My guess is that if you are leading a social change effort, you have likely been denying your own needs, and thus your own power, for far too long.
I have found that the people attracted to the social change sector tend to be so concerned about their fellow humans that they more often than not put others’ needs ahead of their own. Ah, you sweet, loving social change warriors. You are among the most selfless, empathetic people on the planet.
But that empathy can have a sinister side. You may be an over-giver. Giving can only be truly effective when the giver comes from a healthy, wholly fulfilled place.
Psychology Today distinguishes between healthy, generous giving and dysfunctional over-giving. When you give generously, your own needs are fully met and your heart is full.
Over-giving, however, comes from “an inability to receive.” Over-givers give not because their hearts are overflowing but rather because they want (or need) something from the recipient of their gifts—appreciation, acceptance, release of an obligation. That is dysfunctional giving. Giving and receiving are meant to be balanced acts. You receive until you are full, and then you give from that place of satiety. If you are unable to fully receive from others, then you are likely giving from “an empty heart.”
Being an over-giver is not a good thing. It can be debilitating, and it most certainly strips you of your power. I know you don’t want to hear this—I struggled to accept it for years—but you have to fully take care of yourself first, before you can be of any use to others. You can give something of value to others only when your own bucket is so full that it is overflowing.
If you are exhausted, you must rest before you can do that next critically important thing. If you are burned-out, you must create space and time to be inspired again before you can hope to inspire others.
And I am not talking about the fleeting idea of “self-care” that encourages a massage now and again or occasionally turning off your phone. I’m talking about always putting your own individual needs ahead of everyone else’s—your spouse or partner, your children, your clients, your staff, your board members, your boss, your funders. In securing your own mask first, you ensure that you have more than enough before you start giving to another.
This is heresy, I know. The idea that you as a social change leader must fully give to yourself before you can give to another is anathema to the culture of a sector steeped in selflessness, martyrdom, and (oh, yeah) dysfunction. If you want to chart a better, more sustainable, more effective future, you have to do things very differently. And a big piece of that is no longer sacrificing your own needs.
So, the next time your staff or your board or your funder or your partner or your child demands something of you, stop and assess. Figure out if you have met all of your own needs first. Then, and only then, can you fully give to another.
There’s plenty more about how to meet your own needs first and thus become a powerhouse social change leader in my book “Reinventing Social Change“. Grab your copy now. And don’t miss our monthly free training series that takes a deep dive into how to move your social change work from scarcity to abundance. Our next training is August 25th. Register here.
Photo Credit: Nick Fewings