I am navigating a sector where people give selflessly to their purpose, facing disheartening and disempowering policies, change of governments, budget cuts, increasing pockets of poverty and inequalities, resignation of champions who are not being listened to. Personal dramas.
It is tough.
Even the strongest vocations and a robust passion for change need nurturing. Even the fiercest campaigners need to pause sometimes to replenish. Believe me, this is not about luxury spa treatments or chic self-indulging meditation retreats. If only.
During our last Ask Me Anything session this summer, we talked about self-care strategies and shared examples and insights from members of our Impact Women network.
I think it is the personal decision to activate tools, techniques and general lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms of many mental and physical health problems one can face in their personal, social and professional life.
I stress the “personal decision to activate”, because I have seen a lot of social entrepreneurs being totally aware of what they needed to do to feel and be better, that they should slow down, or move away from toxic practices or relationships. And the last thing they need is another self-appointed guru to tell them what to do. They know. But they don’t always do anything about it.
The key thing is to take the decision and activate.
Because there is no self-care without practice
Question from Kirstie Sivapalan: “It seems clear that self-care is essential to creating a sustainable empathetically connected world. (Physician heal thyself?) If so why do many of us choose not to prioritise our own self-care and how can we break that cycle?”
What makes us fail is that we often think about acts of grandeur first, big goals, huge visions and there’s little planning or strategy in between. And if these words make you roll your eyes, a strategy doesn’t need to be complicated.
It can be about saying no 3 times a day to something that is toxic to you.
It can be about saying yes 3 times a day to something that is good for you.
It’s about having a way to track and measure these YES and NO and after a week or two, looking at what came out of that. A pen. A sheet of paper.
So what our friends in the network repeatedly say, when we interview them: the first thing is to assess what you can do and can’t do considering your own personal situation. Some people have the luxury to have partners, or relationships they can rely upon, so that they can insert more time for reflection, mental or physical support. Others don’t. And others live in a place with conflict or dangerous social or domestic contexts.
So before committing to anything, it is about assessing what you have (not what you haven’t got).
It could be a specific environment, a park, a friend, a neighbour, a community centre, a mentor, a parent, even a pet.
An outdoor space, a significant other, an animal can help you start and commit to an action.
Minnie Baragwanath, CEO of Be.Accessible, founded the Be. Institute in 2011 because she envisions a world that is truly accessible and inclusive of all people. Based out of Auckland, New Zealand, Be. Accessible is a holistic social change initiative that will stop at nothing to change the way society engages with access citizens
Ogunte: Your work involves giving out a lot of emotional energy. What does self-care mean to you?
Minnie Baragwanath: Two and a half years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That forced me, in a very abrupt way, to seriously ask myself these questions. At that point, I had slightly lost track of self-care as a priority, which can easily happen when you’re in start-up mode. Since then, I’ve been much clearer with my boundaries, and knowing when I need to take time off work. I’m very conscious now that I can’t take my health for granted.
“In my day to day, I make it a priority to deal with issues quickly, and not leave things that are bothering me to fester and grow in my imagination. This way, I avoid the build up of unresolved worries I think of it as doing my ‘Minnie Housework’, a weekly clean-up of my own brain!”
She exercises, and visits a counselor regularly, which she finds incredibly sustaining. “I need that trusted sounding board for whatever might be going on”.
Your network, your connections to the outside world are absolutely essential. Particularly the inner circle, people who help you keep sane.
The penny dropped for me when I met feminists activist groups in Meso and South-America, who are frequently exposed to violence on-line and off-line, from various individuals and sometimes even public institutions, and they too stress the importance of building your network.
Lulu Barrera, founder of Luchadoras (Fighters in Spanish), a Mexico-based social enterprise working to protect and promote women’s rights through an online feminist TV show. One of their projects is about empowering women to fight online harassment and abuse:
“You have to grow and consolidate a community of women driven by principles of collaboration, solidarity and mutual support, connected on-line and off-line. This is a proven stronger solution to counter violence.”
The feminist movement and individuals receive a lot of threats online. We need to build joint protocols to know how to react safely and protect each other in the community.
A global campaign such as Take Back the Tech has experienced this and built tools and protocols for community groups and feminists online.
If you are not exposed to the same level of violence, wherever you are in the world, I think a community of like-minded people, who care, who show empathy, who check on you, and know the words and gestures that are soothing in the most relevant times, is a good strategy too.
But be careful, you can be a fantastic networker yourself, you have to learn and remember to let other people come to you, ask you questions, be there to listen to you, let yourself be vulnerable too at time, and be helped.
There is a movement around the world to promote physical self-defence.
