L3: Balance Self-Sacrifice with Self-Care

I am currently participating in a writing residency to focus my attention on Limitless Loving Leadership. The first few days were highly unproductive, because I arrived physically, emotionally, and intellectually exhausted. During the previous months, I worked full time in a demanding job, took two classes in a doctoral program (for which I expect to receive As), taught two undergraduate classes, did some consulting work, and tried to be a reasonably attentive friend and family member. Not long before my arrival, I experienced a 17-day menstrual period. As soon as it ended, I started to feel the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS. I realized that I had stressed myself to the point of literally throwing my body off of its natural rhythms.

While my expectations for the residency were to produce a great volume of exceptionally well written and profoundly influential pages, I now know that the most helpful outcome of this residency will be the opportunity to reconnect with my inner harmony and rebalance my life. I have chosen to pay attention to the warning signals my body sent out when it knew it could not reason with me intellectually. My soul compassionately whispered to me, trying to tell me to take it easy (as were my friends and family), but selfish me refused to listen. If I did hear anything at all, I did not honor my basic needs by changing my behavior.

As leaders, we are responsible for other people. We want to cherish them, support them, and nurture them so that they can succeed. But if we do not do the same for ourselves, our reservoir of love and compassion will be depleted. We may even grow to resent offering tenderlovingcare to others. If helping others is no longer a joyous and enriching process, this may be a signal that you need to pay more attention to your own wellbeing. Taking care of our self at least as well as we take care of others makes us more effective leaders – and happier, healthier people.

Regularly check in with yourself to make sure you are living a balanced life. If you are not, do not wait to make changes that will improve your quality of life and therefore your ability to lead. Neglected health leads to the accumulation and condensation of negative energy that becomes progressively more difficult to expel.

There are a lot of ways that we can improve the balance in our lives. Regularly reward your hard work with enjoyable activities – or even the opportunity to do nothing. Don’t let your work overshadow your other life commitments. Pay attention to negative feelings and respond by making changes in your life. Allow others to extend their care and love to you. Integrate fun, healthy, exciting activities into your daily routine.

Charity Police

Philanthropic organizations are increasingly demanding that grantees measure impact. It is not the measuring of impact to which I object, it is the way this expectation is unidirectionally communicated and enforced. This paternalistic practice is an abuse of power that emphasizes control and containment over partnership and possibilities.

The MacArthur Fellows Program is an amazing example of trusting philanthropy (and I hope to be one someday!). Grantees are selected according to their contributions and are then trusted to make decisions about the best use of the funds; reports are not required. As a teacher, I take a similar approach with my students in the community or online setting. I expect students to take what we learn in class and to use it to the best of their ability in their context. My hope is to inspire change that can’t be captured in numbers or even words, and to provoke changes that are multiplicative.

With trust and freedom, great things will happen. Let’s share with each other out of love rather than fear.

Community Cooptation

The nonprofit/community benefit/social change sector has coopted much from business organizations, and the pressure to do so is increasing from many foundations and professional associations. In my experience, the business models that are appropriated are outdated and a poor fit for our sector. We are victimizing and marginalizing our community organizations through this practice; we are also limiting our ability to provoke meaningful and sustainable change. Rather than us borrow from business, I think business should listen and learn from us. Not because we demand it, or because we attach contingencies to it, but because there is an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. Perhaps by coming together intentionally we can envision new models of organizations that will truly transform our world.