Over the years I’ve written a number of posts about helping the helpers, caring for the caregivers and self-care. The magical thing about all of these nonprofit founders is that their passion and purpose rules their lives. No matter how many people they help, there are always more who need them. These selfless heroes start an organization out of their core belief that their work and effort will ensure that the next human will not go through whatever tragic event they went through, cancer, rape, sex trafficking….and the list goes on. And they are right, their work does change the world but the other side of my amazing heroes is their selflessness often comes to the point of burnout. They give and give and give until there is nothing left.
My nonprofit founders remind me of one of my favorite childhood books, The Giving Tree. The tree gives shade to the child, it gives limbs to climb, it gives its fruit to sell, it gives itself for wood to build a home and ultimately it has nothing left to give. This is often the reality of the nonprofit founder, they give until they are empty. The needs of humanity are endless and can truly never be met and yet, they keep on giving and giving.
I understand this because I suffer from the same disease. I am not Mother Teresa nor as saintly as those I love to interview but I confess that I am hardwired for burnout. Like an energizer bunny, I go full throttle into projects, meetings, running a nonprofit, writing these posts and trying to connect people to causes. I love my work, am passionate about making a difference with my life and am full of gratitude. The downside to these gifts is the burnout. The tank that is suddenly on empty and is so low on gas you are pretty sure that even if you can find a gas station, you will run out of gas long before that tank can possibly be refueled again.
So how do we help the helpers? How do we care for the caregivers or even more importantly care for ourselves more, regardless of our careers? I think the challenge is that the answer is exactly that, to care for ourselves, to slow down, to walk to win the race and not run. Even typing those words feels like its opposite day. How can we get everything done if we move slowly, thoughtfully and walk through life?
The reality of this is finally sinking in for me and I am not alone. According to a recent article in Thrive Global, author Stephanie Fairyington states that “two-thirds of Americans are suffering from burnout.” The pace of life can often times feel unsustainable. The race ahead appears too big and too long to run. As I look ahead to the future and all that I hope to accomplish, I see that the only hope to keep giving is to start here first. To slowly fill up the tank and not feel guilty while doing so. To set realistic goals and expectations about what can actually be accomplished in a day, a week, a month. The mindset and commitment to that alone is the first step.
Next, the action plan towards self-care. First, sleep and turning off the devices, with clear time limits set. Second, fuel type, some people put 87 octanes in their cars and some like to put 91 and I usually fall in the middle at 89, my diet is exactly the same. I put some great fuel in my body and some not so great fuel, this needs to change. I need to upgrade on the fuel choices more regularly. After those basic maintenance steps, it is carving out time for myself. Giving myself the gifts that fuel me whether a run, coffee with a friend, writing, and the list goes on.
While it feels backward being selfish will only fuel my ability to be selfless. The more I can care for myself, the more energy I will have to care for others and the causes I am passionate about. So as we are entering a time of spring and renewal, I am committing to myself (you are my witnesses) that this Giving Tree will keep her limbs, branches, and fruit so that she can continue to give year after year.