Handle With Care
I love my iPhone! It is never too far away from me. As a matter of fact, it spends most of the day in my hand. What’s crazy about this is I do not really use it for phone conversations. I am much more of a texter than a caller. I’m just not good at talking on the phone, especially when there is no specific task to be accomplished (I see all of my family and friends giving a collective eye roll- Love you, Guys!). I use my phone for calendars, texting, social media, pictures, video and all kinds of other apps- specifically all of the things that ruin the battery. At times, I notice my phone moving at a slower pace. Apps load more slowly and videos buffer (unacceptable!). I have learned through trial and error that a good shut down makes it all better. Turning my phone off for just a little while brings it back to tip top efficiency.
Friends, why do I have more wisdom for my phone than I do for myself? There have been several times in my career where my body was begging for a shut down. In these moments, there were several symptoms I would normally ignore. Physically, I just did not feel well. I may have a headache or just an ill feeling. Mentally, I felt disconnected. I may walk into a room and completely forget what I needed from that room. There were times I would forget tasks or have trouble with memory in other ways. In the toughest moments, I had trouble thinking creatively and strategically. My problem-solving ability was inhibited. In moments like these, my body would literally force shut down. As soon as I sat on a couch or on the side of the bed, I would be asleep. No transition. No getting more comfortable. Going from 100 to 0 in a matter of seconds. I was suffering from leadership fatigue.
As I read your messages and consider the phone calls I have had since our first blog, I realize compassionate leaders are prone to fatigue. Especially this time of year when we can see the light of a break at the end of the year, but just have not quite made it there. We have served faithfully and diligently, but often without restoration or any sense of a real break. If your first response is, "I don't have time..." or "I cannot afford...", Friend, you have just proven you truly need this break.
I know you can handle it. I know you got this. I am just suggesting we need to start Handling with Care- self-care.
Let’s start with some hard truth. Hang in there with me. We are going to take this good truth like medicine together. First, let’s put this thing in perspective, then we will talk about what to do about it.
Truth #1- Work is just that- WORK. It is toil. It is effort. It takes energy. Work is not meant to restore us. Work was not created as an oasis of refreshing. Now, work should also not be detrimental to us. We should not work at the expense of everything else in our life. Conversely, we should not expect work to fuel us mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. I understand some of us are blessed to do work that fuels us or work with people who refresh us, but even in the best work scenario you will give more than you get- because its work. Work is not the place for you to be healed, restored, or reinvigorated. Work is the place where we give. You need another place, another group of people, or another mental space where you find fuel to keep working. No matter how much you love your job, it is still work.
Still with me? Great, hang on tight!
Truth #2- You are responsible for your own health and sanity. No one else. Often, we expect other people to pull us out of a pit or at least notice when we are overwhelmed. It is not the responsibility of your boss, colleague, friend, or spouse to just perceive when you are drowning. How will we know if you never scream, “HELP!”? (Excuse me while I preach to myself!). You are so good at what you do that you make it look easy. How are we supposed to know that you are really in over your head? Now, let’s balance this thing out, I do believe in doing life together. We should support and look out for each other. It is good to offer a helping hand to a friend who needs you. However, as a leader, I have to take responsibility to keep my mind and my body safe and strong first before anyone else takes on that responsibility.
Phew! Ok, now that we set that foundation, here are a few tips for preventing and recovering from Leadership Fatigue.
1. Know thyself- All of us have a “tell”, a sign of stress or a symptom that says things are getting a bit too heavy. For me, I carry stress all over my face. My facial expressions tell on me all the time. I would be a terrible poker player. If I am stressed, you will know it by looking at me. I have another “tell”. Those who know me know I have a constant playlist running in my head at all times. My husband, Edward, has finally gotten used to me blurting out a song at the top of my lungs at any moment. (It used to scare the heck out of him!). It may be the same song for a week or two or a rotation of songs, but there is always a song…except when I am overwhelmed. When I allow the cares of life to take over, I lose my song. And when I lose my song, I cannot be my best. Your “tell” may be biting your nails or a short temper. The clutter in your closet or in your bedroom may be a “tell”. Study yourself. How does your body respond when you are happy? How does your body respond when you are stressed or upset or overwhelmed? Once you recognize your “tell”, you can take appropriate action before the stress takes over.
2. STOP- That’s it. Just stop. Yes, you can. You can take a moment for yourself- a day off, a weekend trip, 30 minutes before everyone else in the house is awake, 10 minutes in the car before going in to work, a little longer in the restroom before the meeting. You can find the time and you can stop…even if just for a few minutes. I am about to tell you all way too much of my business, but here goes…I am notorious for the “Bathroom Quiet Time”. I’ve found that the bathroom is the one place, at home and at work, where people will leave me alone (at least most of the time). Sometimes, they line up at the door and wait (it’s awkward, but true), but at least in the stall, there is solace. And don’t mess around and let me find a single stall bathroom at work. Oh Honey, I will make that place my retreat! Sometimes you just need a few minutes alone. Other times you need more than a few minutes. Whatever the need, give yourself the gift of a break. Just Stop. None of us are superhuman. We are people and people need rest. Either choose to stop for a moment or have your body force you to stop at some point.
