Here we are. 2016. How the heck did THAT happen? Are you with me on this? I haven’t yet spoken to someone who isn’t saying things like “gosh I’m so slammed already,” or “I had hoped to get some quiet time during the holiday lull to get organized and ready for 2016, but I couldn’t find the time!”
It appears no one had that old great holiday lull, perfect for downtime organizing and cleaning and all that. I didn’t either. Very sad… I did force one day of organizing into the last week of Dec and was glad for that, but the full four days I had planned? Not a chance.
One of the many podcasts I really enjoy (I am an addict) is Tim Ferriss’. In a recent one, he recapped a statement he had learned and adopted: “if you’re asked how you’re doing and your reply is ‘busy,’ then your life is out of control.” Zoinks! And this is a guy who is obviously “busy” in that he is very productive and doing very well. But busy obviously means something else to him than maybe it does to most of us?
Also, have you noticed how busy seems to be the new status symbol? So many of us martyring ourselves on the cross of overwork as if this somehow makes us either seem more valuable, to ourselves or to others, or more effective, even when there is zillions of pieces of research telling us the opposite is true. We have work cultures that exacerbate this when they don’t reflect the reality that most of us aren’t just pumping out widgets. This work is complex and requires nimble, adaptive, creative responses. A little hard to be creative, adaptive and nimble after a 12 hour work day though, dontcha think?
I do think it’s a complex issue though, especially for folks in our sector. There’s a passion for the work and it’s a real labor of love for so many. And we are tackling pressing societal issues that demand urgent and robust responses. So the challenge becomes more subtle: how to accept and support that passion and demand without burning out or simply missing out on the best learning and opportunities to achieve your mission?
My fabulous colleague, Kathy Burgoyne, Healthy Gen’s Senior Director of Applied Research (check out a bit of her shop’s amazing work here), offered an important distinction to me last year about the difference between devouring new info and digesting it. At Healthy Gen we have established an internal priority in 2016 to find ways to do more digesting, on our own and as a team, because it actually is critical to our work. We need to slow down periodically and create space for those reflective ahas. Personally, my best ideas come in the shower or the car or at times when I’m unable to otherwise “produce.” We need to slow down to speed up. And the research backs this up.
"When you look at human performance science, there’s such great evidence that working all of those hours really doesn’t get you where you want to go," says Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness as a critical element in this puzzle. How can we bring more kindness to ourselves and to our work? How can we soften enough to be vulnerable to accept that we are physically limited in our capacity to be productive, that our brain is a muscle that needs rest to perform for us, and our spirits need nurturing just as much as our muscles if we are going to shift the paradigm long term and achieve big hairy audacious goals like creating enduring health equity? We excel at directing compassion in our work towards the intended beneficiaries but why not ourselves? That old saw of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first is really true.
In a conversation about personal development with a friend, he said, “I wish for you that you would treat yourself with the same respect and dignity as you treat your daughter.” Well that just stopped me in my tracks! I am a big advocate for self care and I have learned much over the years about caring for myself and supporting others to take care of themselves. I believe it’s a life long journey though, to learn how to truly love yourself and be kind to yourself. His observation was so perfectly put; it just jumped me up to a new way of engaging with the topic.
If, as researcher Dr. Chan Hellman says, hope is a social gift because everyday we are helping or hindering those around us in identifying and moving towards their goals, then I think it starts as kindness in our own hearts first. Kindness that softens us and opens us. Sharon Salzberg writes beautifully about this in her column at On Being:
To be mindful, to let go more gracefully, to open all of our emotional landscape without judgment, to relinquish the corrosive and often prevalent narrative of self-condemnation, we are counting on kindness to support us.
And check out this great video from Sharon for a lovely brief meditation on lovingkindness:
I’m not making any crazy undoable New Year’s Resolutions this year that will just make me feel bad by February. Or January 10th. Ha. I’m choosing kindness instead. And guess what? Kindness is contagious! So maybe now you’ve got it too! Let’s start an epidemic!
Happy New Year!
P.S. Research on how acts of kindness spread surprisingly easily: just a few people can make a difference. Just don’t forget to include yourself as well, that’s my message!