Originating in 1825 as an officially recognised word, "Selfless" means to be "devoted to others' welfare or interest and not one's own".
In our world of greed, success-at-all-costs and personal-gain, self-lessness has been couched as an antidote. What we also know, is that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. So, sometimes if the pendulum has swung too far towards being self-less, this can also be detrimental to one's wellbeing.
There are certain career-paths that require a high amount of self-lessness; healthcare and education being the top two in my opinion. Often underpaid, the professionals are faced with multiple needs from those they serve; often going over and beyond their "job-description". These are not just professions; they are vocational career paths. Often described as a 'calling', there is a deep sense of purpose and need to make a difference for others that underpin their actions. Their modus operandi is often to put others' needs first.
Having worked as a teacher, school leader and educational speaker/coach/facilitator, I have deep experience of this 'calling', and am able to recognise it when I see or feel it in others. There is a passion and aroha that transends the norm. When I talk with people like this, I am captured by both their korero (talk) and wairua (spirit).
I also recognise when it is not there (selfish), or when it is there too much (selfless). I want to share an example of how it can sometimes play-out when we are too self-less in the hope that it may trigger some reflection for those of you who also experience this.
I met Diane (pseudonym) at a school I as working alongside. She was a teacher, team leader, leading maths across the school and also involved in the PTA. She was both passionate and dedicated. Her eyes would light-up when she spoke about her students and work, and she would tell me about all the innovative things they were doing; I was in awe of her energy and sense of cause. What I soon became aware-of however, that there was very little Diane or down-time in her life. At the end of each week she was often spent emotionally, physically and mentally. Her vocation was just-about her everything - it was often on her mind, even when she wasn't physically there. Her vocation had consumed her to the point of creating a world that had pin-point focus.
We often hear the phrase "work-life blend". It is based on the understanding that you can never really achieve balance, and that there is give-and-take in both areas so that a healthy blend is achieved. What had happened for Diane however, was that her self-lessness pendulum/blend had swung too far... to the detriment of her wellbeing.
There is a field of thought called mBraining which is based on the understanding that we have three brains; head, heart, and gut. Each brain has their highest expressions: Compassion (heart), Creativity (head) and Courage (gut). What can happen is that we can overuse one or two brains to the detriment of the other/s. For Diane, her heart-brain was very strong often leading too much; causing her to become self-less to the detriment of her-self. She would put others needs over her own in many aspects of her life; sometimes resulting in lowered happiness and exhaustion for herself (also known as martyrdom or being the rescuer). What were admirable attributes had run-rampant and started to cannibalise her own identity.
For Diane her road back-to-selflessness came about through some specific actions:
- Becoming aware of her energy levels and how much energy she was putting-out versus placing back-in. This required coaching in how to manage her energy levels so she was spending it wisely, rather than going on an energy-spending-spree.
- Understanding what was underpinning her need to over-give. This included unpacking learned 'stories' she was living her life by and recreating new ones that would enable her to 'give' as well as to 'live' in a more balanced manner.
- Beginning to re-look and reinstate her personal boundaries. Diane's personal boundaries had become almost non-existent to the extent where she was living her life for everyone else; denying her own wellbeing. Re-creating boundaries that would protect her own sense of self, whilst also encouraging her to empower others to solve their own issues was a big learning for Diane.
As we head towards the second half of the year where the pressure is on, energy levels become lowered and demands increase, I urge you to reflect-upon your energy-tank levels.
- How much of yourself are you giving-away to the detriment of your wellbeing?
- What are your 'me-time' levels looking-like?
- Where might you need to reinstate boundaries so that you are both empowering others, as well as raising your own wellbeing levels?
Keep an eye-out for my 'Creating a Culture of Care' organisational wellbeing programme coming-out in next week's newsletter. It is based on the understanding that band-aide approaches don't work, and we need to take both a deep and wide approach to creating healthy organisational communities where their interconnectedness is utilised for optimal gain.
Also if you would like to focus-on getting your wellbeing-levels back on track, contact me to discuss my coaching packages. I love working alongside people to help them achieve the lives they dreamed-of. :-)