I attend a class through University of Connecticut Continuing Studies. It is part of The Purpose Project, and curriculum aimed at the personal and professional growth of young people in the nonprofit sector. The class is a very eclectic mix of twenty-somethings who are trying to navigate our way through the economic and political climates of 2011, in an effort to align our personal purpose with our life's work.
Last night our guest was Gloria McAdam, the CEO of Food Share. She spoke on a number of topics from finding the root cause of a problem versus addressing the symptoms, she spoke about how Food Share's mission goes beyond feeding people, to addressing the root of the cause, which becomes to end hunger. What also came up in the conversation was keeping a balance for herself, for addressing and recognizing burn out. This is the part of the discussion I would like to share.
When asked about sustaining herself through such a stressful line of work in a a position of such high level responsibility, she paused and thought for a second. She had some recommendations for the group. The following is a mixture of her direct words and my interpretations of her recommendations:
- Burn-out happens in cycles. So really what you have to do is be able to recognize it and learn to bring yourself back from it. Self awareness is the first step.
- Keep a gratitude list. At the end of the day, or the end of the week, write out what you are grateful for, what has happened this past week to acknowledge the good you have done, and the good you have seen in the world that week.
-It is important to stay connected to the cause. I make an effort to go down at least once a month to one of the food pantries and work with them for a few hours to stay connected. I will call a driver and tell them to call me if their coworker can't make the ride. I go and we chat, and I learn things there that I never would otherwise.
-Let people touch you with their stories. You have to let yourself be reminded of the good outcomes that are rooted in your efforts. Visit your programs, or talk to the people you are serving. Have a genuine interest in their stories, connect.
- Tell stories about your successes. Talk to people about the work you do as (a cargiver) or as a direct care worker. Share the stories that you can share, and hear the respect that people have for you for doing it. It is okay to bask in that a little bit sometimes, because this is hard work and it can swallow you whole if you let it.
All in all, Gloria McAdam is an intriguing and intelligent woman, who has a lot of wisdom about doing good work while keeping a balance for yourself. She confirmed for me that self care is an active process, a continuous necessity if you want to sustain a career in any type of care giving role.
What types of self care tips do you have? How do you manage burn out, or vicarious traumatization from the work that you do?