Our friends Luchadoras say: “Mastering self-defence contributes to policies of self-care and group care in the midst of a risky environment related to gender violence on the streets in Mexico.”
I can testify that practicing a martial arts, although it doesn’t always help when you are physically attacked, is part of a process to finding strength, a space for reflection and a way to assess your own practice.
I have found this in Capoeira. And I must say, there were times when I forgot that this was the most helpful tool I could turn to in times of need.
However, it has provided me tools for physical health, mental health, the capacity to fall and stand up again, a global community, which I have been cherishing for almost 20 years this year.
( I salute my master Vladimir Frama, from Batuque Capoeira group for sharing his wisdom, his systemic view on life, and the foundation skills he provided me though capoeira.)
The big question is what happens behind the scenes? Where is the human being behind the activist, the social entrepreneur, the campaigner that you are?
How do you take care of yourself and still get work going? You ask yourself, is it really compatible?
Looking back at the process of my “busy-ness”, and how I jumped on the other side of the productivity and wellbeing fence, I realise progress happened when I became:
I had a son. And when this happened, he came first. I had less time to complete my work. I am decidedly not happy when I am asked to formulate a personal 5 years plan. However I have been ever so impressed by my capacity to plan ahead when it comes to him. First, the logistic and basic baby commodities, the childminder, later the school, the trips, the play dates, broken teeth, remember to delegate homework and other duties to daddy - EQUALLY- , and other matters…
With the baby, my working week shrunk from “10 days to 2”. Literally. During the two remaining days, work related activities were confined between 5 and 7am, a couple of sessions in the late morning, another one just after lunch and a last stretch after 8pm.
I started to map all the activities I was running at Ogunte, the knowledge I had acquired from our clients and connections, and merged all this in 3 products maximum. One of them became a growth readiness programme with a strong financial focus, aimed at Women-led Social Enterprises. The other product turned out to be a focused coaching offer with associated monitoring and evaluation framework, and the final was a learning and development programme management service for foundations and business support organisations.
I decided to digitalise most of my activities. Someone wanted a coffee? Then it had to be online and I allocated a specific and limited space during the week for this, cut in chunks of 30 minutes. I always asked people to send me a specific pragmatic question they wanted to reflect upon. I let people book their slot online. I also learnt that a brilliant chat could also come in the shape of an old fashion written conversation. I love Slack.
For people who still wanted coffee, I took them to events I had to attend where they also made tons of new connections. If they were serious with their purpose, they had to follow up.
I accepted to join, or speak at events that were clearly related to my work stream, or that could clearly provide me with food for thoughts. As I love out-of-the-box thinking, my selection always remained diverse and exciting. The question I was asking myself: if you go there, what will you do with the information? This generally helped me select the most interactive events. Another tactic was to organise these stimulating learning events for Ogunte, which ticked several boxes at once.
Crucially, I said goodbye to the tasks I was not an expert in or that prevented me from engaging with stakeholders at a strategic level. I subcontracted fantastic women to deliver on social media, accounting, strategy, design. The time saved enabled me to deliver more and paid for services, which in turn enabled me to pay for the growing staff. A meaningful investment.
6) Switched off
Finally, to preserve my sanity and to provide me with a much needed creative space, I categorically refused to engage with work at specific time of the year, or after a certain time of the day. I started focusing more on my neighbours, my health, arts and martial arts. I rekindled with my sense of empathy. All this proved to give me productive brain and body stimulation, which ultimately made me a better business person.
When I took myself offline I also realised that there was an addiction at every corner. It could be an addiction to the web, an addiction to food, drink, an addiction to getting rewards, and of course, an addiction to rescuing others and fight for a purpose.
Flipping this on its side, it’s interesting to look at what happens when we are inactive, when we recharge, and when we let others help us. What judgment emerges? What underlying concept are we dragging around?
I understood that being switched off, didn’t mean becoming weak, useless or invisible.
By being too active, or involved without purpose, I could end up resenting my work.
I could become bitter to not having enough play time.
By being too active I risked losing myself, and ultimately others.
So to recap, self care might be about (and not only)
· Being aware of your constraints and managing yourself as it it was part of your work strategy.
· Building connections and relationships in and out of work
· Evaluating your habits with honesty
· Learning to say no to toxic habits, learning to say yes to environments and people that are good for you.
· Not turning treats into new toxic habits.
· Linking decisions with deeper meaning and higher purpose.
Connect with bold women changemakers all over the world tough the Impact Women Map (http://map.ogunte.com ) abd share your self-care practice on the tweeter feed.
For more coaching tips and questions to boost your social venture, read our previous posts on this Ogunte Blog.
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