An easy step to care for yourself amid tough times

Driving to work this morning, all I heard on the radio was bad news. This doesn’t help matters: for many of us, the work we do already can feel so uphill. What are we to do? Running faster and harder isn’t the answer. Instead, I urge you to find ways to take good care of yourself – and here is an easy step you can start today. I decided to write about this topic because it has become a common theme wherever I go. In meetings, on phone calls, and in individual conversations, I hear among people a deep yearning for a greater sense of grounding – indeed, for a certain kind of space in our lives – all-the-while we push to be “tough-minded” about strategy, tactics, fundraising and the like.

Just yesterday I was on a call with a group of CEOs where this yearning made itself known. For many of us, as for those on the call, even though our work is about community, it can leave us feeling alone – as if we are out there on a limb all by ourselves. We face decisions about what to focus on, who to partner with, what metrics to set, whether to continue with a favorite program that may not be producing the result that we, or the community itself, need.

Where do we turn? To whom do we turn? At issue is whether each of us will see and hear ourselves and respond in kind.

Today, I want to focus on just one aspect of this – and it has to do with the notion of the “space” we create in our lives. Just what kind of space do we need to feel effective, rejuvenated, and to sustain our efforts? What conditions must shape it? What should we choose to talk about within it?

There is a dilemma at work for so many of us in this regard, a tension that we find hard to resolve – or, at the very least, address effectively. The more pressure we feel, the longer we make our to-do lists; the number of emails and phone calls requiring our attention grows; we lurch from one meeting to the next, all in hopes that somehow we will find a way to get everything in order, make everything right, alleviate ourselves from the constant sense of pressure.

And, yes, I myself feel this pressure to do more, to be more effective, and to lead better, among other things. I, too, struggle with this.

But continuing down the well-worn path will not yield relief. This we must acknowledge. This we must know. This we must come to terms with. This is especially true as the economy only continues to sputter along, fundraising dollars remain scarce, and the need to find the right mix of talent to fulfill the obligations we make stares us squarely in the face.

So, today, I urge you to create a certain kind of space in your life:

1.    Create space where you can spend time with people you trust, who intuitively understand your pressures and tensions – and often feel them themselves;

2.    Be willing to talk about what you are facing and how you are feeling about it – don’t worry about how you look, or sound, or that you don’t have a solution. Just give yourself permission to open up;

3.    Listen carefully to others as they talk, rather than thinking about what you want to say next. Sometimes it is only when we hear others speak that we can come to discover something about ourselves;

4.    Keep coming back to the space – make a commitment to yourself and others that you will return, even on a regular basis, so that you know that you will not be alone and that there will always be others to support you and for you to support.

You may read this and think it sounds too therapeutic – okay, I get that. But that’s not my main frame here. Rather, what I am suggesting is something so fundamental to being alive, being human, about having feelings and doubts, about the need we each have for each other.

The nuclear mess in Japan, the federal budget stalemate, cuts in social services, and living in tough times to create change – these and other things make up our context. I don’t want any of us to back away from creating the kind of society we want; no, I want each of us to remain engaged, and to fight hard and long for change.

To do that, and to keep at it, we will need each other. Please, make the space to find others and to nourish and replenish yourself.