To Save a Drowning Person, Learn How to Swim

Photo by Tim Sheerman-Chase

The more posts you read here at Mightycause, the more you can see, tangibly, everything that is on the plate of a person in the world of nonprofits. You’ve got a business to run, a cause to promote, fundraising to do, a family to acquaint yourself with, and more. Heck, just handling the social media part of your efforts can translate into long nights, skipped meals, and days where you’re ready for bed by about 2 PM.

I’m going to toss something out though. Does pushing yourself to the maximum like this really translate into you doing your best work? Does it translate into you being your best you? I’m going to go ahead and cast my vote for “No” and “No,” respectively.

You can’t save a drowning person if you don’t know how to swim.

From the time I was a kid, I always wanted to create some great way to help people. I think in part it’s because the whole Live-Aid fundraiser happened when I was a kid, and I was horrified that there were fly-covered starving children in the world. It clashed horribly with my rather quiet, suburban understanding of how life was supposed to be. From those days onward, my mom always reminded me of an important lesson. If you see a person drowning, you’d better make sure you can swim really well before you try to help them.

This translates into all facets of life, of course. If you don’t have a lot of money, don’t act like a philanthropist to the point where you’re totally broke. If you are having problems with depression, don’t put yourself on the edge by trying to pull someone else up. If you are leading an unhealthy life, it’s probably best to refrain from offering health tips to others.

In the NPO world, the same logic applies. If you are worn out, bleary-eyed, fatigued, and otherwise drained most of the time, how will you be able to perpetually muster up the strength to keep your NPO going? The answer, of course, is that eventually you will burn out. Your body has a funny way of telling you when enough is enough.

Learning How to Swim

Your cause is your passion. It’s what you’ve decided to dedicate your life to, right? In order to give everything you can to your organization, it’s important that you are at your best. In other words, before trying to infuse your NPO with energy and pep and vivaciousness, you need to make sure you are energetic, peppy, and vivacious. Or at least close, right?

So how can you do this when you have so much on your plate? Here are some ideas:

  1. Make sure you eat three meals, and try to make as few of them as possible fast food meals.
  2. Make sure you have “sacred” times away from your work. Get away from the computer. Refresh and reenergize.
  3. Plan ahead. Make meals over the weekend that you can freeze and then heat up throughout the week.
  4. Schedule time with your family and friends. Don’t break those meetings.
  5. Sleep. I know it’s trendy to tweet about 3 hours of sleep, but it does you no good. Starbucks is not a life force (yet).
  6. Do something physically active. Even if it’s just walking outside on a beautiful day. Get those legs moving.
  7. Read something not work-related. Whether it’s a magazine or a book, feed your brain.
  8. Make sure you do things you enjoy. Feed your soul.
  9. Take time to clear your mind, whether it’s through Yoga, meditation, or something else you enjoy.
  10. Take time off. Set aside one day a week if you have to where you barely even think about work. Enjoy that thing called life.

There may not be a work/life balance, but walk the line.

Sheryl Sandberg was quoted recently as saying that there is no such thing as a work/life balance. There’s work and there’s life. She’s probably right. Regardless, to make your organization the best it can be, you need to be the best you can be. In order to give, you need to give some attention to yourself. In order to build your organization, you need to increase the care for yourself. In order to save a drowning person, you need to learn how to swim.

How do you handle the complex task of making sure you are at your best for your cause? How do you prioritize and plan? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

4 thoughts on “To Save a Drowning Person, Learn How to Swim”

  1. Fabulous, Margie.u00a0nI wrote a post along the same lines for writers in need of a little TLC:u00a0’s SO true that we must take care of ourselves if we’re going to be able to give generously to others. We often forget that it’s critical to give to ourselves as well – the gifts of time, respite, replenishment, and play.u00a0nnHere’s to doing our best to follow all your great advice … at least most of the time! :)u00a0n

    1. Thanks Jamie. So often we push ourselves on behalf of others, it gets to the point where we can’t do anything for ourselves OR other people. It’s all very preventable with a little self-TLC, at least every once in awhile.u00a0nnThanks for commenting!u00a0

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