When Caring Is Killing Us

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

At my doctor’s appointment this week, I notice my doctor looks worse than I do.

Doc: How are you?

Me: Exhausted. How are you?

Doc: Exhausted.

We give each other a knowing smile. But is that ok? Living exhausted will kill you. So, I push her, as she looks up my chart on the computer.

Me: So, what’s going on with you?

Doc: I haven’t had a vacation yet this year. I realized I have 3 hours a day where I am not working and that is just enough time to work out, shower, eat and wash a load of clothes. I love my job but this is not sustainable.

Me: What can you do about this?

Doc: I’m working on it.

Me: Me too. I’ve been focusing on how to work smarter. A big key for me is sharing the work and the responsibility for the workwith my very capable team.

If you are exhausted too, do yourself a favor right now and keep reading.

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The practice of adaptive leadership* requires us to go up to the balcony. We need to drag ourselves up the stairs to look over our own lives, then take concrete steps to DO something.

Here are the next steps I’m making space for in my own life:

  • Confidants: (beyond your partner/spouse): get a coach, spiritual guide, therapist, peer group to talk with outside the people you work with every day. Do this now.
  • Sanctuaries: make time in your life to create, exercise, garden, read, worship, pray, study… whatever it is that renews your soul. Get disciplined about this. Do this tomorrow.
  • Learn: get a continuing ed plan cooking. What do you want to learn? Get out of the conference world and into more transformative learning. Go on a pilgrimage by digging deeply into something you love. It doesn’t have to be church related. Do this as often as you can.
  • Gratitude: practice optimism and realism with a grateful heart. Hold these together no matter what. Do this every day.

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My doctor is amazing. That is her problem. She is really good at her job and the job is exponentially growing. Exhaustion from answering your call is still exhaustion.

As my friend and partner in ministry, Bishop Mike Rinehart, always says, “when you are burning the candle at both ends, ask yourself who’s holding the match?”

Compassion fatigue is real, and it is not just related to natural disasters. It is part of the lives of people who serve others 24-7. We need a personal compassion plan to love ourselves too.

*The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow

1 reply
  1. Daniel Zorn
    Daniel Zorn says:

    Reading this post, I immediately was reminded of discussions in my masters program for organizational leadership; as well as Carmen Berry’s (1988) When Helping You Is Hurting Me: Escaping the Messiah Trap. Thank you.

    Reply

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