I’ve been wrestling with the term of “self-care” since my YNPN fellowship, trying to broaden this care conversation from “self” to “collective” and from “independent” to “interdependent”. What I’ve learned: caring for myself – especially as I care for others – is absolutely vital. And, I can’t go it alone.
If I know one thing deep in the core of my being, it’s the miracle and importance of interdependence. Growing up in a diverse community where folks shared life’s ups and downs together, I became aware that I was not alone in facing challenges – whatever they may be. No matter what I’m struggling with, there are folks out there who can relate and/or support me, and there’s much I can do to identify and reach out to them. That truth has helped me through many difficult moments, and I try to convey it with others who might be struggling.
For me, so many things comes back to relationships: whether it’s developing leaders, building projects and campaigns, and making meaning in the world. My self-care and my effectiveness as a leader have been absolutely dependent on relationships with others: with mentors, caretakers, colleagues, and loved ones. My relationships hold me accountable to my goals, and support me when I have trouble caring for myself.
Accountability Partners Though I’m aware of my needs and goals, I’m more likely to take action and build positive habits when I’m not “going it alone”. That’s especially true if I’m struggling with discouraging thoughts, like “I’m too busy for self care” (oh, the irony!) or “I feel so overwhelmed with ________________.” It helps to have folks beyond my own internal dialogue who can reinforce positive thinking, remind me of my commitments and the values they’re built on, and encourage me to draw on my resources and abilities to face challenging situations.
Most of my relationships happen and evolve informally, but some have been more intentional and structured. I consider those folks accountability partners. Here are a few examples:
- Ellen and I met through a training program for activists and community organizers. We found several mutual interests, including healing the emotional wounds of injustice. In recent years, we’ve coached each other on issues ranging from personal and professional development to financial management.
- My college roommate Michelle and I served as Peer Career Advisors together: we both sought out opportunities to develop our own and others’ leadership. Throughout our careers, we’ve returned to that peer counseling model – strategizing about challenging work scenarios, prepping one another for interviews, and more.
- Katy and I were paired up for an exercise at a spiritual retreat, and have stayed in touch through a structured prayer practice. To use secular language: these conversations help us interrupt the hecticness of our day-to-day lives, refocus on our deepest values and intentions, and think more abundantly about what’s positive and possible in our lives, and in the wider world.
Three things that have made these accountability partnerships successful:
1. Create some kind of structure, and vary / adopt it as needed. I have mixed feelings about structuring my life: for example, I prefer setting my own varied work hours over keeping a rigid, standardized work schedule. With accountability partners, though, I’ve found that structure and regularity take our peer support to a new level. Structuring our time – flexibly so – also helps me stay connected with accountability partners across time zones and overlapping schedules.
For example, Katy and I have brief, structured check-in calls using the same format, even timing ourselves if needed. We each respond to the same basic question/s about how we’re doing and what we’re noticing in our lives, and reflect back what we’ve heard from each other. This helps us “go deep” quickly and make the most our limited time together.
Meanwhile, Ellen and I carve out chunks of time to connect, and then assess what kind of peer support we need most in that moment: We might want to chat most of the time, taking turns sharing updates or asking for feedback. Or we might want a quiet “work session” in which we tackle particular tasks side by side (whether in person or via video chat). Or if we’re in need of a particular self care activity and/or some time alone, we adjust our plan and make that a priority.
2. Connect with people both within and beyond your “usual circles.” Much of my professional and personal network is in the non-profit sector, which is wonderful for finding allies and mentors who understand what those leaders and organizations do day-to-day. At the same time, I’m glad to be connected to folks like Michelle, who’s worked almost entirely in for-profit settings.
Our interchange helps me think bigger than my own current context: about the issues that leaders face across industries and sectors, and about strategies and solutions for common challenges that translate into a variety of work settings.
Connecting ongoingly with someone outside the nonprofit world has also helped me understand the particularities of the sector: for example, the unique challenges nonprofits face in building and sustaining resilient leaders and organizations.
