Back when people bought CDs, I owned enough to last me 45 days of continuous music. With this much music, it is no surprise to me that one day, while sitting on a plane, a song came on that I had no memory of buying. The haunting hymn “Feels Like Going Home” by Yo La Tengo drifted through my earphones, and I didn’t know the song. How did it even end up on my iPod Shuffle? (Yes, I had one of those too).
The ironic thing was that I was actually headed back home to Indiana. The flight was six hours from Anchorage to Minneapolis, then another 2 hours to Indianapolis and a 1 hour drive to my parents’ house. Round trip the hours added up, so I only made the trek once or twice a year. Each time I stepped on the plane, my parents were waiting for me. Their son was coming home.
And this particular time, their son was coming home exhausted.
In my mid-twenties, I was working two jobs, working 6 10-hour days and trying to give my all to everyone. I was telling myself I had to do it to help the people I cared about. In the process, I had forgotten a key factor involved in leadership: self-care. No matter what style of leadership you follow, self-care is critical because if you don’t care for yourself, you don’t help anyone; you don’t serve anyone. You become a drain.
Now, as I cross forty, I see myself doing it again.
And this time, I can’t run home to my parents. I’m the parent. I’m the one building the home with my partner for our kids.
As a father, I tell my kids, “No” all the time. Sometimes I feel like I say it too much. Rarely do I turn it back on myself. Rarely do I take the time to self-check my priorities and my actions.
The funny thing is, quite a few times when I tell my kids “No,” they are doing the exact same things I did at their age. When I ask them why they would do such a thing, their answers make me want to smile and laugh and join in.
So as a father and servant leader to my daughters, it is critical that I continue to role model the self-care I want them to have in their lives. If I don’t, I’m normalizing fatigue, irritability, and that other “stuff” is more important than they are.
I don’t want to be that kind of dad. I imagine most dads don’t want to be that kind of dad.
To change that, we must remember three things.
1. Change Your Viewpoint. Saying No to something is really saying yes to something else. Life is full of choices and looking at the opportunities that come with saying no can be so liberating!
2. Define Your Personal Mission. All organizations have a mission statement that serves as the foundation for everything they do. As a father, if you don’t have a personal mission statement, you are liable to burn yourself out as you walk the tightrope between personal obligations and professional obligations.
3. Remember Who You Work For. Framed this way, it is easy to respond with the company or supervisor you have and who pays your salary. However, if you step back and remember who benefits from that salary, who you come home to, and who is there to celebrate your birthdays, then you’ll recognize that you actually work for your partner and your children.
If we remember these three things, self-care becomes easier to accept. Self-care doesn’t become something that takes you away from those you love, but only brings you that much closer to them.