Over the past ten years I've worked for several charities, supporting women who had, through no fault of their own, experienced horrors I could never have dreamed of. I was dedicated, passionate and giving. I was inspired by what the women had achieved in the face of violence.
Clients stories would sound like climbing out from the bottom of a deep dark well, with no rope, no safety net, carrying a gaggle of children behind them, only to be pushed back down when they reached the top by an abusive partner. I'd get goose bumps when clients explained that after trying again and again they'd eventually find a way to escape. I felt privileged that these amazing women felt comfortable enough to share their stories with me.
I might still be doing this work, had I not burnt out. I left that world a shell of the person I went in as. For some reason, unknown to me at the time, I slowly slipped into empathy fatigue. I disconnected from my own joy and the things I was experiencing in my own life.
Once I left that world I realised that I had to create my own support system if I wanted to do anymore work that required me to give myself wholeheartedly. So I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. I took the time to look at who I really was, what lit me up. I gave myself extended periods of down time, time to sit and be with me. I celebrated my achievements wildly, I created list after list of things I was grateful for. I re-nourished myself with the beauty of the world. I let the light back into my life.
So now as I continue to employ all of the above, I navigate life in a more peaceful, fulfilled, light way.
It may well have been the end of the road for me anyway in the world of support work. But I do believe, had I known and valued self-development work at the time, the end result for me might have been different.
We live in a culture that doesn't value looking inwards. We're a real 'doing' culture - get your head down, graft your life away and then you'll get your rewards. Well I call bullshit on that approach. That approach leads to burn out, depression and 'numbing' like over eating and over drinking.
However the world still needs support workers. Especially when articles like this are still populating our news channels. The world also needs policy makers, environmental experts, socially aware entrepreneurs, loving parents. And it's hard to continue to deliver this work in a wholehearted way if the focus is so heavily placed on what we do, rather than who we are and how we feel.
We're all born with a gift to give the world, be that supporting others in difficult situations, be that setting up and growing an inspiring business, be that bringing up a family. The world needs what we're here to give. And in order to give what we're here to give in a sustained way we need to do the personal self-development work first.
Self-development work is not selfish, it is not self-indulgent. It is essential, if you want to give and create what you are here to give and create.
Here's to writing gratitude lists, reading inspiring books, getting back to nature. Here's to a world that celebrates work that benefits and inspires others, and allows the giver to be connected to their core, to feel vibrant and alive as they navigate what they are here to do and who they are here to be.
Here's to self-development.
It is not a luxury, it is our responsibility.