As I left Part 2 of my post on self-care and corporate care, I kept thinking there was something more. The ‘something more’ turned out to be a story that is a powerful illustration of depletion and renewal.
Megan was in the back of the room with fellow managers/supervisors as I talked about an overall understanding of their DISC profiles and what it meant individually and collectively. I took a ‘detour’ that day to talk about their Energy Bucket and how they managed their personal energy. I had them draw a bucket on a full sheet of paper. At the upper left I had them draw an arrow into the bucket – what are the people, places, ideas, things you do that give you energy? At the bottom of the bucket on the right-hand side I had them draw an arrow curling out of the bucket. That arrow represented the people, places, ideas, things they did that drained their energy? Then they were to draw a line on the bucket representing where their energy was today. They drew a second line representing where their energy is normally.
As they were completing the assignment, I noticed that Megan had a pained look on her face. I was curious as to what that meant. That day, and into the next day I would be meeting with each manager and supervisor to discuss their individual DISC profile and what they learned from their energy audit.
Megan was the second person I debriefed that day. I had met Megan previously but didn’t know her well. We began a 10-minute conversation about our respective ‘stories’ and how we got here, our family, etc. I ended the conversation by asking her about what appeared to be a ‘pained look’ on her face during the energy audit. She burst into tears. Initially, I was startled, but then again, not, as I knew from experience that there was a story behind that pained look.
Megan took a minute and gathered herself. I asked to see her ‘Energy Bucket’ from earlier. She had drawn her energy line near the bottom 10% of the bucket. Then she told me the story. For the past seven months she had been working 12-hour days, seven days a week. She was afraid of losing her job as she could no longer remember the rules and regulations that her department operated by. She had gone from being the ‘go to’ person to having to look everything up. She was scared. Her daughter was a senior in high school, and she was missing several events early in the school year. She felt guilty. She also confessed that she could not remember what gave her energy.
As the story progressed, I asked her what ‘signs’ she was having that she and her body were under stress. She indicated that she was sleeping less, eating more foods that weren’t healthy, but were easy. She had more headaches, and more gastrointestinal distress. In addition, she was smoking more and drinking more to cope.
I asked her what the logical consequence was if nothing changed? She didn’t know. After a few more hints she realized that her body had been sending her signals. It was defending itself. While I already knew the answer to this question, I asked her if what she was doing was working for her life. “Not at all” was her reply. “Are you ready to make a change?” Megan paused and then said, “Yes.”
I want to pause here and indicate that in my 15 years of doing work on personal energy I have never encountered anyone who was as depleted as much as Megan. Yet, I have encountered countless numbers of people who were driving themselves well beyond their energy reserves, and many who were ‘doing violence’ to themselves as a way of coping. The irony, at the very time when we need to be conserving energy and caring for ourselves, we often exacerbate the problem by behaviors that force our bodies to further defend themselves against the onslaught of unhealthy food, liquor, tobacco, and lack of rest.
I admit, at the moment that Megan said “yes,” I wasn’t sure what the journey looked like, but I knew it would be incremental. What she agreed to is that she would take the first step and then call me. We would do this every day for three weeks.
I asked her how long her commute was and if she had music she enjoyed in her car. Her commute was 45 minutes. I told her that she did not need to go home any earlier that evening, but instead of calling back to the office to see how things were going during her commute home, she was to listen to music and call me in the morning.
The next morning, she shared with me how hard it was to do what I asked for the first 20 minutes of her commute. After that, she began to get into the music and relax. Her husband even commented that her face looked more relaxed for the first time in a long time.
Her instructions for night two were to go home five minutes earlier and repeat the journey home with music. Day three was about taking breaks every 90 minutes and taking walks, or something that would get her away from her desk. We continued to work on going home earlier and listening to music. After the first week I let her begin to determine how much earlier she would go home. The goal was to get her back to a 50-hour week, and then 45. At the time we focused on her rest/sleep, continuing to increase it until she approached 7 – 8 hours. We also set some rules about ‘me time’ ‘daughter time’ and ‘husband time’ working to slowly rebuild and be intentional about protecting those relational times.
An interesting by-product was that 10 days into her renewal her memory for the regulations began to return. It was a watershed moment for her. Slowly, the ‘energy needle’ on her bucket began to rise. When she reached about 35%, she felt so much better that she had the energy to eat better, exercise more, and begin to cut down her smoking – quitting six-months out. The more progress she made, the more energy she gained, the more she was motivated to continue to care for herself in ever-increasing ways.
Her journey was not always linear, but it was steady. At the end of six-months I asked her what she had learned. “I will never give myself away like that again.”
I continue to tell this story and others that illustrate our ability to deplete ourselves and what can occur when we choose to change that pattern. Megan chose to transform her life in a different, more positive direction. That ‘choice’ enabled her to begin the process of renewing herself. As her story illustrates, the beginning often is modest (going home 5 minutes earlier, listening to music). When we are more depleted (Energy Bucket under 50%) it is often important to begin with small changes with the resolve to keep going each day.
Sleep/rest is the foundation of our energy. All of us have our own illustrations of what happens to us when we don’t get enough sleep. It isn’t pretty and can have dire health consequences long term.
I guess my ‘final word’ about self-care is the story of Megan, and her courage to take back her life. Megan went seven months depleting herself. It took her about that long to get all the way back (running a surplus of energy). Her story represents many of us who have depleted ourselves over time. The encouragement in her story was how miserable and scared she was, and yet she was able to make a simple decision to change, a decision that changed her life.
I hope Megan’s story spoke to you in some way, and if you are at a cross-road with your self-care that you will choose to care for YOU!
Toward a better you…