For the past couple weeks, Amelia and I have been putting together materials for a meeting/workshop on self care. In my search for helpful tips on how to be less stressed, more healthy, and avoid burn out (something I definitely felt as a VMC last year), I was inundated with guides, charts, and quizzes all saying pretty similar things. Despite their formatting differences, they each followed the same logical framework.
They instructed the reader to consider the most important and overarching aspects of their life, such as their emotional state, physical health, psychological well being, professional life, etc. Most provided between four and eight categories, such as those in the diagram below.
Next, according to various psychologists, social workers, and holistic life coaches, we’re instructed to identify actions we can take, either preemptively or in case of crisis, to care for and enhance these facets of our lives, as, together, they are said to add up to a happy, healthy us.
Many of the activities suggested by these resources are things that even my mother no longer sends me nagging articles about (eat your vegetables, get enough sleep, go to the dentist, etc.), but as a person who frequently gets too wrapped up in work to remember to eat lunch, I can see the value in stating the obvious. Other activities are things I’d never thought about as self care. Some of my favorites include “go swimming,” “be curious,” and “wear clothes I like.”
The final step is to do it. Choose a manageable number of caring actions and make a conscious effort to add them to our routine. Easy, right? This is gloriously logical. So why aren’t we all self care experts?
Enter the Non Profit Professional’s Dilemma.
As Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, our work is intimately related to care. We organize volunteers to care for children, to care for trees, to care for isolated seniors, and more. This professional valuing of care might suggest that people in this role would find it easy to care for themselves, but the opposite is more often the case. We spend so much time caring for others that at the end of the day we either don’t have the energy or the time to prioritize ourselves.
This exhaustion is compounded with the fact that jobs in mission-based organizations often blur the traditional line between personal and professional. We like our jobs (most days) and often see ourselves as personally invested in the vision and goals of our organizations. Other people who work at mission-based organizations are awesome and interesting like us, so being at work counts as hanging out with friends, right? Our causes are near and dear to our hearts, so we can count staying late at the office as personal growth, can’t we?
This is the type of thinking that would keep me at work until nine o’clock at night last year, and these sorts of rationalization told me that was okay. The person who told me that was NOT okay was the organization’s previous Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. She called me out on not being fair to myself and not making time for the other things that I valued, like leisure reading and seeing out-of-work friends.
When compared with my organization’s mission these things seemed insignificant and selfish to prioritize. If we look back at the self care diagram, though, we can see how many moving parts go into keeping a multifaceted entity like a nonprofit or a human being going, and how important it is to actively support each one of them. What the prior VMC’s wisdom and half a dozen self care guides made me realize is that along with being our own Venn diagram of needs, we are but a single circle within our organizations’ interconnected diagrams, and like the gurus told us, we have to actively seek out ways to support and maintain ourselves so we don’t throw off the entire operation.
When you’re in this field, self care is mission-driven work, and that’s awesome. Let’s resolve to do it.