Self-Care is not Selfish

It was early Friday morning and I really wanted to get out for a bike ride. I needed the exercise, I knew the outdoors and sweat would do me good, but I had a long list of projects that needed to be completed. I had a few things already beyond their deadlines and people were needing them.

So I faced a dilemma. Hop on my bicycle and get in a good 60 minute workout or dive straight into the tasks screaming at me? Do something that would be good for me or take care of things that other people needed?

Then it hit me. Self-Care will always feel self-serving. Doing what other people need always feels more heroic, more gallant. Taking care of me feels inherently selfish.

However, the list of things that other people need is never ending. There is always more to do, more attention that could be given to any project, more email or phone calls. If I wait until all of those are addressed I will never get out to do some of what I need for my own health and well-being. I will always put it off, choosing the urgent instead of the important.

Twelve years ago I wrote the first draft of a personal calling statement. It has morphed and focused over the years, but one component that hasn’t changed is the commitment I made to live in such a way that I am accelerating at age 80.  That is, in every area of life — spiritually, relationally, intellectually, and physically — I want to still be gaining speed when I turn 80.  (I will worry about what comes after that then.)

I realize that taking care of my body is one of the most important components of fulfilling that calling.  It is the only vehicle God has given me through which I can engage in everything that matters. Being a steward of this body is non-negotiable if I intend to be accelerating at 80.  However, even though I get it intellectually, on a day by day basis I get seduced into taking care of other people and other things at the expense taking care of myself.

Last Friday was a breakthrough.

The truth is, unless I appropriately care for the only body I have, I will be out of the game and unable to contribute to the world in any significant way. So, while it may seem selfish to put a few people or projects on a temporary hold, at the end of the day it is the only way to steward everything God has put within my reach. Self-care is not only unselfish, it is actually one of the major priorities for any leader. Leaders cannot live at the red-line and hope to stay in the game?

I’ll see you on the bike path.

The Little Thing that Changes Everything: Courage

I have a theory: courage is the sinew that connects our thinking to our behavior.  It’s not good intentions that get things done, it is courage. We can talk the right talk, we can understand key issues, and we can have all manner of good ideas, but without courage we won’t act on them. 

Two days ago, my wife, Margaret, and I were part of an organized “century ride” on California’s central coast. (1oo mile ride in one day on a bicycle.) Unfortunately, her batteries were a little low. She’d been sick a week earlier and after a couple hectic encounters with traffic motivation to continue was waning. At the turn around point, she felt a bit unsettled and would have preferred to stop.  However, she made a conscious choice to override her emotions at the moment and continue the ride. It was raw courage. There is no other word for it. It moved me, and it reminded me how much courage it takes to choose to continue when the initial thrill of adventure wears thin.

Every time a leader or an organization attempts change, they face moments it would be far easier to stop moving forward. Every time you or I try to change our ways or accomplish something worthwhile we hit the point where the initial thrill of the project is over and the strength of our courage is tested. When those you lead are pushing back against your because of the price tag of change, it takes courage to continue moving forward. When you are stepping into the unknown, courage is what keeps you from turning back to what was familiar and ‘safe.’

I became convinced long ago that leaders of influence exhibit four qualities that set them apart. They have a clear sense of Calling (passion, direction, etc.) They possess the Competencies demanded by a complex and challenging world. They have Character that runs deep, making them the people others can trust when the chips are down. And the fourth, they demonstrate that often overlooked quality, Courage.

While competency and character are familiar territory, the demand for courage might be the most often overlooked. Without courage you won’t pull the trigger when the going gets tough.  Without courage you will sabotage your capacity for influence by choosing the easy road. Without courage, it is easy to give up halfway.

You can have all the insight and ideas imaginable, but when the going get’s tough, what’s in your head won’t translate into behavior unless you also have courage. There is always an easier way out.

Courage is an amazing thing. It inspires others. And it is the fuel that gets things done. I watched Margaret make a courageous choice to keep going last Saturday and watched her ride strong through the finish line because of it.

I hope I can live as courageously this week.

Endurance and Success

Good leaders with good ideas and good plans still fail on a regular basis. Sure, sometimes they fail because of inadequate resources, sometimes they fail because of flawed implementation plans, and sometimes failure is the result of character weakness.

But as often as not, the reason a new project or initiative fails is nothing less than a lack of endurance–when the going got tough they stopped going.

For the last couple years my wife, Margaret, and I have discovered that we love cycling together. Our favorite weekend ride is a 25 mile loop to Huntington Beach. We ride to the beach, have coffee on the patio at the Main St. Starbucks, and then ride back home. However, somewhere along in our cycling journey we decided to try something much more ambitious.

102 miles in Palm Springs

February 9th we accomplished our goal of completing a full “century” — 100 miles in one day. (It was our second attempt.) Crossing the finish line in Palm Springs with energy to spare was a victorious moment, but, it wasn’t a bed of roses. It was a long hard, demanding day on our bikes.

Along the way, I recognized that the physiological-psychological journey I was experiencing had significant leadership parallels. Maybe someday I will write on some of the others, but the biggest lesson of all was that the key to success was simply to not stop. Even though we were making great progress, even though we had trained, even though we were experiencing success, there were lots of times when quitting felt like a sensible, even desirable idea.

Between mile 40 and 60, after the initial fun of the adventure had long since been exhausted, when we were barely halfway, when physical and mental fatigue were growing, I had the big “Aha!” of the day. The key to successfully completing 100 miles is simple: Just don’t stop! If you don’t stop pedaling, you will succeed.

Sure, I have heard and even said that the key to success is to keep going. However, in many endeavors it actually makes more sense to say to yourself, just don’t stop. Since today is the only day you can control, just don’t stop today. If you take that approach every day at every step, before long, you will have succeeded.

Anyone who has tried to lead change or tried to launch some new enterprise knows that there are long seasons in the middle zone of your initiative when the hard work ahead is still as great as what you have already done. Those are discouraging, dark, non-glamorous days. Those are days when the return on your sacrifice is still far off, when fatigue is palpable, and when there are still enough variables in play that success can not be guaranteed.

Whether you are leading change, starting a business, planting a new church, trying to lose weight, spearheading a new program in your company/ church/ or community you will face days plagued by logical reasons you should quit. Don’t. Solicit help to assess the effectiveness of your methodologies, but don’t stop. Trust yourself and all the preparation you have done.

You see, on a daily basis, endurance simply means that today I just won’t quit.

Somewhere about mile 85 or 90 we could taste victory. Our speeds increased, our enthusiasm returned, and with a great deal of excitement we leaned into the final corners heading to the finish line. 102 miles after we had started, the pain and fatigue of those difficult earlier miles evaporated. Success has that effect.

So, what are you working on these days that calls for extraordinary endurance?

What reasons are you giving yourself for quitting?

Is what got you started still valid?

Whatever you are telling yourself in this moment, it’s time to do the most important thing. DON’T STOP.