It was the end of August 2013. I had just finished a major client project that had drawn a lot of public scrutiny and media attention. And it had consumed a lot of my time, energy and emotion for the previous 18 months. I was filled with relief and exhaustion when I turned off the lights and left the office that afternoon for the long holiday weekend.
The day before, my youngest sister had gone into labor to deliver her first child. I knew I’d be receiving happy news at any minute as I drove home that day. Just knowing this helped to balance out the exhaustion.
But things didn’t go as planned that weekend.
Miracles and Tragedies
My sister ran into complications that resulted in a record-setting labor and an emergency surgery to deliver her baby girl. As I paced by the phone and clutched my iPad waiting for notification from anyone, my body was preparing me for the worst. By a miracle, my sister and her baby girl, Ellyana, both came through the surgery alive and healthy. But the impact this had on me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually was palpable.
Ten weeks later, my second youngest sister went into labor…five weeks early.
Sadly, this time the outcome was tragic.
By a complete miracle, my sister survived the delivery, but her newborn baby girl, Emma, died within an hour. It still seems impossible to explain the tidal wave of emotions that washed over me as I processed the news of the birth…and then the loss of the newborn minutes later. I felt like time stood still. In between those two births, my grandfather died. My husband and I were traveling internationally when it happened, so we were unable to get home in time for his funeral. Then, three months later, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Learning from Heartbreak
Those 12 months were some of the most difficult and challenging of my entire life.
During that time, many well-meaning and supportive family members and friends encouraged me to take care of myself. I’d nod politely in agreement, but I had no idea how to even begin to take care of myself when it felt like everything was crumbling around me. I was trying to be there for my sisters and my parents. I was trying to keep a business running even though work was the last thing I wanted to think about. I was trying to keep my house from becoming one giant pile of dishes and laundry. All I wanted to do was collapse when I walked into the house each night. How was I supposed to take care of myself in the middle of all that?
Desperate for ideas, I did what I often do when I don’t have answers: I asked other people. And the ideas started pouring in. I started to identify what to do to help myself cope and grieve so that I could continue to take care of my loved ones. I created a list called “self-care” with more than 50 items on it. I know it takes about three weeks to create a new habit, so I decided to dedicate a full month to taking care of myself. I dubbed it: 30 Days of Focused Self-Care. Each day, I picked one item from my list and scheduled or determined a time to do it. When an item was completed, I wrote it down on my self-care tracker. The outcome was exactly what my head and heart needed – relief, relaxation, reinvigoration, and healing. I was hooked on this new habit of taking care of myself.
A New Attitude About Self-Care
I now have a new approach to how I treat those who are going through tough times. I know from my own experience that sometimes you just need to step in and do what someone needs without asking. I also know that you can’t just tell someone to take care of himself or herself – you have to build accountability into it. Otherwise, it won’t happen. Now, rather than telling someone, “take care of yourself,” the conversation goes more like this:
- What are you going to do today (or this week) to take care of you?
- When can I check in with you to see how it went?
- What can I do to help you make it happen? Can I schedule it for you? Do it for you? Join you in doing it?
When life is taking its toll, it’s hard to know what we need. It can be a challenge to get dishes and laundry done, let alone schedule a hair appointment or meeting. Asking supportive questions that help a person go through the decision-making process more logically can make all the difference, especially when you combine it with built-in accountability!
During my 30 Days of Focused Self-Care, I realized another important lesson. When some people think of self-care, they often think of pampering – which it can be. But self-care oftentimes comes in the form of completing basic household duties, such as emptying the dishwasher or folding clothes. It also means making time to schedule the dentist appointment or getting new heels put on a pair of shoes. Self-care includes everything from wellness and relaxation to getting errands run and a healthy meal served to your family. One of the most important discoveries for me throughout my month of focused self-care was that it doesn’t necessarily equal pampering.
A Self-Care Challenge
Throughout the month, I made notes in my journal about my self-care experiences, and it dawned on me that many of the items on my list are directly linked to habits of The Innovative Admin™.
To become more innovative, it’s important to practice focused self-care. To generate ideas and solutions, we must keep our heads and hearts in top shape. When our batteries are drained, we have nothing left to give anyone around us.
Focused self-care is the only way to recharge and maintain the healthy levels required for innovating in our administrative careers.
So my challenge to you is this: Dedicate the next 30 days to your own focused self-care.
- Find a journal to make notes in, and ask yourself, “What am I going to do today to care for me?”
- Each day, pick one item from the list. I’ve provided one or you can make your own. Just be sure to include things that you enjoy or find important.
- Make time to do one activity each day.
- Record the date and the activity you chose each day in your journal. And write down the thoughts or insights you have as you do these activities.
- Do this for 30 consecutive days.
It’s okay if you repeat some activities throughout the 30 days, but try to select as many different things as you can. At the end of the 30 days, see how you feel. When you put your focus on improved self-care, schedule it, and build accountability in, you’ll experience a recharged and reinvigorated outlook on life and work. You’ll not only be taking care of yourself, but you’ll also feel better, too.
Self-Care List Ideas
- Enjoy a meal with someone (breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
- Eat out.
- Order in.
- Take a nap.
- Go to bed earlier.
- Sleep in late.
- Take a break from email.
- Treat yourself to a ____________.
- Go for a walk (without your phone).
- Turn off your phone for a few hours.
- Get a massage.
- Take a coffee break.
- Take a tea break.
- Allow yourself to work on a creative project.
- Make something.
- Learn something new.
- Cook a meal you enjoy.
- Bake a treat or dessert you like.
- Get a manicure.
- Get a pedicure.
- Schedule a facial.
- Watch a movie at home.
- Go out to a movie.
- Read a book.
- Read a magazine.
- Schedule time to do absolutely nothing.
- Send a package to a friend.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Turn off your computer for the weekend.
- Turn off all of the notifications on your electronic devices.
- Go shopping.
- Go window-shopping.
- Go to a hotel for a day or two to get away.
- Go out for ice cream.
- Watch the sunrise.
- Watch the sunset.
- Go for a drive.
- Sing to the radio in your car.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Take a one-day vacation.
- Take a multi-day vacation.
- Take a half-day vacation.
- Eat healthily.
- Plan your meal menus for a week.
- Get your hair cut and styled.
- Schedule a date night with a friend or loved one.
- Enjoy a sweet treat.
- Call a friend.
- Call a family member.
- Research an item on your “someday list”.
- Spend time in silence.
- Spend time journaling or writing. Spend time with a friend.
- Play with your pet(s).
- Go to church.
- Say a prayer.
- Make a list.
- Donate items you no longer use (clothes, household goods) to charity.
- Clean a room.
- Clean your desk.
- Buy new sheets for your bed.
- Get your teeth cleaned.
- Schedule your annual physical.
- Tour a national monument.
- Tour a garden or a park.
- Do something you love to do.
- Work from home.
This article first appeared in Executive Support Magazine, a global training publication and must read for any administrative professional. You can get a 30% discount when you subscribe through us. Visit the website at www.executivesupportmagazine.