Yesterday I spoke of the need for professional development. While this is important it’s only half the picture. What we really need beyond just that is personal development.
Some professions – health care, managing people, teaching – take a lot out of us. These are fields requiring a great deal of giving, time, compassion and nurturing. The very nature of these disciplines is one in which, to be any good at them, we have to give and give. And at times we run the risk of emptying ourselves out.
The fact is most of our institutions and organizations are not designed to notice this emptying out before the fact. We always say we know following some critical incident that something wasn’t right, that so and so was tired and so on. But most of us are so busy responding to our own demands we don’t notice other’s needs or positions very early.
While in the larger context we need to examine this institutional oversight in the short-term we have a greater imperative: we have to keep filling ourselves up lest we become empty vessels.
How to do that?
During the day when our engines are running low, and we need a quick fix, try:
- A short walk around the building for some fresh air
- Ten minutes of meditation
- Lunch away from your desk
- A break to read a few pages from a trashy novel
- Sitting quietly on a park bench watching people go by
For longer-term holistic health away from the office try:
- Developing health habits like walking, yoga or hitting the gym
- Taking a cooking class, a craft or community college course
- Developing a network of people who have nothing to do with your work
- Giving time to children’s causes, animal rescue or town clean-up
- An overnight weekend trip just to get away
There are thousands of short and long-term solutions for filling yourself up, but here is the key: only you can do this. Your partner can’t, your mother can’t, your boss can’t. We don’t know when you’re getting low on energy. We don’t know when the act of giving simply takes more than you’ve got left. We don’t know when you’re in danger of emptying yourself out.
But you do.
A minister friend of mine once told me he strictly limits the times he’s available and makes sure he does something for himself every week. Noting my quizzical look (why do we think people of the faith are super-human?) he said to me, Look, if I don’t take care of me first, I’ll never be able to take care of anyone else.
He understood implicitly the phenomenon of the empty vessel. We have to continue to pour energy in to enable ourselves to pour empathy out.
This year make a change in your professional life by making a change in your personal life. Fill yourself up routinely with both short activities to get you through the day, and longer-term solutions that can develop into healthy life habits.
Take care of you.
We need you.