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When You’re in the Soup, You Can’t See the Pot

| March 8, 2022

by Mike Sullivan

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Mike Sullivan with contributions from Lori Green.  They are Program Leaders and Leadership Coaches with MOR Associates. They may be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].]
We’ve got two questions we want you to reflect on for a minute:

  • How are you doing at taking care of business?
  • How are you doing at taking care of yourself?

(There’s also a question survey at the end. We’d appreciate it if you’d answer that for us. We’ll send you the results next week).   
I (Mike) spent the first two decades of my career focused on taking care of business and I put a tremendous amount of time and energy into that. I did it with the belief that if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be successful, I wouldn’t be doing my best work. I think the real motivation here was fear – mortgage, four kids, lookin’ good syndrome, etc. That extra effort came at the expense of taking care of myself. But I was okay with it, I got used to it, it was normal for me. It’s what you do. Plus, everyone else was doing it so it must be the right thing to do – the equivalent of today’s digital filter bubble. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
In my early 40’s and long before self-care was a thing, I discovered something counterintuitive. It took some time for me to act on that discovery, and the subsequent decades have validated it. You know what I’m going to say. Yes, shifting some time to taking care of myself improved taking care of business and doing better at taking care of business reinforced the decision to take care of myself. My key takeaways:

  • I became more productive at work, more able to focus on the important.
  • I improved my ability to understand and manage my own emotions which improved my relationships with others (at work and at home). As we say at MOR Relationships are the “coin of the realm.”
  • I became more comfortable with who I was and confident in what I brought to the party and began to speak up more. The more I spoke up, the more I got to speak up.

For those two decades I had been putting more time into something that was depleting my energy. Katie Shumake in How to recharge: Tips from a Stanford wellness coach does a nice job of helping us reflect on this issue. The key idea here is that time is finite but energy can be created, depleted or expanded.
What I did and have continued to do to create and expand my energy is not relevant because for me it might be running in the woods, for you it might be gardening or meditation. What’s important is that it’s something that recharges you. Only you can figure out what works for you. Here are some ideas.
Although I’m an N of 1, I could cite a pile of research that suggests that taking care of yourself builds a strong foundation for everything else in your life. Spend some time researching the issue to get a better understanding of the cost/benefit.
What’s this got to do with leadership?  When you’re at your best, you do your best. Taking care of yourself is the foundation for being at your best in your personal and professional life. The longer you’re in the soup, the more difficult it is to see the pot. Stepping away and starting a practice of self-care is one way to get a better look at the pot.
SURVEY QUESTION – Help write the punch line for this Tuesday reading.
For the past 10 years I have been asking most everyone I meet this one question:

Thinking back to an organization you worked at and have since
left, how many people do you stay in touch with regularly?  

(click below to provide your anonymous response)
n/a       0          1-3       4-8       9+

We’ll share the results next week.