Serving Others By Serving Yourself: Lessons from a Recovering Workaholic

Photo courtesy of Blue Moon in her Eyes

A couple weeks ago, I hit the wall. Hard.

This Workaholic’s Intervention

Let’s take a short trip down memory lane. *cue rewind sound effect*

“I get that you like to serve others–you’re a ‘server,’ like me. But sometimes, serving others looks like crawling into a cave to rest.”

These wise words were spoken to me right after I hit the (figurative) wall.

I was about to begin assisting Day 2 of a 3-day CTI workshop. Despite the fact that I was feeling physically exhausted, feverishly ill and extremely emotional, I had sucked it up and shown up at the workshop, determined not to let anyone down.

Thankfully, the leaders of the CTI workshop were too perceptive and emotionally intelligent to let me soldier through. Being the experienced coaches they were, they asked me why I was forcing myself to be there, when my body and probably many other parts of me were not wanting to come along for the ride.

I tried to think of a good reason, but none of the ones I came up with really made much sense:

  • “I don’t want to let anyone down.” (There were 2 other assistants at the course; they would get along fine without me.)
  • “Assisting this workshop is a really good learning experience for me.” (They hold the workshop every couple months; there would be other chances!)
  • “I…I don’t know why.” (D’oh! *hand smacks forehead*)

With that realization, I agreed with the workshop leaders that the best thing I could do for everyone involved was to go home, rest, and recover.

Taking a look back now, it’s a wonder I didn’t see that moment coming a mile away. I’ve had an almost embarrassingly long list of major life developments the last few months, with very little downtime. As if leaving a 7-year career to become a coach and entrepreneur, starting 2 businesses, completing an intense 10-month leadership program a few weeks ago, launching my blog, participating in a 6-month coaching professional certification program, and going to Traffic School weren’t more than enough–the death of my father could probably do the job alone.

So why am I telling you all of this? For my own cathartic release? To make you feel sorry for me? To make you think I’m a crazy lady? I certainly hope not!

It’s because this experience made me learn (and in some cases, relearn) some important lessons, and I want to share them with you.

Lessons Learned

If you’ve been reading this blog so far, you know that HeartStepping is all about connectedness. It’s about learning to connect our hearts with our actions, and it’s about rediscovering our connection with other humans and with the planet.

The lessons I’m sharing with you have deepened my own understanding of the meaning and power of HeartStepping, and I hope they do the same for you:

Lesson #1: Serving others and serving yourself are often (or maybe always?) the same thing.

Much of the time, we think we have to choose between doing what’s best for ourselves, and doing what’s best for others. We create either/or situations.

In my case, I was working overtime to be of service to others, and my inner critic believed that if I gave myself time to rest, I would be denying that impulse to serve.

But you can’t be of service to someone when you’re depleted. So, in fact, giving yourself downtime doesn’t mean you’re choosing yourself over others. It means you’re doing what it takes to be able to offer your best to others in a long-term, sustainable way. Taking this perspective, the act of giving yourself rest becomes an act of loving intention towards those around you. How’s that for an inner-critic-buster?

Maybe you’ve already figured this out for yourself–in which case, I wholeheartedly applaud you. In our ever-more-fast-paced world, though, I suspect I’m not alone in needing a reminder of this once in a while!

Lesson #2: To truly be of service, it helps to remember that you’re enough.

When you commit to being of service, to living your purpose, and to being a leader, you must look closely at whether your motivations come from a place of I’m-enough, or I’m-not-enough.

If you’re in a place of I’m-not-enough, then all your actions take on a proving energy. You start worrying about being successful, because success starts to define your sense of self-worth.

If you come from a place of I’m-enough, you’re more able to see and respond to what’s actually needed.

The book Mindset by Carol Dweck explains this phenomenon beautifully. In the book, Carol studies the impact of 2 different mindsets on the performance of students ranging from grade school to university.

The students with a “fixed mindset” believed their abilities were innate, fixed, static, unchanging. With this mindset, every success or failure became a reflection of their innate abilities–and therefore their self-worth.

The “growth mindset” students believed that their level of ability was subject to change, and that putting in more effort would grow their abilities. With this mindset, the students’ self-worth was no longer tied to outcomes, and they were able to approach learning with confidence, patience, and persistence.

While stuck in my workaholic whirlwind of activity, I admittedly slipped back into the old fixed, I’m-not-enough mindset leftover from my days as a student. Having traded my successful but uninspiring career in for a life of purpose, it was all too easy for my saboteurs to creep in: could I really succeed at doing what I loved? Would I be able to sustain myself financially without the familiar steady corporate paycheck?

