Tough love on self-care


You can’t care for or lead others unless you care for and lead yourself.

It’s counterintuitive but true. You think you’re being selfless when you push yourself beyond healthy limits (in time, relationships, rest, working out). But you’re setting yourself up for failure and letting everyone who relies on you down.

In fact, sometimes we wear our exhaustion as a badge of honor. Look how hard I’m working! I’m so noble! But the truth is, we’re settling for something less than our best.

You’re letting people down if you don’t take care of yourself. Your role in your job, your family, your group of friends is too important to settle for a half-strength, distracted, and exhausted version of you.

We owe it to the people around us to be rested, healthy, and present. And most of the time, we can do it without letting (many) people down. You have to prioritize and say no to some things. Saying “no” is tough at first, but once you start, it becomes more clear what is “filler” in life and what really matters.

There are lots of ways to look at self care, but it almost always starts with the physical. If our physical bodies are worn down, we’re going to be pretty worthless relationally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here are a few areas to consider:

Eat – Everyone has an opinion on this. I think something like this or this is a solid approach. But whatever your approach is, find a way of eating real food that works for you – something that is nourishing and gives you energy.

Sleep – That extra hour of work at night doesn’t make you more productive. You need 8 hours of sleep. You really do. Maybe you’re lucky and need 7 or so. But be honest about how much you need. You’ll also sleep better if you go to bed and get up around the same time each day. I know that’s tough. I don’t do it well. But it’s true.

Move – Maybe this is walking every day for 30 minutes. Maybe it’s going to the gym three times a week. Maybe it’s extreme kayaking every evening (yeah, that would be cool, right?). I don’t know how it works for you, but movement increases our energy, makes us happier, helps us live longer, and even makes us smarter.

Reflect and Renew – Some people need to be alone and reflect. Others need to get out and connect. But we all need a way to recharge. So whether it’s coffee with a friend, prayer, reading, silence, journaling, or something else entirely. Find whatever works for you to feel mentally and emotionally renewed.

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” – Samuel Johnson

None of this is new or groundbreaking. The tough part is putting it into action.

We weren’t meant to be “on” all the time. We aren’t best when we’re sitting around doing nothing 24/7 either. Our bodies and lives work best with healthy rhythms of stress and rest. Finding time to take care of the basics can make all the difference.

Quotes: On changing the world and being a leader

Two unrelated but interesting quotes. (And they’re real. I’ll leave April Fools Day to folks like YouTube or Gmail)

“The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.” — Jim Rohn

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” – E.B. White

Data + Intuition = Success


Ok, I’ll admit there’s a lot more that goes into that equation for it to work in real life. But it’s a start.

Here’s what Jason Kottke says at the end of a post about expensive products that lose money but show the company cares about excellence (think the Corvette and Mac Pro):

Normally I’m not a big fan of advice like “do what big car companies do”, but what Siracusa’s piece demontrates is one of the things that’s problematic about data: there are important things about business and success that you can’t measure. And I would go so far as to say that these unmeasurables are the most important things, the stuff that makes or breaks a business or product or, hell, even a relationship, stuff that you just can’t measure quantitatively, no matter how Big your Data is.

There are two sides to this. 

1. Most companies, non-profits, and universities don’t measure enough. They make decisions based on assumptions. It’s important to ask questions, gather data, and see what is really happening out there.

2. Data alone won’t do it. Some things can’t be measured (or, we don’t know how to measure them well).

So ask good questions. But don’t let the data distract from the bigger goal. Don’t miss potential big-picture wins by getting bogged down in numbers, satisfaction scores, and focus groups. Every once in a while, take a risk on that thing that doesn’t make sense.

Follow delight


I should have changed the plan as soon as we got in line.

Peter Pan is clearly one of Disneyland’s kids’ rides, but my son looked at the line and said, “no no no.” Being the good parents that we are, we told him he would love it and worked to amp him up for the experience.

After the 20-minute wait and the three-minute ride, my two-year-old was right and we were wrong. He hated Peter Pan.

His “nononono” had continued as he rode through Neverland with his ears plugged because of the loud music. Who knew a kid wouldn’t like a kid’s ride?

But as soon as it was over and we emerged from the ride, my shaken child with tears in his eyes pointed to the nearby carousel and smiled, yelling “Merry Go Round!”

So we went over and let him ride the ride he wanted to ride. He spent the whole time laughing and cheering.

As the carousel slowed down, he pointed to Dumbo and shouted “Elephants!” So we rode Dumbo, and he loved making his cart go up and down while waving at the people watching below.

It’s Disney. One ride isn’t better than another. So why didn’t we listen as soon as we got into the Peter Pan ride to his “no”? We thought we knew better, he’d like it as soon as he tried it, and it would be good for him to experience.

The same thing happens outside of Disney. With “grownups.”

We push people to rides they’re not ready for. Life has enough stretching in it without us finding new ways for people to grow. The best thing student affairs folks or people in helping professions can do is help people navigate the challenges that are already happening. In that process, help them name and identify who they really are. Help them notice the intersection between what they are good at and what they enjoy. Help them find the inner joy that comes from living out the way they are wired.

We push ourselves to rides we won’t enjoy because we think it will be “good for us.” It’s as true for us (me) as it is for others (you). Without realizing it, we can spend half our lives living for other people’s values – stretching because we’ve been told we should. Stretching in the wrong direction.

Every person is different. That’s good. There are some rides you’ll love and some you’ll hate. There are some we have to ride regardless. But when we have the choice, the secret to success is to choose the options, opportunities, and actions you’ll can’t wait to be a part of. And say no to everything else.

Know what you stand for, and make it accessible

What does your organization or department stand for? What do you stand for?

