Yes, I know Valentine’s Day was yesterday, but my guess is that you spent the day thinking about how you could show your support and affection for the important people in your life. Today I want you to turn that inward because YOU should be one of those important people in your life. So today we’re talking about the five greatest Valentine’s Day gifts you can give…YOURSELF. That’s right, I intentionally left the word YOURSELF out of the title. Why? Because, I thought the people who most need to hear this episode probably wouldn’t bother listening if I did. Now that you know, if you’re worried that thinking about yourself in that way is selfish, remember if you don’t have what you need, you can’t effectively give others what they need.
Higher Education is a field that thrives on notions like sacrifice, servant leadership, and doing more with less. It’s all framed as being for the sake of the students. And let’s be honest, most of us were drawn to Higher Ed because we wanted to help others grow and thrive. There’s something magical about watching students develop and succeed throughout their time with us. That’s especially true if you’re working with students who come from a less privileged background. Their wins are our wins.
We know how big an impact a college degree has on a student’s future, so we feel driven to do everything possible to help them get there. But as much as you do for your students, you can easily get sucked into the idea that anything left undone will negatively impact those students and their future. Even more so, we believe it’s up to us to make sure students get all of those things. So, we push ourselves to do more, because we think about what students will be missing if we go home on time vs. staying another hour or so. This culture can easily consume you if you don’t have healthy boundaries.
And our Strengths follow our lead. As a coach, I’ve talked to countless supervisors whose talents are showing up as weaknesses because folks are so focused on this “for the students” mentality. I’ll run through a few common Talent Themes, but know that when you put yourself in this mindset you can easily push your talents into the weakness zone…
Achiever | If you’re used to doing and doing, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of adding more and more to your list. Before you even have a chance to assess whether you SHOULD be doing X, Y, or Z, you’ve already added it to your list. And when you look out at your team, you’re judging them on how much YOU could do instead of what might be a reasonable amount of work or the quality of that work based on THEIR talents. This need to achieve takes over and creates an unhealthy amount of work for you and your team.
Connectedness | Since everything is connected, it’s hard to view what you do or don’t do without seeing all the possible effects on the people around you. If you don’t add some new thing to your plate because you and your team are already maxed out, you see how that might negatively impact students. You see the lines of potential impact connecting these things more clearly than others, even if those lines don’t actually prove causation.
Empathy | You don’t just know the impact things might have on students you FEEL it. When a student comes to you with a problem, you might want to go home on time or know you can’t realistically add anything else to your plate, but you actually tap into their anxiety, fear, or anger and it pushes you into action. You too easily take on those problems and make them yours to solve, because you lock into those strong emotions and can’t let go.
Individualization | You tap into what each individual student needs. And because everyone needs something slightly different, you shy away from having consistent policies or procedures that might miss one of those differences. Those policies and procedures could decrease the time and energy you need to serve students. Instead, you focus on each student to the point that you’re constantly adding more and more things to your plate to account for all of those individual differences.
Relator | You know your students well. You relate to them on an individual basis. So, when you think about saying no or going home on time, you think about those students you know so well. It’s not about whether you and your team have the capacity to do X for random students. It’s about whether you can deprive Bobby or Janet of doing X. You know people personally, so these decisions become personal for you.
Responsibility | Since everything is for the student, folks with Responsibility end up widening your circle of responsibility beyond your own department because “but the students need ____ and who else will do it.” Instead of being responsible for a reasonable portion of the institutions mission, you add more and more to your plate because you believe you’re responsible for anything even remotely related to your area. And typically this means you’re taking on that responsibility for your team too. That’s more work all around.
Restorative | You’re already on the lookout for problems. When there’s a problem that involves a student or group of students who are struggling, you want to find what they’re missing and provide it. Unfortunately, there are endless problems student and your team are facing, so when you get stuck in this mode, you constantly add things onto you and your team’s plates.
Again, these are just a few examples of how your talents might be showing up because you’re caught up in this culture. When you believe that others are more important than you are, you’re motivated to do more and more, even if it’s negatively impacting you and your team’s wellbeing. And like I said earlier, if you aren’t getting what YOU need, you’re not going to be able to serve your students or your team very well. And if that statement causes you to think about all the students you ARE helping, I’d challenge you to think about the quality of that help and the impact it might be having on your team and the other folks in your life, like your partner, children, family, and friends.
