Written by: Mark W. Wolf, Training Director at National Safe Place Network
This is my first attempt at a blog so bear with me. I volunteered to do this one because the most significant thing I have learned in my nearly 40 year career in the youth work field is the importance of taking care of yourself.
It has always struck me how so many youth care workers, who are superstars at caring for others, fail so miserably at taking care of themselves. The other thing I know to be true is how those most effective in this field care down to their core. That kind of care takes a toll on you emotionally and physically, and often leads to burnout. If you want to continue to work in the field and be effective you absolutely must make a plan to take care of yourself. Many of us learn to take care of ourselves the hard way and many drop out of the field, unfortunately, because they do not learn in time. Fortunately, self-care can be learned. With guidance, support, and good role models I learned some things along the way about work and self-care that helped me in my career and life.
Before you can make a self-care plan, there are some things you need to figure out about your work. You have to examine why you are doing the work you are doing, and who are you doing this work for. It’s ok that we all meet some of our needs through our work, but our work cannot be the sole provider, or even the primary provider. Remember that in our work we are there to meet other’s needs, not our own. We need to meet our own needs in our own way, on our own time. Most importantly, we must be realistic in our expectations of how much we can do at one time, it is indeed a marathon. Understand that at best, we are support agents that facilitate change and growth that must be self directed. In the end, hopefully we know and believe we are worthy and deserve to be cared about by ourselves and others.
Once you figure all this out, and it can be complicated and take some significant time and effort unraveling who we are and what we need, you are ready to make a self-care plan. First, understand that self-care is a bit of a misnomer. Much of self-care is making sure you have people around you that care about you and for you. The self-care part is allowing these others in. As for a self-care plan, make a list of things you do for yourself that energize and inspire you, make a schedule, and keep it. Develop a support system outside of your work that includes a variety of people and activities. Give yourself permission to make time to play, have fun, and be totally selfish with your time and what you choose to do with it.
I was fortunate to have lots of support, guidance and great role models along the way to help me figure out how to create and maintain balance in my life. Go out and find the support and guidance and care you need along the way. You already know this but it is worth saying again – if you don’t take care of you, you won’t be able to help take care of others.