Photo by Mart

Though I am embarrassed at times to admit it, it took me several years to realize that I had allowed my intense work in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to consume all parts of me. While passion is good, when emotionally and physically demanding work takes over your world, you can feel like there is no hope. There were times, earlier in my self-care journey, that I thought the only way for me to deal with my crippling depression and anxiety was to leave the island altogether.

While everyone’s journey is different, all I needed to do was take a little step back and learn to be honest with myself. Since this journey began, I have learned that one of the most important things for me to do has been to be honest with myself, even in the middle of my tough work. Here are some tips (from my various mentors and therapists ;)) that have helped me to do this:

01 | Listen To Your Words
 My catch phrase has been “I’m fine!” all the time. For many of us, it takes a simple listen to the words we seem to repeat to learn how we talk ourselves out of being honest. Learning to hear what we say out loud and to others helps us be more real with ourselves.

02 | Listen To Your Body
Ok, this one has been really hard for me. However, after a number of health issues, I learned that our bodies do send us signals that we can learn to listen to. This can be anything from trouble sleeping, sleeping too much, getting sick more easily than we normally do, to more serious things. We have to learn to listen to our bodies and slow down long enough for ourselves to heal.

03 | Cultivate Honest Community
In the world of non-profits and community development, it can sometimes be difficult to cultivate the kind of community that cares about more than just your work. It is in our best interest to seek out the kind of people that not only care about our work but also about our lives. Find the people, no matter where they are, who ask you difficult questions and love you even when you’re not real with yourself.

04 | Have At Least One Hobby That Takes You Away From Your Work
A big help for me is getting away from things for a bit. I love yoga, reading, and my grad school load keeps me pretty busy. Getting out into nature helps me take a break from the daily “putting out fires” that often consumes me, too. No matter what we do, it is important to do things that differentiate ourselves from our work. It helps me to see myself for who I am- limitations and talents- and be more honest with myself.

05 | Invite People In
When we first started this work, people were always telling me that they thought I had it together. At that time, I did not realize that meant they did not feel like they could speak into my life. This created a prideful version of myself, and eventually, I did not have a ton of people who felt like they could just be honest with me. Here’s what we need to do as people in leadership doing difficult work: invite people in. One of my biggest mentors refers to herself as a “college dropout” and offers some of the most direct and loving advice.

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