But as promised, this episode is about the best gifts you can give YOURSELF. Because when YOU get what YOU need, you’re the best version of yourself. That means using your talents as Strengths instead of weaknesses. It means being able to be more creative and strategic when you solve problems. It means being more present and more patient with your team members and loved ones. It means being more effective and productive while being consistent with the values you hold dear. So, let’s jump in…
1 | GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
Or if you like, give yourself grace. You’re not perfect. You’re literally doing the best you can right now. You give everyone else in your life the benefit of the doubt, right? Sometimes people just don’t have the knowledge or skill set to get where they’d like to be. So, when a team member or student is struggling, you do your best to support them and help them navigate through it. Have that same compassion for yourself.
Let’s take you as a supervisor. How much training and support have you gotten in the past? How much are you getting now? If you’re like most supervisors in Higher Ed – or anywhere really, the answer is probably not much before and even less now. But why would you be an effective supervisor if you don’t know how? Why would you be one if you haven’t had the time to develop the skills you need to be effective? You wouldn’t. And yet, if you’re like most people, you’re holding yourself accountable for that. That’s not to say you’re completely failing as a supervisor, but all those things you wish you could do better have nothing to do with you not measuring up. It has to do with the folks who should have given you the knowledge and support you needed to be successful in that role.
As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” Objectively speaking, could everyone be doing better than they are right now? Sure. But when you look at the sum of everything that makes up you – so things like your training, background, the culture you work in, the stories you tell yourself, the talents you have, your habits, etc., you’re doing exactly as well as you could be doing. So, the next time you get down on yourself or wonder why you’re not doing better, give yourself the same compassion and grace you give the other folks in your life.
2 | ASSESS WHAT YOU’RE DOING
Now, I’ve done more in-depth articles about some of the things we’re going to talk about today. I recently did one on stopping to assess, so if this resonates with you, be sure to go back and read them.
You are on autopilot 95 – 99% of the time. That means all the things I mentioned before - your training, background, the culture you work in, the stories you tell yourself, the talents you have, your habits, etc., drive your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors every day. Now if those things are getting you where you want to go – aka you’re efficiently accomplishing your goals and you have the quality of life you want, then you’re all set. But if you’re not where you want to be, that means something in your autopilot system isn’t working for you. But the ONLY way to find out what it is, it to start paying attention and assessing what’s working and what isn’t.
And while I titled this gift “assess what you’re doing,” it really includes assessing how you’re thinking and feeling. Why? Because how you think and feel about the world drive your behaviors. You need to stop and ask yourself things like, “Is X getting me the results I want? If not, why am I doing X? Why does doing X make me feel ____?” This gives your conscious brain the opportunity to assess what needs to stay and what needs to change.
If you remember from previous episodes, your subconscious just runs the programs that are in your head. It’s powering your autopilot mode. It cannot decide, “Oh wait. I ALWAYS do ____ in this situation and never get good results. Let’s tweak that.” Only your conscious mind can do that. And I do want to add that your conscious mind deciding things need to change isn’t the only step to bringing about that change. I mean how many times have you already told yourself you need to change X, Y, or Z and it hasn’t happened? You’ll still have to make a plan to make sure this change gets into your autopilot programming. But again, when you’re get stuck going, going, and going, you’ll just keep getting the same results you’ve always gotten. If working harder the way you do now was going to work, you would have already gotten better results.
3 | SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Just like with assessing, I’ve done previous articles about what boundaries are and how to set them. So, if this gift resonates with you, be sure to check them out to dig a bit deeper.
In a nutshell, a boundary is simply what you need to be at your best. So, think about a time you were at your best. Why were you at your best in that situation? Did you get eight hours of sleep? Did you have the time and resources you needed? Did you take a walk to clear your head and that’s when you solved the problem or come up with the idea you needed? Did you feel energetic because you’d done yoga or worked out? Were you able to clearly communicate with the folks who were working with you?
I know that’s a ton of questions, but essentially it involves knowing what you need and then scheduling those things into your life, so you get them on a regular basis. Quite frankly, some of you might just find that first part challenging. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have no idea what they need because they’re so used to worrying about what everybody else needs. If that’s you, then simplify this gift and just start to pay attention to what positively impacts you and your performance. When do you feel at your best, stop and think about what contributed to that state.
And again, if you’re wondering what the value is to you being at your best, it’s because you will be more productive, innovative, positive, patient, and have better relationships when you are. People are so used to pushing and pushing themselves to serve others that you often don’t see how the quality of that service has diminished. I mean how many times has a staff member or student come into your office with a concern, and while you’re physically there nodding your head, you’re focused on other things or maybe even nothing at all because you’re so exhausted? I know it’s happened to me, and when I finally realize, “Oh no. I missed some/most of what they just said. I hope what comes out of my mouth next is something appropriate.” When you show up at your best, you can rest assured your students and your team are getting your best.
