I have a confession to make. I struggle with people who are self-serving. People who push into line, drivers who cut across traffic without indicating, those who ensure they get what they want regardless of others. A self-serving attitude just rubs me the wrong way.
Now, an attitude of service – that I understand. Putting others first, fulfilling our responsibilities to others before our own needs.
Well, not really.
You see, my frustration with a self-serving attitude had, for a long time, blurred the true meaning of service to self.
My dislike of everything self-serving – which, to me, contradicted the fact we are all humans who have a responsibility for each other – meant I wasn’t serving myself well at all.
I’d make choices that put others first and myself second, if not last, all the time.
Of course, we often do need to put others first. As leaders and workers, we must actively be in service to the ideals and goals of our teams and organisations, and to the individuals inside those systems. But when this becomes our default, it can be a big problem.
I see this happening with a lot of the clients I work with. These are wonderful people; leaders who want to develop themselves to become better than they were yesterday. They are also highly outward focused, prioritising the needs of their teams, organisations, families and community – to the point that they forget to fill their own cups.
With no time for themselves, they become exhausted. Their performance declines, they struggle to deliver, and their mental, emotional and spiritual health takes a hit.
Being in service to others is enabling and empowering. It gives us a real buzz, a rush of achievement and accomplishment, a sense of purpose. But it can also be hard work. At times, it can be downright draining and challenging.
The key to avoiding burnout and serving others well is to make sure we are in service to ourselves first.
The old saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup is a powerful reflection of where we can find ourselves if we fail to serve ourselves.
Note my words carefully there, service to self, not being self-serving.
It’s important to remember that self-care is not selfish, far from it. In fact, it is highly selfless in the way it replenishes the energy, motivation and drive serving others requires. Self-care is powerful. It’s that magical ingredient that enables us to serve our people and clients in the best way possible.
So, how do we self-care and fill our cups?
Think about the things that give you energy. What makes your body and mind sing? What activities, hobbies, people and things help you regenerate and feed your soul?
You don’t need to take days out or spend loads of money on an island holiday to reset (although that would be nice). Filling your cup is about finding small moments each day that bring you joy. The little things really do count, such as:
- Listening to music
- Sitting in the sunshine
- Going for a walk
- Enjoying a coffee with no distractions
If you struggle to find such moments, then you need to plan for them. Schedule them into your diary as you would a meeting. Self-care is that important; you can’t let it slide down your to-do list or ignore it. It needs to be a priority in your personal and working life.
So, as you go about each day, think about finding time for you. Be deliberate in your approach to serving your self. Because if your cup starts to run dry, you will never be able to offer your immense value and unique gift to the world as best as you are able. And I suspect that matters to you.
Serving self is not self-serving; rather, it is the highest service you can do for others.
Keep filling your cup.
Be best you can be.