3. Interrupt “normal” working culture and share self care space with each other. One of my mentors, Paul, and I used to have walking meetings in a quiet hillside park. After a while, those walks became part of my muscle memory. As Paul and I talked and walked, my mind would slow down, and I’d gradually become present to the beautiful nature around me.
One time – I was running an intense political campaign, no doubt neglecting my self-care in the process – we paused atop the hill, overlooking the San Francisco Bay. I marveled at the contrast between the speed of the noisy cars and trucks and ships below, and that of the peaceful birds and trees right around us. Seeing that the world would continue moving along without me as I took some time to breathe in nature and sort my thoughts was a powerful, needed reminder that self care was not only needed, but possible within the intense pace of my work life.
Moving forward YNPN is built on a sense of mutuality: creating a movement with multiple avenues for people – in this case, young social change leaders – to both give and receive support, and witness each other’s growth and transformation. If you’re looking for an accountability partner, your local YNPN chapter – or even national resources, like the YNPN conference or LaunchPad program might have what you’re looking for. Or, think of relationships you already have in your life – with friends, relatives, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, or other community members. How you might more formally, intentionally leverage those relationships for your mutual benefit? What kind of personal or professional development goals could you move toward with support from others (while offering, in turn, the support they may need)? What kind of self care – and moreover, community care – is possible when we don’t “go it alone”?
Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, a former YNPN national fellow, is a social change practitioner whose work has included ministry, community organizing, public speaking, writing, coaching, teaching/training, fundraising, program management, and more. Betty Jeanne drives social change through capacity building and by developing effective, sustainable leaders of all ages, with the goal of activating people, organizations and communities in pursuit of the common good. More on her work can be found on LinkedIn and in a recent interview by her seminary.
In seeking to bring forth your best self to your work, you must create and prioritize space and time to recharge through intentional, quality self-care. This is fundamental to us helping our organizations meet their goals. While the application of self-care varies from person to person, I hope that below you might find some helpful tips to evaluate, practice, and prioritize self-care to guide you in enhancing your practice of this critical art of sustainability.
Determine you current priorities in life, and evaluate your need for change. Time is a resource we’ll never get back; so, think critically about how you are spending your time. What percentage of your time do you spend on relationships with family and friends? How much time do you devote to your spirituality, traditions, culture, customs, and intellectual pursuits? How much time are you devoting towards work (think about the time beyond work hours you spend working on assignments or thinking about work)? What, if any, time do you devote towards you?
Map out, table, or chart the distribution of your time. Then, evaluate the areas where you’d like to increase your time spent and the areas you’d like to devote less time towards. Acknowledging this is the first step towards selecting self-care practices that truly sustain you.
Know your self-care love language. I’ve recently become introduced to love languages (feel free to take the test: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/). While love languages focus primarily on romantic partnerships, it is helpful to consider the relationships we pursue with ourselves similarly. Test yourself, stop to think about the times you feel you’ve treated yourself well, and identify characteristics about those moments that you can replicate in your regular practice of self-care.
Was it quality time with friends or nature? How about the physical touch of a masseuse? And who doesn’t enjoy gifting themselves gifts through a little retail therapy from time to time? Find out what makes you feel loved and supported, and participate regularly in those acts. Once you understand more about the type of characteristics you respond well to, branch out to new practices of self-care that share some of those characteristics.
Mark your schedule for self-care. Treat self-care like a weekly one-on-one check-in with yourself, and do not skip out on it. It is as important as all the other, countless meetings you may find yourself in throughout the week. Additionally, most of our nonprofit sector jobs have their peaks and valleys when it comes to workload. When you can anticipate the high-intensity peak times, make sure you schedule in some necessary self-care time before, during, and after these occasions.
CC image courtesy of AlisaRyan via Flicker
Group-care with others. I wrote about this in a previous blog for the Black Youth Project. You are not alone in this work. Building strong relationships is key to the work and your sustainability within it. The strongest act of self-care is opening yourself up to others and being transparent—be it with a group of friends, family, or a professional.
