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Alumni Reflections on empathy and self-care

| June 23, 2020

by David Sweetman

Alumni Reflections on empathy and self-care

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Dr. David Sweetman, MOR Associates Leadership Coach and Consultant.  David may be reached at [email protected].]

Based on your feedback, this week we introduce a new type of Tuesday Reading.  Today you’ll have the opportunity to learn from the personal reflections of multiple MOR alums, woven together around a common topic.  We’ll cover highlights of each reflection and provide links to each reflection in full.  While the highlights carry important lessons, the full essays have even greater richness and I encourage you to read each of them.

Today’s topics are empathy and self-care.  As leaders, we so often focus on the well-being of others.  While this is important, we also need to take care of ourselves and provide some empathy to ourselves.  We begin with Jessica von Borck from Stanford University giving us some musical inspiration from the 1981 hit Under Pressure by Queen:

“’Cause love’s such an old fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is our last dance
This is ourselves under pressure
Under pressure

And now let’s hear directly from Jessica:  “Under pressure…. Doesn’t this ring true, especially at this moment in time?

And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night…To me, this is empathy.  As we peer into the living rooms of our coworkers on Zoom meetings I catch glimpses of who my colleagues are outside of our work environment.  I see the whole person and not just a coworker.  As a result I feel I’m able to lead more effectively and able to recognize what will inspire my team to not only follow, but walk alongside me.

And love (people on streets) dares you to change our way of Caring about ourselves… I get that now. As a busy parent, I often put myself last.  But, sheltering in place with my two teenage daughters made me realize that I have a captive audience, and I had an opportunity to model good self-care behavior.  I have challenged my team to do the same and to share photos and stories of their self-care activities for encouragement and support.

“Lastly, … This is ourselves under pressure… My team is not engaged with the day to day efforts to address the impacts of COVID-19.  Therefore, I am often wondering if the work that I do daily from home is of value.  I shared this TED Talk with my team and from that was able to have a very honest conversation and discovered many were feeling much the same self-doubt. Together as a team we identified how our work was a piece of the puzzle that brought success to the efforts at large and through that we pulled each other up and found strength in one another.” (here is Jessica’s full reflection)

Further expanding on that sense of self-doubt that can sometimes creep in on us, Jelene Crehan from the University of Illinois-Chicago reminds us to be sure to give ourselves enough credit:

“I am finding more and more that I don’t give myself enough credit for things in life (work or life in general) that I have accomplished.  It wasn’t until I had to put together my leadership journey presentation and reflected on my past, that I realized there are things that *I* have accomplished, that I really hadn’t recognized before or given myself a pat on the back for.  Whether they are career oriented or not, *I* still did it.  My revelation was that if I continue to work on myself, become a better leader, a better mom, a better wife, a better teammate, others will feed off of that energy and feel a sense of accomplishment as well.  ‘When you lead by example, you make it easy for others to follow you.’

“No one else will care more about my life, my career, my goals as much as I do, so it’s time to step up to the plate and start swinging.  I want my team to be the best it can be, and that needs to start with me.  Am I scared? Absolutely, but I am certainly willing to work through that fear to make me a better version of myself because that will lead to far greater things in my group.  Never settle for where you currently are.”  (here is Jelene’s full reflection)

Jelene’s is a great message of hope and optimism in recognizing the great things we’ve done in the past and the determination for things we do in the future.  We also need to recognize that sometimes we can’t do it alone, as Michael Chakerian from the Ohio State University reminds us:

“Perhaps the most difficult thing that no one prepares you for with a major change is how much it can adversely affect your mental health.  When our cohort arrived before our first MOR session, we showed up pretty early.  There was ample time to get situated into our hotel rooms, to enjoy our new surroundings.  Instead, I spent those first few hours in my hotel room and cried.  Unfortunately, it had honestly become quite normal, one habit I didn’t quite know how to get out of.  Taking on a new role I felt largely unequipped to deal with, let alone do effectively.

“One day I finally couldn’t take it anymore.  I closed my door and called the employee assistance program – explaining that I needed to talk with someone as soon as possible. Visits to them made a significant difference.  So too did the corresponding tool sets from the MOR program.

“The harsh reality is that personal and professional growth can be very painful.  Everyone is going through some kind of sizable internal strife.  On that note, perhaps you might be in a position where you need to talk to someone.  God knows I was over this past year and likely didn’t reach out when I should have.”  (here is Michael’s full reflection)

Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves, give ourselves credit when it is due, and recognize when we need the support of others.  What inspiration on empathy for ourselves and others.  Thank you to Jessica, Jelene, and Michael for sharing these deeply personal and meaningful reflections.

We plan to periodically offer a Tuesday Reading of similar format to today, hearing multiple voices of MOR alums on a given topic.  As always, we welcome your feedback.  Please make your day a leaderful one for you and your team,