There are some perks to being your own boss. Ten years in, I’ve learned that the life an entrepreneur is rife with opportunities: paying your team and your vendors before (or more) than you pay yourself, working numerous hours on the non-billable parts of a business, losing sleep over the next great idea or that difficult client, etc. etc. etc. All joking aside, one my favorite benefits of this career is that of time freedom – i.e. that on any given day I get to choose my own schedule, how much/little I want to work and how I want to put my values into action.
But let’s be honest, all these years later, I’m still not the best at managing my own schedule and energy. As an extroverted introvert (it’s a real thing, promise!), I have to manage my interactions with others with almost as much precise detail as I do my calendar.
As an introvert, it takes an extraordinary amount of time for me to be fully (or even partially) present with everyone – including my clients, team, friends, and family. And as a parent, I’ve learned that my children were the most intentional part of “slowing me down” that I’ve ever experienced. In full transparent and painful authenticity, sometimes I don’t have enough energy for them either.
I truly enjoy my work – almost as much as I love being a mom – but the truth was that after my own mother passed away in January, I didn’t have much to give anyone. You see, unbeknownst to some, I spent the last NINE years serving as a caregiver to my mother who battled most of her life with physical and mental health issues. While I was growing my business and my family, I was trying to take care of her too. And all that time, guess who I wasn’t taking care of…
So this summer I did the entrepreneurial unthinkable: I took a 2-month self-care sabbatical. You read that correctly. TWO MONTHS. I announced in May to my team, my clients and my family that I would be taking a much-needed break from work. Did this come without its challenges? Nope. Did I take an entire 2 months off? Not exactly. But was it worth it? Totally.
“As it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.” – Brené Brown
Ever the self-care savant, I wanted to share what I learned with you in my time “off”:
Get out of your own way
I had many people astounded that I took ‘that much’ of a break. I also had many people brag or lament that they couldn’t remember the last time they took a vacation. You are not a robot. You are a human being and with the increasing speed of life/work, it is crucial you take some respite to rest and recharge. You are also creative and come up with ways to do that that don’t completely unhinge your life/work.
Sweat the small stuff
Okay, so maybe don’t sweat it… but pay attention to the little things that bring you joy. Figure out how you can incorporate some of those things into your life on a daily or weekly basis. My personal favorites our smelly lotions, mini-chocolates, staycations at the beach and mental health days (or mulligan Mondays as I call them).
Even if you are a native to the information age and never lived in a household without a computer or smartphone, I will still encourage you to unplug. This is NOT always as easy as it sounds. We are hardwired for connection and our technology is changing the way we interact with others and it. Putting your phone out of arms reach, turning off your email/message notification sounds, or only checking email during certain windows each day can greatly reduce your stress levels.
Be still. Or go for a walk. Count cars, ceiling tiles, butterflies. Breathe. Meditate. Journal. Read. Exercise. Whatever it is that works for you, I encourage you to find a way to focus on something other than your day-to-day stressors. Even 5 minutes “away” from our normal routine refreshes your brain. Remember: where your focus goes, energy flows. Determine what you’re putting your energy into, what else you’d like to be putting it towards, and try it out till you find what works for you. Just like yoga, this is a practice, not an accomplishment. You’ll have to find what works best for you.
Create & maintain healthy boundaries
Everyone deserves the right to self-care, in whatever way that works best for you. But sometimes our life and work is fret with people who are constantly infringing on your boundaries and according to Dr. Brené Brown, those most courageous leaders are the ones who have the strongest boundaries. So use her BIG method and ask yourself: What boundaries do you need to have in place to operate in your integrity and be generous with others? Sometimes that reads like the following: I need to create an email that clearly communicates I will not be as responsive to needs as I have been in the past (see below for the sample out of office message that got me great kudos from clients & colleagues all summer long).
Sample Email Verbiage
RE: Out of Office Practicing Self-Care
Thank you for your email! Connect For More is currently practicing a
I will be out of the office without access to email and voicemail July
Should you have an urgent need please email me with the subject of
* Want to schedule a meeting with me? Contact Maria Howell, Executive
* Interested in discussing a client engagement? Contact Laura Cline,
* Want to learn more about our services, workshop offerings or get
Again, thank you for connecting! Wishing you a future of empowered connections,
Give yourself permission
I struggle often with imposter syndrome and the constant negative feedback loop of “who do you think you are?!” The goody-goody overachiever in me really appreciates the idea of permission slips. If you don’t have someone who can serve as an accountability partner for your self-care, it’s okay to act as your own. It’s okay to say “I give myself permission to take care of myself…” or “I deserve this because…” In fact, I encourage you to write it down on a sticky note in your home or office.
So that’s my list of what kept me sane and helped me be better prepared for stepping into year 10 of serving our clients. We’ve been back since August and things are in full swing and truth-be-told we’ve already exceeded our annual goals. As you continue on with your day I want you to ask yourself “What kind of activities fill your proverbial tank”? Consider this your permission to take care of your self – because you’re worth it. I promise.
In what ways are you making self-care part of your personal & professional goals?
If you’re not sure where to start or want an accountability partner, we’d love to help! Visit the resources part of our website to download a free template for your very own self-care plan or contact us today. If you’re interested in having Liz speak to your group about self-care, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you struggling to get your team (board or staff) to focus on nurturing themselves? Is burnout alive and well in your agency? Visit the Happy Healthy Nonprofit website or buy the book which holds plenty of ideas on self-care for those serving the social sector.
Are you or someone you know grieving the loss of a loved one? Check out Option B Facebook Support Group, read Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, or visit Hospice for additional resources on grieving, respite, and resilience.
About the Author: Liz Wooten-Reschke is President/CEO of Connect For More. CFM engages leaders and empowers philanthropists to help them accomplish their mission. As the lead consultant, Liz focuses her efforts on providing ongoing support & coaching for chief executives and volunteers of nonprofits, workshop & retreat facilitation, and customized engagements to enhance board governance, agency strategy and leadership experience with her clients. Liz is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer. She is a proud member of the University of South Florida Alumni Association Board, a fourth-generation Floridian and Key West Conch. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her partner, four children, two dogs, and one cat. For more information about Liz or her work, please follow her on Twitter, or visit her Amazon author page.