I’ve written a lot in these Fearless Friday posts about conquering your fears and living adventurously, but we haven’t really talked much about taking care of yourself. Tomorrow will be the first day I’ve had nothing – not even social events – on my calendar in over three weeks. Today I have a couple of things, but at least I can do them all from home. It’s time for some much needed rest.
The Nature of Service
Now, when I implied above that I’ve been busy the last three weeks, I want you to understand that it’s been essentially wake-to-sleep work. I get up in the morning one of three things happens: Either I get up early and go to a substitute teaching job, get up a little later and go to my college job, or get up at some point in the morning and start writing. As of right now, my writing pays the lion’s share of my income, so if I have work in the hopper it’s first priority (except, of course, for my college class, which has a clearly defined schedule to which I must adhere).
That said, I have other obligations that take up time, so typically the past month or two I’ve been doing nothing but writing into the night. Midnight, 1 AM, 2 AM… and so on.
Of course, the freelance writing I do isn’t directly related to service the way teaching is, but I’m a teacher and a servant – not a businessman. I give my clients outstanding customer service and bend over backward to make them happy – to a fault, unfortunately. Also, the posts I do every day for this blog take up time, don’t make me any money, and are meant to help anyone who reads them be the best person they can be, so I take my servant’s attitude with me everywhere I go.
Many of you out there – wherever you are (A bit thanks to my international readers!) – are servants yourselves. You may work as a clerk in a retail store, or at a call center listening to a-holes like me yell at you. Maybe you’re a cop, or an EMT, or a soldier. Maybe you’re another teacher. Maybe you’re a healthcare worker. In any case, a lot of you out there know how draining being a servant can be.
Servant (as I define it in this article): n. One whose occupation and/or personality demands they spend the majority of their time looking out for other people’s needs.Please do not confuse this definition with any other, more severe definition of “servant” i.e. slavery, indentured servant, etc. I just mean people who serve.
You Can’t Help Others if You Can’t Help Yourself
I need help. All the time. It kills me to admit it – especially in writing – but I rely on my friends and family all the time, just like many of you do. Though I love to picture myself as a self-reliant, staunch individualist, as I’ve discussed in the past few Thoughts for Thursday posts, none of us is an island unto ourselves. We ALL need people.
Unfortunately, I know quite a few people who’ve helped me and many others in the past, who are no longer able to help anyone. I don’t blame them, of course. I’m grateful for the help they’ve always given me in the past, and now I’m trying to help them as much as I can – while still helping all of my students and hopefully some of you readers out there. The point is, they’ve helped out so many others – including me – for so long, that they have either suffered health consequences, financial consequences, or both, and now they’re the ones who need help.
Taking Time for Yourself is not Selfishness.
I love helping people. I will do it as long as I draw breath. But I’m also keenly aware of the need to take care of myself. I know how to listen to my body and I know when it’s time to take a rest.
Of course, I don’t always listen to my body, but I’m getting a lot better at it. There were a lot of times over the last three weeks of my completely full calendar where I had to move things around so I could get enough sleep – because for me sleep is a huge priority. Still, I found myself with a few nights of only 4-6 hours of sleep, and I definitely felt it the next day.
Today, since I knew I didn’t have to be anywhere, I got up when I woke up (around 6:30). I checked my phone, dealt with my daily morning anxiety, and came into the office to do a couple of minor tweaks on yesterday’s post. After I was done with that, I went back to bed until around 11 because I knew I needed more sleep.
I woke up, and at first – for a second – I felt guilty for sleeping in, but then I recognized that as an idiotic thought (since I owed nobody any of my time this morning) and after I thought about that, I was refreshed and ready to take on all of today’s writing tasks – including this one – and excited for the rest of the day. Just knowing that tomorrow is all mine gives me a burst of gumption similar to what runners get when they round the corner and see the finish line.
Learning to Recognize When It’s Time to Rest
I haven’t always been good at this, but the first step, I think, is to learn to listen to your body. When you start to feel weak, tired, fatigued, or even ill, it’s time to stop. Take a break as soon as you safely can, and don’t go back to work until you’re ready – both physically and mentally – to do your job at your best level.
I realize that’s not always as easy as it sounds – especially if you deal with emergencies or ultra-high stress situations on a regular basis. In those cases, you need to take advantage of your days off. Don’t let others talk you into working when you’re off. I know many nurses, cops, firefighters, and EMTs work split weeks (Three 12-hour shifts in a row, then three days off). You have to take time for yourself if you’re going to serve the public. It’s mandatory. Period.
Learning to Say No
This is about boundaries, which are an essential part of self-care for service professionals or anyone else with a servant’s heart. You must set boundaries. If your body is telling you that you need to rest, you have to be able to say no. Of course, there are certain circumstances that are life and death, but for anything short of that, if you’re body’s telling you it’s time to cool it, I’d advise you just explain that you can’t help right now.
It’s going to feel at first like you’re letting the person down. They may even try to give you the guilt-trip themselves. You have to fight through that and remind yourself that you are just as valuable as they are. Remember that by going to help them when you’re already fatigued or burnt-out, you’re not really doing either of you any favors. You’re hurting yourself to “help” them. You’re also communicating to them that you’ll always help them – even if it means throwing yourself on a grenade – and consciously or not, people will take advantage of that.
Get Some Rest and Enjoy Your Mom if You Still Have One.
Sunday is Mother’s Day, and my mom will have my time that day. She deserves it. Yours probably does too. I know some of you out there may have lost your mothers. I feel a great deal of sympathy for you, and I hope that your Sunday will be filled with nothing but happy memories of your mother. Our parents aren’t with us forever, and none of them are perfect.
It’s no secret amongst those what know me that I’m not always the biggest fan of my family members – especially when they’re all gathered together at once. But I do appreciate that I have them, and I love them all. I’ve nearly lost my dad a few times now, and I don’t want to think about what life will be like when I finally do lose him, or my mom. We only get one life, folks. Use your days wisely – including the ones during which you just need to rest.