We are regularly reminded on airplanes, “in the event of an emergency, put on your own oxygen mask first before you help others”. For those of us who define our own value by the quality of what we give to others, putting ourselves first can feel downright criminal. As a recovering self-sacrificer myself, I have been working for years to slowly and systematically build a practice for resourcing myself first that allows me to be more efficient, helpful and beneficial leader in all of my professional relationships.
What is radical about resourcing yourself first? Radical self-resourcing demands that you relentlessly do what it takes to ensure that you are showing up at your best – be it rested, calm, creative, flexible, brave – in order to be the best leader you can be in every situation. This can feel radical because it requires not only an understanding of what you actually need to be at your best, but that you step up and take responsibility for your time and your needs. This means that you need to stop blaming the structures and systems (ie. bosses, partners, reports, colleagues) that may seem like the source of your over-extension, and instead regularly take the time to get clear about what you need and move into action to meet those needs first.
In the corporate world, chronic self-sacrifice shows up as burnout. Burnout is costly, both to employees and employers. Not to mention that burned out employees are less productive, less collaborative and tend to make less than optimal decisions. Plus the resentment that tends to surface with burnout is toxic in the work environment.
For years when I would hear staff mention the words “I’m overwhelmed” -a clear flag for imbalance- I would immediately drill in on the choices they were making, knowing that it was only a matter of time that steam rolling their own needs took a larger toll on the company. I would ask: “With limited time and resources, what matters most now? What are you saying yes to and what can you let go of? Who are you willing to disappoint and how will you let them know?
At a deep level, prioritizing ourselves in the face of demanding full schedules and very real concerns both inside and outside the workplace requires confronting long-held beliefs and scripts that keep us locked in old patterns of behavior. These patterns keep us running from task to task with a gas tank nearly on empty, gasping at the end of the day, often with a long simmering resentment and the nagging feeling we’re showing up as increasingly diminished versions of ourselves.