It doesn’t only take a village to get you from child to adult, but it also takes a village to sustain you. Group-care means that you are truly and actively sustaining yourself in the work; and, by engaging in group-care practices, you build up a wall of protection for challenging times that you alone cannot handle. Building people power makes for your own well-being. Talk to people, share your concerns and hopes with confidants, and speak truth to those around you that you can trust.
Reduce negative coping strategies. Self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all practice, so some things that may be negative coping strategies for you might be positive or neutral for others. Simply think about your goals in self-care, and if a certain activity makes it more difficult for you to reach them, consider limiting the time you spend participating in it. Through my experience as a program manager of a national youth leadership development non-profit program, my effectiveness in my role increases depending on the quality of self-care I practice on a regular basis. I encourage you to continue the practices of self-care that work for you, try new ones, and firmly make self-care a priority in your life. In doing so, the work will move forward more fluidly.
Marion Andrew Humphrey, Jr. (@humphreymarion) currently serves as the Fellowship Program Manager at Young People For (YP4), a program with People For the American Way Foundation. Each year, YP4 supports 150 diverse young people across the country to effect sustainable social change in their communities. Andrew resides in Washington, DC, hails from Little Rock, AR, and is a 2010 graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina. After graduation, Andrew moved to Beijing, China and worked as a college counselor and SAT prep coach for Chinese natives seeking admission into the U.S. college system. In 2012, Andrew returned to North Carolina as a Deputy Field Organizer for Organizing for America, through which he continued his advocacy for inclusive, progressive policies, and institutions that honor the diversity and autonomy of our nation’s communities. He spends his time playing tennis, singing oldies at karaoke, and organizing with young community members in DC’s chapter of BYP100.
I'm not here to convince you why self-care is important.
Because I think you already know. You know that if you don't take care of yourself, then you won't be able to help anyone else. Put your flight mask on first, and then help others. It's just that simple.
You also know that as advocates and do-gooders, we are the worst culprits of not taking care of ourselves. We slap on that “martyr” sticker and give everything we have to others even when it feels like we have nothing left to give. And then, fatigue and burnout ensue.
So, we're not going to spend any more time on the why.
Rather, I am much more interested in talking about what actually makes it so hard to practice that self-care all the time.
You know you should take a break, set a boundary, go to sleep earlier, get to that yoga class, or eat something that isn't a carb. Your head knows it.
But sometimes it feels like there is about 10,000 miles between what you know you should do and what you actually feel capable of doing.
This is what I like to call the "Self-Care Double Bind," and it's a sneaky little trickster.
The Self-Care Double Bind is the running feedback loop that tells you to "take care of yourself" in x, y, or z ways, and then makes you feel terrible and guilty when you aren't able to do it.
For example, here's a narrative that I hear from clients pretty frequently:
"I really should get to that meditation class today. I know that it will make me feel calm and centered. Today is busy but I have to put myself first, right?! Right!”
Cut to later in the day:
"I didn't get to the class. I must not be trying hard enough to take care of myself. It’s my own fault that I feel so exhausted and scattered."
Now, your narrative might not sound exactly like that one, but I bet that a lot of you have similar rolling thoughts, keeping you feeling like some kind of failure, or guilty for not "doing something right” or "being enough" in some way.
That is the Double Bind. And it is anything but a true expression of compassion.
Especially right now, as the events in Baltimore are unfolding and crowds are rightfully taking to the streets, the last thing any activist needs is to question their commitment to their own livelihood. Our drive to stay alive is, in fact, sometimes the only thing we have.
So, what would it look like if you pulled yourself out from that tangled Double Bind?
Well, I like to call that process: self-love.
If "self-care" is your nagging neighbor who is always ready to pounce with judgment, then self-love is your sweet dog who thinks you are the best person in the world know matter what.
Self-love is the lifelong journey that all of us are on.
With every decision you make, every relationship you start or end, even with every fight with a co-worker or with your mom, you are learning something new about what does or doesn't work for you.
And that process—that sticky, gooey, sometimes yummy process—of learning how to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t, is self-love. And, it’s the key to feeling the alignment and contentment that we all crave.
