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You can't pour from an empty cup.
Who helps the helpers?
How can they learn to better help themselves?
These questions drive me professionally and challenge me personally. People who help others professionally are notorious for not taking good care of themselves. It's ironic, really.
Most of my clients hold the lives of others in their hands—CEOs, senior military leaders, financial advisors, physicians, teachers, psychologists. These high-performers work tirelessly, ensuring their clients, employees, and colleagues have what they need to succeed. Many decisions they make can alter life trajectories. It’s a lot of responsibility. The weight of it, heavy. Their work is emotional. People arrive in their inboxes, ping their phones, and knock on their doors in distress—seeking answers, all day long.
They give, and give, and give. By the end of most days, they're spent. Then, they go home and care for their families. They make dinner, monitor homework, and rush to football games. They cheer and dash home. Kiss goodnight. Pick up the living room. Pack lunches. Check email and put out the final fires for the night. Long after the sun has set, they collapse on the couch to catch their breath and brace to wake up and do it all again the next day. It's a lot lot lot. The relentlessness, exhausting.
Many people in professional roles that improve others' lives love their work. They're good at what they do. They've intentionally chosen careers where they can have an impact. Taking care of others is rewarding. When we help, we feel useful. Appreciated. In control. Sometimes, professionals devote themselves to providing others with what they never received but deeply wanted and desperately needed at a different stage in their own lives. They work with purpose, for purpose, on purpose. Unfortunately, how these individuals operate is not always sustainable—unless they learn to invest in themselves.
I loathe the term self-care. It's soft and flimsy. When people hear it, they often picture manicures and massages. Those "solutions" to serious issues like burnout do nothing to move the dial on health or happiness. Attending to our wellbeing requires strength, guts, and discipline—not a trip to the local strip mall. Self-care, at its core, is self-preservation. It is a set of decisions and behaviors, not sporadic one-off events. Together, with consistency, these practices allow us to perform at our peak. Authentic self-care is upholding stalwart boundaries, communicating what we need, and permitting ourselves to take it. It takes courage. Not infrequently, self-care involves hard conversations.
Self-care requires self-awareness. And, vulnerability. A crucial component of self-care is letting other people come alongside and help us. Before that can happen, we need to invite them in. We're not admirably self-sufficient when we insist on handling everything ourselves—we're delusional and arrogant. Doctors need their own physicians. Psychologists go to therapy. We all benefit from having a trusted coach and guide. Most people who are world-class at what they do have figured this out. They surround themselves with experts who can help them continually improve their performance.
As a career caretaker myself, I'm a hypocrite if I don't practice what I preach. My personal and professional success is largely contingent on my own wellbeing. If I don't judiciously protect my energy, I risk phoning it in with my clients, husband, and kids. They deserve better. So do I. When I set my alarm and roll out of bed each morning to go to the gym, I'm doing it for all of us. Whenever I say no to a "good" opportunity that will take too much time, I give my future self a gift. I'm also doing a favor for those around me. I refuse to let people I love pay the tax for my poor choices. Caring well for them must start with me.
True self-care is difficult, but the stakes are high if we don’t take it seriously. When we don't prioritize ourselves, we suffer and the people around us get shortchanged. If you're serious about being your best, you can't leave yourself with the leftovers and hope things work out. There's too much on the line to gamble.
Move yourself up on your list.
It's not selfish. It's a radical act of self-respect.
Don't settle. You're worthy of nothing less.
If you feel sucked dry, find something good, and pour it in your cup.
It's the only way anything worthwhile can spill over.
I believe all parents are professional caretakers—they just aren’t financially compensated for their tireless labor. No one is cutting moms or dads a check for overtime. My soapbox stance about self-preservation is for parents everywhere. A majority of us have a problem. . . We don't always walk our talk. We go to great lengths to care for our kids but neglect ourselves. Most parents I know wouldn't dream of making their kids skip lunch regularly or let them stay up until all hours of the night scrolling on their phones. They wouldn't go months (years!) without scheduling routine medical care for their kids. Yet, many parents I know do these things to themselves all the time.
Mothers tend to be particularly adept at falling on the sword for everyone in their stead. Mom martyrdom is toxic for everyone—mothers, marriages, kids, and society at large.
Something needs to change.
My brilliant friend Morgan released a must-read book on the topic this week: Love Your Kids Without Losing Yourself. One of my favorite lines from her manuscript is, "We can't parent our kids with intention and care while abandoning ourselves for the cause. To truly care well for our children, we must care well for ourselves." Order a copy for the mothers in your life today.
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