And suddenly those life-affirming career moves were tainted by needing to prove that my dream could succeed, that I could make it happen. And my need to rest and recharge slipped down in priority.

From the I’m-enough, growth mindset, I know that patience, persistence, and sustainable energy levels are a crucial part of making my dream succeed, and that I don’t need to do everything perfectly the first time.

Hm, let’s see…I think I’ll choose the I’m-enough approach, thank you very much!

Lesson #2a: There’s a time to push through, and a time to step away.

This lesson is really a corollary of the one above.

Pushing through is not always a bad thing. But ask yourself: Am I pushing through because I need to prove to myself and/or others that I’m enough? Or am I pushing through because I want to serve the highest good for myself and/or others?

Lesson #3: Consider what you’re committed to, rather than becoming attached to specific outcomes.

This is about being able to see the forest, not just the trees. In my example, all the workshops, projects, and plans became tasks to complete, and I temporarily lost sight of why I was doing them all: because I’m committed to creating more connection and loving consciousness in the world.

With my bigger commitment in mind, I know that I’m here to not only *achieve* my purpose, but to actually *live* it myself. And that means recharging the batteries so I can approach what I create with that same sense of connection and loving consciousness.

What are you committed to in your life, and what might simply be an outcome you’re attached to?

Lesson #4: Space creates opportunity.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote a post recently about allowing things to happen. In his post, he says that giving more space and room to allowing things to happen, rather than trying to tightly control everything, is ultimately more effective and also allows things to surprise us that we didn’t expect.

I’ve experiencing my own version of this lesson this week. I’m in the middle of a 2-week trip the East Coast to visit family. Before hitting said wall, my plan for this trip was not to drop the ball on any of my business plans. I would coach remotely, work on website, marketing, and promotion efforts for both of my businesses, and would strive to be as productive as I would have been at home.

After hitting the wall, I’ve decided to take an entirely different approach; I’m still coaching my clients, but the other stuff is unnecessary. They’ll be there waiting for me when I get back from my trip.

Clearing those plans away has allowed me not only to give myself much-needed rest, but to reconnect with why I came here in the first place: to spend time with my family. And I’m finding that, with more adequate rest under my belt, I’m able to bring my bigger commitment–connection and loving consciousness–into my interactions with my family.

Serving myself, serving my family, serving my purpose: all the same thing. And creating space around my plans gave me the opportunity to discover this.

“Congratulations, you’ve taken care of yourself, and as a result, you’ve taken care of those around you.”

These wise words were spoken to me and the rest of my class this morning by a Bikram yoga teacher over here on the East Coast at Bikram Yoga Rockville.

And my heart responded with a resounding “Yes!”

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  1. Izzy

    Hi Cindy 🙂
    You bring up a really important topic. I know for myself, that sometimes I want to succeed so badly that I will run myself intoa brick wall than pretend I’m not hurt (even though my shoulder has fallen completely out of its socket). The irony of this as you point out is that it makes me totally inefficient.

    Back when I was a teacher in Los Angeles we always used to remind each other “I am not good to the students, when I am no good to myself”. Which for about 2 years I would always say but didn’t really understand. Eventually after nearly burning myself out I realized that the only way to truly enjoy and best serve the students was to step away from the work sometimes.

    It is such a powerful lesson. I think it is aweomse that you were able to take that experience and quickly turn it into a powerful lesson. I always need reminders to slow down and smell the roses. I don’t think it is something I will ever 100 percent get past. I am always going to be a little vulnerable to overworking myself. But when I read posts like this it helps remind me to stay grounded.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Izzy. I really like that mantra–and I agree, it’s one thing to know something, and another thing to really KNOW it.

      It’s true, we may never get past these things 100 percent. It’s the times when we stretch outside our comfort zones when fear, rushing, and grasping can start to come in. But that’s a very good sign, because it often means we’re pursuing something new, daring to live our dream, and committing to continual growth through our lives.

      Here’s to having our feet on the ground AND our heads in the clouds!

  2. Cindy, I love that your site is about “learning to connect our hearts with our actions.” I feel so strongly about living life that way as well. Lesson #3 really moved me because I find I am much happier in life when I am able to detach myself from the outcomes and allow life to flow. I hope you have a great day!

    • Thanks Wendy! Happy to find someone else passionate about living from the heart too!

      I like what you’re saying about allowing life to “flow.” I just took a look at your latest blog post, and I definitely find that involving my intuition and heart in my decision-making tends to create a real sense of flow and serendipity–whereas getting too bogged down in specifics and analysis that my head creates tends to cut off the flow bigtime.

      Thanks for visiting!

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