When I was growing up in my career, I had an amazing mentor who truly was a woman on fire - an authoritative and compassionate leader who had been through and survived some amazing situations. She was decisive, fun and bigger than I ever imagined I could be. And I wanted to be just like her.
The phrase she used regularly, Make It Happen, is one that became part of my vocabulary very quickly. It was how I would describe myself to new supervisors - tell me what you want done and I'll make it happen - and I found myself using it as a call to arms for my teams over the years.
And then…I sat still just long enough to figure out I was exhausted. And burnt out. I had built a life out of making things happen for others at the expense of my own mental and physical health. Honestly, the undoing of it all is still a work in progress.
There are so many ways any of us can find ourselves in a similar situation - pursuing success, seeking approval, proving to others (or ourselves) that we can do or deserve a certain something. We have bills to pay. We have "dues" to pay. We have dreams, aspirations and expectations of life. We have obligations and responsibilities.
And there is nothing wrong with any of those as long as you remember to take care of You along the way, too. And that was my biggest mistake - not considering the importance of boundaries as I was making all the things happen. I didn't trust myself enough to say no when it was uncomfortable or hard even when it was the right thing to do for me.
One of the tools I have learned in recent years that has helped me take better care of myself in these situations is non-negotiables. The concept isn't hard, but the implementation can be a real challenge, especially for those of us programmed to serve and care for others. (And I would argue that is the majority of women!)
The stuff that you will do regardless of what else is going on in life or business is your collection of non-negotiables. We all have the non-negotiables for our outward life - go to work, feed the kids and the dog, pay the bills, etc. But what about the stuff you do to take care of you? Think about your relationships, your work schedule, the foods you will and won't eat, when you go to bed. The important thing is it doesn't matter what else is going on, these items are the priority.
I will dedicate one day per week to rest and play - no business work at all.
I will not complain about my spouse/parent/child/significant other in public or to others.
I will spend at least thirty minutes twice a day exercising and playing with my dog.
I will read food labels and avoid the foods to which I am allergic.
These can be as basic or as elaborate as you and your personal situation need. There are no right or wrong non-negotiables…and you decide when they need to be changed. Ultimately, this is accountability for yourself.
(And if you want to take this to another level, consider adding "so that" at the end of the sentence and include the why, e.g. I will read food labels and avoid foods to which I am allergic so that I feel good, sleep well, and can enjoy time with my family and friends without running to the bathroom all the time.)
But even more importantly, thinking through your non-negotiables (and writing them down!) prepares you for those times when an individual or situation asks you to do something in opposition to those boundaries. Because those times will come. Guaranteed.
And when pressed, you will know your boundaries and you can decide how best to enforce them or when to relax them without guilt or shame. And that, my lovely Friend, is self-care!
Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip...
You can spend so much time with non-negotiables but here's a quick starter tip…and one that I go back to over and over.
Find a quiet space where you can sit and think for a few minutes. Grab your favorite cup of steaming comfort, a pen and some paper for notes. (Writing things down makes them tangible and a lot easier to remember!)
Spend a couple minutes pondering life, your family, your work, your health…get a good clear picture of your place in all of it.
And then look at yourself. Listen to what your body, your heart and your intuition are telling you.
What is the one change you can make in your daily routine that will serve your physical, emotional and mental health the most?
Perhaps it's more sleep. Or thirty minutes of alone time a day. Maybe eating a meal out of the house a couple times a week would serve you the best. Or turning off the daily news. Limiting your time on social media. Maybe a hug every day from/for your loved ones.
As you think through all of the different things, there will be one that speaks to you. Write that one down on your paper. And that, potentially, becomes a non-negotiable for you.
Maybe just for a week or maybe for years to come.