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compassion + fatigue

Self Care for Do-Gooders

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Nonprofit leaders are do-gooders, optimists, idealists, and compassionate softies. These qualities are what make us so well-suited to the work of world-changing. We are dreamers, pivoters, visionary change-makers on a mission to leave the world a better plan than we found it. We juggle a dozen flaming balls at a time with a smile on our face and a strategic plan in our back pocket. We touch lives. We ease pain. We connect humanity to its best self.

And yet the very super power that drives our passion for purpose is also the very quality that pushes us beyond the boundaries of self-care. As a seasoned nonprofit professional, I’ve seen my share of compassion fatigue. In fact, I believe we are experiencing a tsunami of this disorder right now in a thousand corners of our covid  world.

There are a million consultants whose mission is to help nonprofits thrive. There are experts who will help you build a better board of directors. There are specialists who will craft you a super revenue building capital campaign. There are agents who can help you write a more competitive grant than your rivals.

As a coach I’m fascinated by the fact that there are no experts talking about the emotional and mental well-being of our nonprofit leaders themselves, never mind their staff. Theoretically, nonprofits put people ahead of profits, and yet EDs and their executive teams are often the first casualties of the many versions of stress we navigate on a daily basis.

How to thrive despite rising anxiety in an increasingly uncertain world? Intentionally. I’m basically a broken record on this topic.  I advise my clients to return to the basics because, well, they work.  Especially in turbulent times; nothing works better than the fundamentals.

Here is a list of 5 life-hacks to integrate into your daily routine for better health and well-being:

  1. MAKE SELF-CARE A DAILY RITUAL. We create rituals to make meaning of what is important. Make a morning ritual that focuses all attention on one small action that you can do in a teeny-tiny five-minute block of time. Schedule it, honor it. No, #srsly. Like making your bed each morning, carving out a five minute segment of time to honor your personal hero’s journey will pay huge dividends. Every. Single. Time.
  2. SURRENDER DOROTHY.  Give up any remaining resistance to your own wellness. Stop making excuses for not taking care of yourself, and just do it. In Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, he teaches that keeping our word is a sacred responsibility. This includes the promises we make to ourselves. It’s okay to feel stressed. It’s okay to feel anxious. We can feel these feels and still take care of ourselves. The fact is, when we take care of ourselves we are better able to care for those we love.
  3. CONNECT TO WHAT’S SACRED. What do you hold sacrosanct? Being in nature? Spending time with family? Gathering friends together and sharing ideas? Zip-lining through a forest canopy? Do more of whatever fills you up. Especially now. Honor your values and spend time doing what gives your life meaning. Put aside the electronic devices that ultimately require us to barter our actual life for a smaller, less interesting version of who we really are. Connect to your own sacred, tender, brave, heart.
  4. CELEBRATE THE SMALL WINS. Pay attention to the small wins and celebrate them with gusto. High achievers tend to step over incremental wins. And yet those celebrations become even more important when working from home and the lines between personal and professional space begin to blur.  Seriously. So much has happened in 2020 that sometimes just getting out of bed is cause for celebration. But so also is innovation. And creativity. And trying a new juice cleanse or simply cleaning out the closet. Use this weird covid time to awaken something new and powerful in yourself. Plant the seeds of celebration and gratitude.
  5. BE PRESENT IN YOUR LIFE. Leave “the office” early. Leave the report unfinished. Ignore email for an entire weekend. Before the pandemic struck, the world was on one big hamster wheel, forever racing faster and faster. And when a virus sent us skittering for safety and the common good, we discovered that all that hamster wheel gave us was an overblown urgency to run. Why? Life is what happens between the meetings, between the sprints. So give yourself permission to take up space in your own life. Breathe. Be present.

A simple truth about emotions is: “when you shut off one emotion, you shut off them all.” If you’re feeling a short supply of compassion when it is your go-to way to meet the world, maybe it’s a sign you need a break. A rest. A grown-up-version of time out. Take it. Your coach is giving you permission to hit reset, and revive. You’ll be glad you did.

Cynthia Gregory is an award-winning author and  nonprofit executive coach specializing in transitions. If you’d like to experience your life without limits, schedule a free Discovery Session with her, visit www.cgregorycreativity.com

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