Self-love might mean taking that long hot bath or showing up at that meditation class. But, it could also mean forgoing both of those things when what you really want to do is misbehave a bit or throw a tantrum for a few minutes. Self-love will remind you that it's all okay.
So as a starting point for getting untangled from that self-care bind, I invite you to ask yourself the following question:
What do I need in this moment?
Whatever the answer, accept it and follow it.
Following through on your core instincts and desires is what leads to a deeper understanding of yourself, and how to find your way back to that center at any moment.
And when you find yourself getting down on yourself, the broken-record of shame starts playing, or you’re heading towards burnout, tune in and ask “what do I need in this moment?”
Your mind, body, and soul will all thank you.
Alicia Jay is a certified transformational coach and the principal of Rabble Up (www.rabbleup.com), a coaching practice designed to help emerging leaders in the social change sector find sustainability and alignment in their careers and lives. She is also the Managing Director of Make It Work, a national campaign promoting economic security for women and families. With a background in leadership development, philanthropy, and gender justice, she has a deep understanding of how being an activist on behalf of others doesn’t always translate to advocating for your own needs, as well. She is out to change that.
We came to this work with a simple goal in mind: create social change.
Unfortunately, social change is not easy to bring about. The hours are long, the pay is little, and some days it can feel like time, energy and passion are being wasted. So we push ourselves further - staying later, working weekends, and never slowing down. After all the cause is noble, and sleep is a luxury we can’t afford. But sooner or later our “honorable” self-sacrifice catches up to us and we are left feeling exhausted and burnt-out.
But this is not the way it is meant to be! Somewhere between young idealistic intern and martyr for the cause we lost sight of a very important thing, self-care. Self-care is intentionally taking time to attend to our physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs. Despite popular belief, it isn’t selfish to make our own needs a priority. In fact it makes us better at our work! Like any flight attendant would tell you, you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can think about helping someone else.
As simple as caring for ourselves sounds (I mean, who could know our needs better?), it is a task that eludes many of us. The concept is great, but how to we translate it into practice? After all, the emails won’t stop just because we decide to go to a yoga class.
CC Image Courtesy of Mike Rastiello via Flickr
It begins with intentionality. We have to be aware of our needs and ready to implement new strategies to meet those needs on a consistent basis. And it can start small. Perhaps with a commitment to go the gym 3 times a week, not check your emails on the weekend, or go to bed at a decent time each night (and actually sleep, not lay in bed and browse Pinterest). It will look different for each person but making a commitment to start is an important first step.
And remember self-care is a process. You won’t get it right all the time and that is ok! There will be times when it comes easy and times when it is hard. Have grace with yourself and stay devoted to finding balance.
And that is exactly what we at YNPN are committing to this May. Together we will explore what it means to practice self-care and provide practical tips to help keep your work and life in balance. And we want to hear from you! Follow the conversation at #npbalance and let us know how you make self-care a priority. The ultimate goal is still social change - we just have to start with ourselves to achieve it!
The YNPN National Board recently gathered in New York to spend a few days thinking big and going deep on our vision for the network. In this post, board member Kim Walker discusses insights from the retreat on YNPN's diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
How do you create success? Not revenue or profits - the success that we crave as nonprofit leaders. The success that means we've solved a problem, improved lives, created a better world?
Fortunately, I've gotten to work on a social issue on which we've made significant progress: homelessness. Despite the recession and rising housing costs, homelessness is decreasing: there were 11% fewer homeless people in 2014 than there were in 2007 (more data here). Here's what I've learned about success from my day job:
1. You need big goals. The federal government has set a timeline for ending - that's right, ending - homelessness, which you can read more about here. And you know what? It's working (see above).
2. You need good partners. Much of the progress we've made on homelessness can be credited to partnerships and new collaborations between Administration staff, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the other agencies that participate in the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).
3. You need to create the right environment. The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, passed in 2009, requires communities to adopt proven best practices in ending homelessness, and also shifted the field away from focusing on activities to measuring our progress using data and outcomes.