Clearly defining our core values is one of the most difficult and most important things we can do. We’re going to make decisions daily. We can either make them with pre-established guidelines that reflect what we truly value, or we can make them in the moment, trusting that our emotions and the sway of what’s urgent and reacting to what gets placed before us.

So defining our values is proactive. Responding based on the moment is reactive.

National Community Church in Washington D.C. has a unique set of core values. Very “un-church-like.” They’re sticky. They represent a set of beliefs, but they’re phrased in a way that helps people remember and understand them.

When someone hits a situation in their day-to-day life to which one of the values relates, there’s a good chance they’ll remember it. When the church (which meets in movie theaters across D.C. and runs a coffee shop as one of their venues) comes across a new opportunity that means change in how they’re doing things, values like “Playing it safe is risky” and “Irrelevance is irreverence” help them filter the decision through values that speak to the importance of change and relevance. When a person in the church finds personal change and growth hard, a value like “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” inspires them to take steps toward growth.

When we worked to build our developmental model for Residence Life, we realized there are a lot of great, well-researched models out there. But most are in researcher-talk. For something to stick – to influence behavior – it has to be written in a way that connects to the people it’s meant to impact. RAs must “get it” enough to share it or program with it. So we boiled it down to seven core values and tried to name them in ways that would stick. We’re always working to improve things, but so far, they seem to have worked better than anything else we’ve tried.

Core values can be prescriptive and descriptive. They both help simplify decisions by making clear where you stand and what you’re about. But they also show others who you are from the outset.

What about you? Do you have some clear values that drive where you work? Do you have clear personal values that help you filter decisions and actions?

Success and mastery take work

“Almost nothing worthwhile is easy, and it’s hard to just jump in and be good at something difficult right off the bat. Think, say, of Twitter, whose business plan, such that it is, has always been something along the lines of “Get big and popular, then just flip the switch and start making money when we feel like it”. There is no switch.

The only reliable way to succeed at anything is to actually do it, repeatedly, with concentrated effort. True for individuals, and true for organizations. Athletes, artists, businesses.

John Gruber (emphasis mine)

True for tech companies (like Gruber’s context), but also so true for everything from blogging to the job you’re doing to relationships and everything in between.

(Think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from Outliers or Seth Godin’s ideas from The Dip)

You don’t know (and that’s ok)

It’s hard to understand something until you’ve been there.

Doing this job with a kid, it suddenly clicked. I’ve always wondered why those parents out there seemed a little (a lot) frazzled at times. But now, I understand. I get how much those parents are juggling. People who haven’t been there don’t. I didn’t.

I didn’t understand the late nights and the new priorities. I didn’t get how it’s harder when you’re in a minority role – in a place where it’s mainly kidless co-workers, the systems and expectations are shaped for the typical person without kiddos.

I thought I understood. But being there changed things.

It was the same when doing some humanitarian work globally. I was in charge of communications for a non-profit doing work in countries overseas. My boss said I needed to get there to understand. At first, I honestly blew him off a little. I can communicate people’s stories without going, right? But he was right. Once I went, being there, smelling the air, meeting the people, seeing the towns, tasting the food, and hearing the stories firsthand shifted my perspective. You can do a job, but once you get your feet on the ground, it makes a difference.

Once again, being there changed things.

I don’t mention the changes to complain about the difficulties of having a kid and working. Not at all. I love my job and I love my kid. So it’s a win all around.

But before I had the kid, or went overseas, I thought I understood, and that colored how I made decisions and viewed others. But I didn’t.

The truth is, in working with students, or your peers, or anyone, we’ve never truly “been” where someone else has been. It’s tempting in a tragedy or a challenge a peer is facing to immediately point out our perspective. But it’s usually more important to listen and care, without having to immediately prove you understand. Because often, you don’t.

Or in leading a team, it’s about understanding that different people’s backgrounds and positions mean they come to the role with different expectations and different things they’re juggling in the back ground. People have unique ways to approach the role. We all need to get the core of a job done, but maybe there’s some leeway in how that happens according to people’s strengths and needs.

And that’s why it’s ok not to know. We can’t walk in everyone’s shoes. But we can recognize each person has a different perspective. A different story to tell. Something to add to our group. We can approach other’s stories with humility. We may have overlapping experiences, but we also have a huge amount to contribute to and learn from each other. Because being there changes things.

Once we understand that everyone’s walking around with a unique set of experiences that bring a new perspective, our leadership and relationships are dramatically transformed.

Put the trash in the leader’s van

On the way back from a recent staff retreat, I was driver of van #2. The bosses were in van 1 with half our group, and I was following with the rest.

But on the way to the retreat, my van had the luggage and their van had the food. But on the way back, somehow the luggage got loaded in their van.

This was important. Because on the way back, luggage stays luggage. But food is gone. It becomes trash.

That was fine, because we were going to stop and unload it before we made the three-hour drive back home. Except that once we got on the road, van 1 decided the priority was getting home, not unloading the trash whose fumes were quickly filling our cabin.

It was no fault of their own, but because they couldn’t smell the problem, it didn’t exist.

It’s the same in life. If you want change, the person who can make the decision needs to feel the pain.

It can be through communication, but most of the time, they need to be close enough to feel it. This can be tricky for those of us in middle-level roles. We get paid to make things happen – to fix problems. This isn’t an excuse to bring every issue to your supervisor. Or to be that complainey do-nothing. Really. Fix things and make things happen.

But once you’re that kind of worker, when it’s important, it’s reoccurring, and there’s a solution, you need to let a problem sit and be felt a little longer than you may be comfortable – long enough to have a new conversation about it. Let the feeling get to the leader so you can look at the systemic fix instead of throwing on another bandage.

The trash thing worked out. We cracked some windows and made it back home without many problems. But you can bet the next time we’re loading vans, I’m going to be the first one out there to help put that luggage in the right van…