to take care of others. But the thing I have increasingly come to realize is that we are unable to take care of others if we are hollowed out ourselves.
Nonprofit leaders are nothing if not selfless. Your endless devotion to others is what defines you. But that can get you into trouble, and actually make you less effective as a leader, when your need to take care of others overcomes your more important and primary need to take care of yourself.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Nonprofit leaders, you need to take care of yourselves BEFORE you tackle the growing needs of your clients, or your stressed out staff, or your challenged financial projections, or your worried funders, or your anxious board. BEFORE you spend another minute homeschooling your kids, or caring for your elderly neighbors, or talking your spouse off of the ledge.
I know this is hard to hear, believe me, I fought it myself at first. How can I possibly take care of my needs when there are SO many other, more important needs out there right now? People are sick and dying, or unemployed, or scared, or lost. There is tremendous need right now. And for nonprofit leaders — a group of people who are constantly and deeply motivated to alleviate the suffering of others — the extent of suffering we are now witnessing is excruciating. Believe me I get it. I feel it, too.
But the thing is that we will be better equipped to help others, to be of service, to figure our way through this chaos, if we each fill ourselves up first. You will be an infinitely more effective helper, an infinitely more effective leader, if you make your first priority to find out what you need and meet those needs first.
Your first and most important job, social change leaders, is to continuously monitor how you are doing. And when you find yourself worried, uncertain, fearful, irritable, angry, frustrated, restless — take a break. Practice an act of radical self compassion. Get really quiet and ask yourself, “What do I truly need in this moment?” And then really listen to your answer. It may be to get out into nature, or take a nap, or meditate, or read something inspiring, or connect with a good friend, or have a good cry.
Whatever the answer is, you will be a much more effective leader — of your staff, your board, your clients, your volunteers, your funders, your family — if you fully take care of yourself first.
So take a minute right now. Put a pause on all that swirls around you. Take a deep breath. Then take another, deeper one. Now, ask yourself, “What do I truly need in this moment?” And listen — really listen — to the answer. Then go do that. I promise you, your endless list of to dos will be right there waiting for you when you return. But what will have changed is that you will be better equipped to tackle them.
If you need a shoulder to lean on, or some help finding the courage to take care of yourself first, email me. I’m here.
Photo Credit: Jared Rice