4. You need to measure your performance. See above. Outcomes! Data! Way important. Homelessness providers use a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to keep track of their progress, and they report that data to HUD and to Congress each year, who holds them accountable for it.
5. You need to be open to change. As a current student of organization development and a consultant, I love change. But whether you love it or not, it's going to happen. Success means that you can embrace it, roll with it, and respect it. In homelessness that means being willing to adapt new evidence-base practices, work with new partners, and collect data in new ways.
1. A big goal: to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable YNPN and social sector. No big, right? Everyone already loves diversity, of all kinds; understands what these concepts mean; believes in inclusivity; and is working toward equity.Well...no, unfortunately not. But that's why this is such a great BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) - because we're not there yet. But we know that we can be.
Kim Walker is a devoted non-profiteer currently living in Ann Arbor, MI. In her professional life, she serves as a Senior Program Manager at CSH, a national non-profit organization devoted to housing society’s most vulnerable individuals, including people experiencing homelessness. Kim’s expertise lies in providing training and technical assistance on best practices related to ending homelessness and developing excellent supportive housing to communities across the country. Prior to her work at CSH, she served in a similar role at the National Alliance to End Homelessness for four years. She also served as an AmeriCorps member in Philadelphia. She received her Master’s of Urban Planning from UCLA in 2009 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Organization Development at Bowling Green State University. She’s a proud alum of the College of William & Mary and a native of the amazing Cleveland, OH.
To help our members find opportunities to more strategically network, we’ll occasionally be featuring organizations that we think are doing interesting work that would be of interest to YNPN members. This week, we're introducing you to FoodCorps, which works within local communities to connect kids to healthy food in schools.
We spoke with Tiffany McClain, FoodCorps Recruitment Manager, to learn a bit more about their mission and ways YNPN members can connect and collaborate.
You were founded in 2011. Can you tell us a bit more about the mission of your organization, and how you achieve that?
Together with communities, FoodCorps serves to connect kids to healthy food in school. We are a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. Through our partnership with AmeriCorps, we recruit, train and place emerging leaders into limited-resource schools for a year of service implementing our three-ingredient recipe for healthy kids. During their year of service, members engage in the community and advance our mission by providing:
- Knowledge: food and nutrition education that gives kids the information they need to make smart choices
- Engagement: hands-on activities like gardening and cooking that foster skills and pride around healthy food
- Access: lunch trays filled with nutritious meals from local farms
In what ways do you see FoodCorps having a lasting, sustainable impact on the local communities you're working in?
As a result of the efforts and achievements of our service members, many schools and nonprofits are recognizing the value of having a full-time school garden coordinator or educator on staff and are securing funding to fill those roles, often hiring our alums!
What energizes individuals to participate with FoodCorps, and why might others seek to connect with you?
- We are planting seeds that will bloom a healthier generation of children who know what healthy food is, how it grows, how to prepare it, and have access to it every day.
- We are building an impressive national network of emerging professionals who have a passion for food, farming public health, nutrition, and education, tied together by their desire to improve the food chain.
- We eat really good food! (good for you, the environment, and your taste buds!)
Alright, we're sold -- we love good food too! How can YNPN members who are interested further get involved with FoodCorps? What are some ways we might collaborate and help more kids get access to healthy food in schools?
A local YNPN chapter might be interested in hearing about farm-to-school/food systems/food justice work from our allies via presentation at a chapter meeting.
YNPN could connect with our alums or outgoing service members in a particular region as a resource for expanding their professional networks post-FoodCorps.
To learn more about FoodCorps and potential collaborations, please contact Tiffany McClain at email@example.com. You can also find them online at their: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram.
With the start of a new year, everyone's talking about "change." Individuals set personal resolutions for change, and many organizations start applying change with new strategic plans, goals, and even new hires. As a leader, how you react to change is a key component of any long-term project or organization success. Below, YNPN Birmingham Board Chair Vanessa Stevens shares key tools and lessons she learned through participation in the AmEx Leadership Series about embracing change leadership.