3. Give yourself a strong start- What is the first thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning? Do you pick up your phone to check email or social media? Do you turn on the news to hear the woes of the day? Are you awakened by screaming children or a needy spouse? If you start in any of these ways, you are guaranteed to be chasing your tail all day long. What you do first will determine the rest. It may take a little extra effort like going to bed earlier in order to wake up earlier or packing lunches at night in order to add a few undisturbed minutes to your morning. Whatever the cost, it is worth it to intentionally start your day with something that feeds you like devotion, reading or exercise. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that fuels you and allows you to be hidden just for a few minutes. On an airplane, the stewardess always instructs, “In case of emergency, secure your own oxygen mask before helping someone else”. We should take that advice for our life. Fill your cup first before you go out into the world to serve others.
4. The Power of “No”- If you are anything like me, you are a “Yes” person. You want to be all things to all people, so you have a hard time saying “No”. I am learning that “No” can save you a lot of stress and save others a lot of disappointment. My friend, Dorsey, told me something years ago that I will never forget. She said, “Dr. Jackson, I am learning to say No so I can have better Yeses”. Now, that blessed me! If you are like me, you get frustrated at times because it seems everyone depends on you. Well, of course they do because you never say No. I am still learning to say No at appropriate times, but I am getting better at it. Here is a little strategy I have learned concerning taking on obligations. I give myself a little time before I respond. If I respond right away, my knee-jerk answer will be “Yes, of course!”. Instead, I may say “Can I let you know tomorrow?” or “May I get back to you next week, I just need to check the calendar?” or “Let me chat with Edward (who has no problem saying No, BTW) and get back to you.” Statements like this allow me time to consider my calendar, my family, my current obligations, and my skills to determine if the offer on the table is something I should take on. Taking a little time before answering helps me build up my “No” muscle.
5. Find your place of peace- As we discussed earlier, work is not the place where you should expect to be replenished. If that happens, count it as a major blessing. So where is your place of peace? Where can you go to be replenished? What can you do to feed your soul? Worship is my thing. (No worries if you believe differently. You are still welcomed here.). I can get lost in a song or a prayer and just stay there. Although I have wonderful people in my life, it is alone in the presence of God where I find peace and I am restored. Where is that place for you?
6. Is your crew tired too?- Be careful depending on other people who are also tired. It is easy to create a huddle of the tired and frustrated where we spend time swapping traumas and we all leave the huddle more tired and more frustrated. Just like grocery shopping when you are hungry, chatting it up when you are feeling overwhelmed may do more harm than good. Especially if you are just talking and taking no action.
7. Is this your burden?- Ok, I’m ready to confess. “My name is Patrice Jackson and I take on the burdens of other people.” There, I said it. A lot of people feel compelled to share their troubles with me and I feel compelled to listen. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I tend to hold on to the troubles of other people. Sometimes, I feel responsible for finding their solution. Edward brought this to light for me. He said, “You take on everybody’s stuff. They feel better after unloading on you and you are left carrying burdens that are not your own”. Obviously, you can see who the wise one is in the relationship. I’m so grateful for him. Now, I’m still going to listen when people need me, because that’s who I am. However, I am learning that it is not my job to fix it. I realize I am not called to be the Savior for my students, colleagues, friends, family, or strangers I meet. The job of Savior is already taken, and He doesn’t need my help. I am learning to be a listening ear, offer a word of advice if I have anything worth sharing, and then pray about their concerns. I take those concerns to the One who can handle them. I am not always great at this, but I am learning that most of my fatigue comes from weight that does not belong to me.
8. Help your boss understand your load- If you are a “Yes” person, then I can imagine you get plenty of “other duties as assigned” at work. The truth of the matter is there are only so many hours in a day and there is no way any person (or team of people for that matter) can do it all. So, concerning your boss, I suggest you keep a running list in priority order of every task or project that has been assigned to you or that you have authority over. Share the updated list with your boss at least monthly, but every two weeks may be necessary according to the pace of your workplace. Check in to make sure your boss agrees with the priority order of the projects on your list. Make adjustments as necessary. This list is also helpful during annual review time. If you feel you have more work than you can accomplish, the conversation could go something like this “Considering my current projects I believe this project would fit at number ___ on the list which means it would have a complete date of around (offer a reasonable deadline date- give yourself a little cushion but do not be irresponsible). Do you agree with this priority order or would you prefer I move something else back to get this done sooner?” Now, you have to adjust this suggested script according to your boss and your circumstances, but the point is to make sure your boss knows what is on your plate and how much is being added. Be sure you communicate clearly to ensure everyone is on the same page. Disclaimer: I am not responsible for the response from your boss. Use this advice with wisdom and discretion. You know your people better than I do.
Just as our phones need a good reboot every now and then, leaders must find a way to recharge our batteries consistently in order to lead well. Surely, you can find one new action from the list above to implement in your life? Just work on one. Document the outcome. Did you notice a change in how you feel? I believe the work we do is valuable and there is purpose in it. We just need to make sure we do our work with care- care for others and care for ourselves.
Thank you for taking this journey with us! We are so excited so many of you read the first blog and joined the Facebook group (A Leader’s Perspective). We hope you will continue with us and will be renewed here as you lead and serve.
Questions to Consider:
1. How do you know when you have taken on too much? Do you have a “tell”? Do you recognize it before it is too late?
2. Where is your place of peace? How can you work it into your schedule to spend time in that place on a regular basis?
3. What are some areas in your life where you can ask for help? Who can you recruit to help you in these areas?
4. What other strategies do you use to prevent or recover from Leader’s Fatigue?