Self Care for People Like You – Who Run Teams or Work Solo and Need to Pivot to Survive and Thrive
Rapid sudden change is to leaders what a sudden heart attack is to families: unimaginable and devastating. Families in this situation are in the most difficult of situations. They are absorbing a terrible shock and the shattering of their lives as they’ve known it. To make matters worse, almost instantaneously, all that will need to be done in the next week starts to weigh on them. This doesn’t even take into account what will need to be done in the months to come. Finally, guilt and regret settle in regarding everything that they were involved in with the other person that was unfinished (or unsaid) or that they were working on, but hadn’t made enough of a priority of. As family members slug through their customary death and burial traditions, they are on autopilot. Things happen quickly, for obvious reasons, but the family has so much to do – trying to be polite to visitors who wish to pay their respects, trying to plan for small children and other people who have needs that they cannot fix on their own, trying to notify people, trying to anticipate the travel needs of out-of-town family, trying to….trying to…. trying to…. Somewhere in there, the family’s needs often get lost amid their performance. They go to the service, stand when they’re supposed to, sit when they’re supposed to…they can’t even grieve the way they need to because everybody is watching them. Then, in two weeks, they’re supposed to go back to work like everything is okay or as if only a couple things are out of place.
While it may be some time before the whole family can get away to just be themselves and acknowledge what they have lost, they still need some TLC.
As heads of families, leaders must balance being decision-makers, the consequences of their choices, and their own humanity. When chronic and acute stress combine, we don’t make our best decisions and we don’t have access to the parts of our minds that let us make good choices. Until you and your family have time to yourselves, here are a few steps to make things more comfortable for yourself.
- Maintain some part of your routine that is constant and that makes you feel good/safe. I’m doing yoga or running everyday so that I don’t lose it. I actually refer to this as, “set aside breakdown prevention time” because I know how I get when I’m overwhelmed. It’s better for me to manage it than have to apologize for my behavior after the fact. What’s your thing?
- Set or affirm your time and space boundaries. No calls or emails before and after what time? Space helps you think more clearly, even if it seems wasteful or selfish to take a mental break. There’s something that your unconscious self gains when it knows a time frame is coming when it can unplug.
- Call for “pauses” on tough decisions. Give yourself time to breathe. It doesn’t mean procrastination, it means 10 minutes to think. How about putting tough issues on the table, SWOTTING (SWOT Analysis = evaluating your internal strengths and weaknesses as well as your external opportunities and threats) it to death, and then giving yourself 20 minutes to break and come back with a clearer head to think. If you’re working with a team, consider telling them to come back with at least one final question and one devil’s advocate concerns. It helps them to buy into the decisions that are being made and takes some of the pressure off you to have answers for everything.
- If you have a team, delegate watch dogs. Choose ppl to watch for specific problems and issues. Assign them in small groups of 2-3 to help them feel more confident in the work. This helps ppl feel useful and it gives you greater capacity to focus. It also helps if you create a “joy team” to watch for signs of emotional distress and come up with ways to address them. If you don’t have a team, ask your 2 – 3 of your professional peers to be check-in buddies for a time to help one another anticipate and respond to challenges. For example, “Kelly, since both of us do similar work (or serve similar clients), I’m interested in connecting weekly to be sounding boards and think tanks for one another. Would you be interested?” This is the time to use the capacity and community that you’ve built.
- Choose your confidants carefully and let them know what you’re really asking of them (sometimes good people don’t get it or recognize how much you value their opinions). If you know you’re going to need to lean on someone more than usual for emotional support or to help you process tough choices, ask them for their permission to do so. It’s a show of respect. Even if you don’t think it’s necessary, do it anyway. It also cues them to note the gravity of your need.