November 12, 2020
By Laurie Fitzpatrick
It’s no coincidence that this was the year I decided to get serious about supporting myself. In a year that has tested executives’ resourcefulness and resolve at every turn, I find I am no exception.
It was on a weekly call with my board chair that he asked what I was doing to keep my energy up. “To stay sane…?” I thought to myself. When I deflected, he persisted. “Really – next time we talk I want you to tell me what you’re doing to replenish yourself. We have to make sure you stay energized.” He was coaching a number of nonprofit execs and had witnessed the toll 2020 was taking on these leaders.
This made me pause. I hadn’t really connected my wellbeing to my organization’s success. And it was true, in a year where business demands were ever-present, I’d allowed accountability for my work to disrupt accountability to myself. As much as I relied on yoga and keeping active, my workouts had become inconsistent. I meditated only in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t find time for creative pursuits, writing, reading books.
Most executives shoulder responsibility readily, but what about being accountable to ourselves? Some days it is so much easier to work late than to make sure the walk or run happens. It can be easier to turn on our smartphones in the morning to consume the headlines than to pause and do 5 minutes of meditation, easier to answer incoming emails – to be responsive to others – than it is to be responsive to ourselves and our own priorities.
I am reminded of the advice marketing and creative guru Seth Godin who says, “the best way to do the work we want to do is to have a practice, and to show up and do the work, regardless of how the world around us and we are feeling.”
We do this when we show up at work every day. Should it be so different when it comes to our personal or self-care goals? Godin tells us we need to put a practice in place – like brushing our teeth – reducing what he calls “cognitive load.” Taking should-I-or-shouldn’t-I discussions with ourselves simply off the table.
As Gestalt coaches, we often think about helping our clients “mobilize energy,” as it is common to get stuck for reasons outside our awareness. In the same way Seth Godin’s “cognitive load” of internal negotiation takes up too much of our precious energy, neglecting “wants and needs” at the expense of our “shoulds” can also keep us from being as productive and satisfied as we’d like to be.
How many of us put time on our calendars for ourselves first, giving our own priorities the weight they deserve?
If I were your coach, I might ask how working long hours, not delegating or taking time off serve you. Together, we might look at why you struggle to attend to yourself when your calendar gets overbooked, when there’s a board meeting next week or a grant deadline looming. Together, we might explore why it is, when work challenges build and we need sleep, exercise and down-time more than ever, we find ourselves instead, missing workouts, eating poorly, and staying up late, laptops in our beds.
As your coach, I can’t tell you what energizes you, but I might help you notice. I might help you decide what to let go in order to make space for the things that are life-affirming, energy-replenishing, and soul-filling. I can help you put strategies in place and be an accountability partner while you learn to be accountable to yourself by yourself.
As for me… I found that establishing a daily “morning pages” habit with the help of an online program jump-started my writing and helped me to clear out energy-sapping thoughts and organize my mind before the crush of the workday. Setting a yoga schedule, signing up in advance, and putting workouts on my work calendar allowed me to block off the time and put an end to negotiations with myself. Creating a soothing space of my own at home provides a quiet place for time alone.
I still have much to discover and habits to build, but these practices enliven my days and give me the satisfaction that I’ve attended to things that matter . . . to me and, it turns out, to my organization.
Laurie Fitzpatrick is President & CEO of the Gestalt International Study Center and a leadership coach who helps entrepreneurs, executives and nonprofit leaders reach their creative potential.