When you work in the nonprofit sector, as we do, you’re there because of the mission of the organization. Often, this leads to a job where you wear many hats and take on new responsibilities “as necessary.” Then, to put icing on the cake that is life in the nonprofit sector, you’re probably getting paid (significantly) less than your for-profit counterpart. The next thing you know, you’re on the fast track to burnout.
While on the express train to burnout, you will find that you are unhappy, get sick easily, and have a general sense of bitterness towards your work and even beyond. I’ve experienced serious burnout a few times. There was anxiety, depression, and a case of pneumonia. Luckily, I had a support system to navigate that time. But how can we prevent burn out or get off the train before we hit our first stop? Short answer: self-care.
(NOTE: If you’ve heard of March Madness and universities like Gonzaga, Creighton, and Georgetown, then you’ve probably heard of the Jesuits. If not, not to fear, they play a minor role in where I’m heading.)
In the world of the Jesuits, there is a concept called cura personalis. This Latin phrase instructs those who live by it to care for the whole person, both those they serve and themselves. The Jesuits know that you cannot effectively serve others if you’re unhealthy and unhappy. That’s what self-care is about.
Self-care is important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and still serving the mission of your organization.
5 Tips for Self-Care
1. Decide what matters
Chris Lowney, in his new book, Make Today Matter, explains that deciding what really matters is the first step to making everyday matter, to making your daily life a bit better, and making change in the world too. If that’s not our goal as professionals in the nonprofit sector, then I don’t know what is. So, to begin, take stock of your personal mission, vision, and desires for your life in the world. Then, go from there.
2. Give yourself permission
Because you need to practice self-care, it is essential to give yourself permission. You can’t practice self-care if you’re feeling guilty about it the whole time. So, stop and really tell yourself it’s okay to do what you want and need to do.
3. Try not to apologize so much
Start saying, “No, thank you!” to those extra get togethers and, “Maybe next time,” on the things you can pass on. Don’t say, “Sorry.” There is nothing to be sorry about if you’re taking care of yourself. You’re doing nothing wrong. When you remember this, you’ll be giving yourself permission continuously to take care of yourself. Not to mention you’ll be retraining your brain to be a bit less anxiety driven when it comes to getting things done and committing to activities. And remember, the people who matter will understand when you pass on their invites.
4. Start dating yourself
You may start to feel a bit antsy if you go from a high-octane-do-it-all schedule to a self-care-focused one. So, to scratch that itch, date yourself. Schedule time with yourself to: nap, bathe, read for fun at a cafe, take a class on Dabble.co <hyperlink: Dabble.co>, binge-watch that show people keep talking about, etc. Whatever you want to do to destress and relax.
5. Check the fruits of your labor
After you’ve been doing this whole self-care thing for a while, look back on what you’ve done and check the fruits of your labor. This is another Jesuit lesson I’ve learned along the way. When we make choices, there are results that impact our lives. Look at how have these choices impacted your life. What worked? What didn’t work?
BONUS: 6. Lather, Rinse, Repeat
No, I’m not going to talk about taking baths again. What I mean by this step is similar to when Brian McKnight told us all that when he got to step 5 and saw his work was done, he’d go back to 1. Keep growing and keep going. It took me a few cycles to figure out what works best for me, but man has it made a huge difference.
Deirdre Long is a California native who has been in the nonprofit world in Chicago since graduating from the University of San Francisco. With most of her nonprofit experience being in marketing and communications, Deirdre is currently a Marketing Coordinator for the Chicago publisher Loyola Press. She is often overheard talking about her love of cats and the television shows she's binge-watching.