You finally decide to take a personal day off. You have scheduled that doctor appointment. You have finally decided to make that hair appointment. You have agreed to dinner with friends. You scheduled a door-closed lunch - finally. You finally committed to a work-free weekend. Maybe you committed to not checking email once you leave work for the day. And that’s when it starts to set in. That nagging feeling. That dark whisper. You know what I’m talking about. GUILT. You start to reconsider. You think of all the reasons why you should be working. Why you should be answering emails. The many people who need you. The stack of papers on your desk. The teacher who just has that one urgent question. The irate parent who might try to tackle your office team. The laundry that will pile up. AND then you concede. You pick up your phone. You check that email. You end up working on that day off. You argue with yourself about “slacking off” when there is so much to be done. You rationalize that you are a servant-leader and that’s what servant-leaders do. You convince yourself that this is your calling and you are always needed. Because the moment you think about taking care of you - the world starts to feel off-kilter.
Sound familiar to anyone? Why? Why is it that guilt takes over? Why does this self-conscious emotion take up residence the moment we consider our own needs? The psychology might be hidden behind our own skewed view of hard work and servant leadership. If you consider yourself a servant-leader, a very admirable and strong leadership philosophy, your very core screams - take care of others first. In fact, Robert Greenleaf, the father of modern servant leadership stated, “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served.” As servant-leaders, we work to embody that. Let me be clear, that is a good thing. I firmly believe that is one of the most effective styles of leadership. Here’s the thing though, we often use that to fuel our own guilt when we choose to take care of our own needs. That is not okay. If you dig a little deeper into Greenleaf’s work, you will find that he also believed in leaders taking care of themselves. He understood the value of needing to remain centered in order to serve effectively. In his text, The Power of Servant Leadership, Greenleaf responds to the question - How do I do all of this? He states: “If you can learn, in the stress of circumstance, to pull in your ladder road behind you and put a sign up CLOSED to all but me; and then if you can believe that the light within you will guide your path, you are on your way.” In short, sometimes you need to put up a CLOSED sign and take care of you.
So now, how do you get beyond that guilt? Honestly, you already know you need it. You already know it’s the right thing to do. Yet, guilt readily sneaks in and seizes our good intentions to do better. The next time that happens, ask yourself this question: Have I actually done anything wrong? Then remind yourself of the following:
Self-care is not selfish
Robert Greenleaf even says I need to put up a closed sign - I mean that’s a big deal
Self-care is NOT the same as pampering myself or being indulgent (although it can be); it’s a basic human need
Having the resources to serve others depends on my ability to conserve and renew my own supply and energy
I do not need to wait to stop when I have finished all the things. I need to stop because it’s time to stop - or at the very least - time to pause
While my work is important and my efforts are important, necessary and helpful, they are not indispensable and neither am I
Now, let’s commit. What do you need to do this week to take care of your own needs? When will you make the time to do it? Remember, it doesn’t have to be a grand, lavish affair. A small “Daily Dose” repeated consistently over time makes a big difference. Start today.
Need help getting started? Check out the Daily Dose of Oxygen calendar for bite-sized daily self-care actions.
Last Chance to register for the upcoming webinar - Bold Moves for the Well Principal - Click HERE for details.
Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. Paulist Press.