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I lead with a quote from a piece that my friend and colleague, Richard Smith, wrote RENEWAL. . . OR IS IT. . .REPAIR? 

“ ‘IT’ has many names: hurry sickness, stress, burnout, depletion, self-violence.  No matter what ‘IT’ is called we know it is so pervasive that in 2007 alone for-profit organizations in the United States spent more than 50 BILLION dollars in response to ‘IT.’  No one seems immune to this growing dis-ease.  Professionals, Executives, Managers, and Supervisors (of all types) are especially susceptible to ‘IT.  ‘IT’s’ symptoms appear to be legion: drug abuse (prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, caffeine (the latest being the ‘energy drinks’), and alcohol), physical symptoms (headaches, neck aches, stomach ailments, ‘colds,’ and physical exhaustion), intellectual symptoms (lack of attention span, poor listening habits, intellectual laziness, lethargy), emotional symptoms (depression, high anxiety, fear of. . ., agitation/nervousness, anger/rage) and spiritual symptoms (hopelessness, despair, cynicism, lack of trust apathy and resignation).

Too often we end up reacting to ‘IT’ rather than accepting response-ability for ‘IT.’  Too often we seek to endure ‘IT’ rather than find an antidote to ‘IT.’  Too often we try to cope with ‘IT’ rather than seek ways to dampen ‘IT’ and ‘ITS’ effects.”

Self-care and Corporate Care Part 2

In Part 1 I laid some groundwork for our discussion of corporate care and self-care. We discussed that our ‘needs’ help drive how we ‘care’ for ourselves. Organizations would seem to have straight forward needs, at least compared to you/me/us. Some of the needs that we seek to meet may not be all that ‘good’ for us (think of the narcissist, the addict, a person dependent on others for their self-worth – it is a long list). So, what do we do?

I have studied the management of personal energy for over 20 years. It started with a book by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr called The Power of Full Engagement. The premise is “it is more important for you to manage your energy than managing your time.” It led me to a powerful new understanding that mine/yours/our energy was our only renewable resource. It determines everything about how we engage the world.

  • The quality and capacity for meaningful work
  • The quality of our relationships
  • Our ability to take in and process new information
  • To think differently
  • To lead others well
  • To serve others well
  • To connect
  • To excel and build upon our strengths
  • To engage ourselves in ways we haven’t

The ability to be the best versions of ourselves

I came to understand the five centers of energy (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spirit or Spiritual, and Social – P.I.E.S.S.). Most important, I came to understand the ways that I renewed myself, and the ways that I depleted myself. Your homework was to reflect on your own ways of ‘caring’ for yourself, with the knowledge that your self-care is a choice. What did you find?

Is what you are doing working? To me that is the quintessential question. It drives the motivation to change, or not. Here is what I have learned about depletion over the years – for myself and from my clients.

  • We don’t start with the desire to deplete ourselves. The ‘demands’ of our lives – kids, work, other commitments slowly, or not so slowly, begin to ramp up the requirements for our time.
  • For a while we have the ‘capacity’ to handle the increased demands, and then we don’t. Maybe the early warning comes a day at a time, or a week at a time. It is an extra assignment at work, a night class we are taking to ‘get ahead.’ And then…
  • We add a child, or two, or three, we are asked to take on more at work, our volunteer work is beginning to get in the way, the rest of our life begins to get in the way. In short, the scale is tipped and our energy begins to experience deficits.
  • I/we travel down the deficit path for a while and don’t consider what changes do I/we need to make in my routine that would help reduce the deficit.
  • We invite dis-ease into our lives.
  • We ignore what is happening to the quality of our lives; our relationships with our spouses, significant others, children, friends; doing less of the things we love to do; spending less time with those people who give us energy.
  • Our body attempts to warn us: more headaches and overall lethargy, more days we are sick, memory and overall productivity drop.
  • Our response – getting less sleep, eating more of the wrong foods (putting on weight, feeling less attractive), drinking more, smoking more – doing ‘violence’ to our bodies.

What I have learned about renewal for myself and from my clients.

  • Few of us are intentional about renewal, until we have a deficit in energy and maybe not even then.
  • Few of us get sufficient rest/sleep.
  • Not enough of us have a diet that supports building our energy.
  • Few of us get sufficient exercise.
  • Few of us create the space to be alone, to meditate, to disconnect, to reconnect – with ourselves.
  • Renewal is about discipline. If we don’t see ourselves as important enough to renew ourselves, what does that say?

There are times in our lives when we will operate, for a period of time, out of an energy deficit (i.e., children, assignments at work, other demands (older parents), etc.). It is critical that we are awake and aware enough to discern those times from other times when we ”allow’ the demands to dictate the deficit; we are not doing anything to counter our loss of energy.

I have learned that if I ‘want’ to live a quality life (i.e., being present in my significant relationships, experiencing the world and what/who it has to offer, to experience joy, to experience gratitude, to be present for my children and grandchildren, to like who I am becoming (create your own list of what ‘quality’ life is for you) it requires me to love myself enough to care for myself first; maybe not all the time, but sufficiently to renew myself so that all who are around me, and all that I do and become receives the best I have to offer on any given day.

My heart aches when I watch people with young children ‘surviving’ day to day, hour to hour. That ‘survival’ mode is a real thing (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). When we are in ‘survival’ we are just trying to get from point A to point B in our day. Nothing fancy, just let me survive until I get there. Is there much joy there? Moments of joy, maybe. For the most part we are simply trying to survive. We will have moments in our lives that this is the norm based on real demands. We will also add to this with our ‘distractions’ – ways that we avoid our lives that may not be helpful.

When I am coaching someone in this space, I will often tell them, “Recognize where you are and that it might last for a while. Also recognize and define where you want to be; what life will look like. If there is a partner, begin to build the image together. The more specific you can be the better. Hold on to that image. Make it a priority. Work toward that image – help your kids to be more independent every chance you get. They will thank you and you will have more energy. Take time for yourself. Maybe it begins as 15 minutes on any given day. Take it. Maybe it is a walk. Maybe it is silence some where. Do whatever you can.”

Remember, what your care looks like is a choice. It may not look like it, but the sooner you recognize how important you are in your own care the sooner you can make an impact and improvement. Your number one goal might be the care of others. Doing your best for others is not about giving away your ‘self.’ Caring for others is one of the highest callings there is. Done well, it will give you energy. To do it well you need to care for yourself first. It always seems counter intuitive but think about it. When I get the amount of rest I need, I have a balanced diet as well as exercise, I care for my intellect by feeding it, I care for my emotions through my appropriate expression of them, and I care for my spirit – I am full of energy. That energy is shared with others and impacts the quality with which you do things. Others see that energy, feel that energy, and sometimes, that is what is most impactful. You are leaving an ‘energy mark’ on those around you. Is that something you want?

Corporations have a responsibility to ‘care’ for their people. I outlined that in Part 1. Hopefully, what you have received in Part 2 is that the most vital part of your self-care is you. When I got that message it transformed critical pieces of my life and my relationships. I experience the quality in my life today (as described) that allows me to truly enjoy all that I have been given, including the difficulties and challenges I have faced. Do you need to make a choice to improve your self-care?

Toward a better you…