4 | INVEST IN YOUR DEVELOPMENT
Okay, so given how busy and overwhelmed you probably feel, it might seem odd to throw in professional development as a solid gift option. After all, if you had the time for all that, you wouldn’t have the problems you do, right?
Well first, I want to clarify that this development does not have to be professional in nature. Quite frankly, personal development will impact you professionally and vice versa. The point really is growth. And why is this so important to do ESPECIALLY when you feel like you’re not where you need to be? It’s because like I said earlier, you’re LITERALLY doing the best you can with your current beliefs, stories, knowledge, and skills. Your talents are your most powerful asset, and they are limited by all of those things.
That means if you want different outcomes, YOU have to be different. You need more information, better skills, and different beliefs or stories that can take you to the next level. In other words, you need to upgrade your identity so you can be the type of person who can do the things that you struggle with now. This you – the one who’s having trouble dealing with team member X, saying no, balancing work with your home responsibilities, whatever your current challenges are – is never going to get better results with your same way of thinking, feeling, and doing.
So, after you’ve taken some time to assess what isn’t working, you need to invest in yourself so you can BE someone who is comfortable talking to Bert about his performance. So, you can BE the person who tells a student or a team member, “no, we don’t have the resources to do that.” So, you can do a reasonable amount of quality work and then go home and still have energy for yourself and the other people in your life. So, you can BE the type of person who feels confident in their ability to navigate the things that are currently frustrating and stressful.
5 | DAILY SELF-CARE
Okay, you probably saw this one coming. I’ve had lots of episodes about self-care and that’s because it’s so crucial to your wellbeing and success. Quite frankly everything I’ve mentioned so far is self-care. Why? Because self-care isn’t about massages, yoga, and bubble baths. I mean sure, those are great, and you can do them as self-care. But really self-care is about investing in yourself and your wellbeing. That consists of identifying what’s going well and what isn’t – so assessing how things are going now and identifying problems and stressors – and then doing what you need to support yourself.
Audre Lorde said, “Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” You only have so much energy. And perhaps even more importantly, you only have so much of your highest quality energy. After you use that up, all you’ve got to work with is you meh energy. And the quality of your highest quality energy depends on how you’re replenishing yourself. Didn’t get much sleep and didn’t eat breakfast – your best energy isn’t going to be that great. The more opportunities you schedule for yourself on a daily basis to let your brain and body rest and replenish, the more productive you’ll be.
When you hit a wall, what’s your game plan? Do you just keep pushing through or do you stop and do something to replenish yourself? So many people just keep pushing because they think, “Ugh, I have so much to do. I’m exhausted, but if I stop and rest or do something to energize me, I’ll get even less done!” But that’s the exact opposite of what will happen. In fact, that recharge break might actually allow you to get it done faster. Now it’s possible you MAY do less, but the quality of what you do will be greater. And that includes the quality of the decisions you make. How much work might be avoided if you would have been well rested and had the opportunity to really think about whether you should do ___ or could identify an easier way to get it done?
Being run down isn’t a badge of honor. Putting yourself last doesn’t make the world a better place. You being at your best and contributing to the lives of the people around you are what makes the world a better place. When you’re able to use your talents as Strengths, that’s what makes your unique contribution to the world. But when you’re stressed and exhausted, your talents are much more likely to show up as weaknesses. For each student you helped while you were struggling through the day, think about how many more who’s life you could impact if you had the ability to show up with your most brilliant self? And think about how much brighter you’d show up for the non-work folks in your life.
Anything that allows you to reset physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, is self-care. Maybe that means literal rest. Maybe it means exercise. It could be more nature and less screen time. Sometimes the best way to reduce your stress and empower you to move forward is to invest in your development professionally or personally. Whatever you need to do to care for yourself is self-care.
Now I mentioned five gifts here. Even if you were going to give a gift to someone else, five might seem excessive. So, pick the one or two that most resonate with you, and do them…for yourself. There are a lot of complex problems and situations in the world. Working yourself to exhaustion doesn’t put you in a good position to help solve them. You spent yesterday showing the folks in your life how much you care about them. Spend today showing yourself how important you are. Give yourself a gift that will make you feel and be better for yourself and everyone else in your life.