As young nonprofit professionals, we face many changes at the beginning of our careers. We may move for a new job, decide to go to graduate school, or face organizational challenges like a new boss or a major new role within our organization. Often there is that bittersweet emotion with change--that energy and anticipation mixed with some hesitation and anxiety. As emerging leaders at our organizations and YNPN chapters, we must also continue to adapt to necessary changes to overcome the many challenges the nonprofit sector faces.
At the American Express Leadership Academy, I learned how important it is to understand one's own change style and what people need from a leader during change. All of the Academy participants completed an assessment called the Change Style Indicator that placed everyone along a spectrum from Conserver to Pragmatist to Originator. Each of these styles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. For example:
- A Conserver gets things done on schedule and respects the rules yet may be perceived as rigid, discouraging of innovation, and delaying action by overly reflecting.
- An Originator understands complex problems, provides future-oriented insights, and is risk-oriented, yet to others may appear impulsive and not understand how to actually get things done.
- A Pragmatist fall in the middle. They can organize ideas into action plans, build cooperation, and are flexible and adaptive. They may seem indecisive, compromising, and trying to please too many people.
Because of the different strengths and pitfalls of each change preference, it is valuable to build teams with individuals across the spectrum. Moreover, understanding one's own tendencies helps you appreciate what others bring to the table, adapt your style to what may be necessary for the particular decision at hand, and understand why you may be frustrating the Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator at your organization (or likewise why they may be frustrating you).
As leaders, we not only need to understand our own change style, but also what change is and how to lead change successfully. At the Academy, the trainers emphasized the distinction between change and transition. Change is the beginning of something new, and it is experienced externally whereas transition is the ending and letting go that we experience internally. It is important to remember that change begins with an ending. Many people may struggle with this ending by demonstrating signs of grief, such as anger, denial, and disorientation.
Leaders must guide others through the ending towards a point where they begin to gain clarity and accept and manage change. If a leader provides no vision, then others are confused. If people feel they lack the skills to adapt to the change, they experience anxiety. Similarly, if they feel they lack the resources, they will be frustrated. Through clear communication and composure, a leader can ensure that an organization has vision, skills, incentives, resources, and a plan for action to lead change. Whether you are leading a new chapter like YNPN Birmingham, or an established chapter facing critical points in your growth, decision-making and change are constant parts of your work. Take steps to increase your own self-awareness of what you experience internally when facing a decision or going through a change and what perception others may have of you. Likewise, pay closer attention to what others might experience as a result of your decision and ensure they have the necessary tools to adapt to the change. As we learn to embrace change leadership, we hopefully will see less conflict, more innovation, and increased effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out our work and meeting our missions.
Vanessa Stevens is the Community Engagement & Education Program Coordinator at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit dedicated to the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanic families. Previously, she was the Resource Development & Communications Director and an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is the Board President of the new YNPN chapter in Birmingham. Prior to moving to Birmingham, Vanessa studied International Relations at American University in Washington, DC.
2014 was a wonderful year for YNPN, and we thank you for walking down memory lane with us during the 12 Days of YNPN. We're excited for all that 2015 has in store for our members, including the 2015 Annual Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Here are three reasons you won't want to miss #ynpn15:
- A Nonprofit Center of the South. Little Rock has a vast and growing nonprofit sector as well as a world class nonprofit management program at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock.
- Wide Open Spaces. The conference will get you out of the hotel and get your moving through Little Rock. Experience the food, fun, and locales of a booming young professional city.
- Did we mention FOOD? Little Rock is filled with some of the greatest food you could ask for, and we can't wait to try it out. With over 550 choices for local cuisine, grab a YNPNer and network over something we all love -- FOOD.
If you're attending the conference, don't forget to use #ynpn15 on social media to connect with other attendees! See you there!
Earlier in our 12 Days of YNPN series, we celebrated adding three new chapters to the network in 2014. In the same year that we added so many new chapters, we also had many of our established chapters celebrate milestone anniversaries.
YNPNsfba, the chapter that started it all
Congratulations to all of our local chapters on your years of service working to strengthen and connect the nonprofit sector in your city!