Look what the tree in my side yard decided to do. It’s a miracle after a long winter. As a speaker who helps groups stop burnout and who shares stories of my therapy dog, Bella, and her amazing work, I was thinking who needs words when there is something like this tree bursting into pink blossoms? Take a moment today to notice what this new season has to offer.
Here are snow drops, bravely blooming on this last day of February in Connecticut. My mother always looked for them and for skunk cabbage in the marshes just when winter seemed to be lasting forever. They were a sure sign that spring was on its way, even though there might still be snow on the ground.
This got me thinking about change, and what winter things I might want to do before the real spring arrives. So instead of just waiting for spring, I thought it would be interesting to see how to say goodbye to winter. Let’s look at two categories:
Girl stuff: girls like to clean out closets, reorganize drawers, get junk out of the basement, have a clear inventory of what they have, and in small ways and large, create order out of chaos. Time Magazine, in the February 27th/March 6th issue, has a wonderful article by Scott Sonenshein on “How to create more from what you already have.” As he writes: “the science of stretching offers an effective, more fulfilling alternative that invigorates us to do more without needing more.” And he adds at the end of the article: “You already have everything you need to succeed. Just stretch.”
That is exciting. It’s like yoga for the mind. It taps into our creativity, and the fun of improvising. Okay, now on to the boy stuff: boys often like to build things, fix things, figure out how things work, split wood, make noise, make a mess, be outdoors. And of course many girls like these things too, just as many boys may be really good at cooking, cleaning, organizing.
Think of one thing you can do today that helps you say goodbye to winter. It might be doing something that you won’t want to do once the weather is nice outside. It could be giving yourself time to look at the seed catalogs and start planning your garden. Or it might be seeing what kind of soup you can make with what you already have in your kitchen. Just like the brave snowdrops that make me smile every time I see them, find something that gives you the same kind of lift as a warm, spring day.
Henry (our cat) and Bella (our dog) know how to enjoy the perfect day when outside winds are howling and the snow is drifting against the house. A good lesson, don’t you think? No stress or burnout!
Many years ago, my mother gave me a wonderful book: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path of Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. Or, if I were writing the subtitle: “A way to find your best self.” It’s a workbook, filled with quotes, exercises, case studies and really good advice on nurturing our creative and true selves. Here’s something from the book that I forgot about, but am going to do today:
Go on “an artist’s date.” This means treat yourself to something you really would like to do, whether that’s quiet time at Starbucks or a walk in the park after work, or whatever calls to you. I’m going to my local bookstore. There’s a really comfortable couch there and I’m going to take off my jacket, look at books, pick up a pile that look interesting, and then sit on the couch and give myself time to browse through them. Just that.
I’m not going to rush. I have no “to do” list. I’m not doing research for a project. I might look at children’s books. Or novels. It doesn’t matter. Why are these dates important? And how might they cure our winter blues?
- We give ourselves credit for getting things done, but see if you can detach from that as these dates feed us, balance that activity with things that restore our energy
- We need solitude and time–quiet, uninterrupted time that is just for ourselves
- Julia writes about how we try to wiggle out of these dates–something is always more important–but her point, as I understand it is, build this habit and your life will be rewarding
- Get over the guilt of being nice to yourself and treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend
- Anytime we invest in ourselves, we feel better, stronger, see things in a more positive light
Here in New England there’s snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer. The sun feels a bit brighter. What could you do for yourself today that would be gift to yourself? I’ll be at the book store.
I know it’s a strange idea to think of the thing we try so hard to avoid, as a force that might help us. But over and over, in my work helping groups stop burnout and get re-energized, I’ve seen how burnout has helped people. It’s made them change. It’s clarified what’s important to them. It’s set them on a new course.
My past year has been full of activities surrounding the publication of my third book: “Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.” In fact, I’m speaking more now about the book than I am about burnout. At first I felt upset that my work had shifted. But now I see that my dog’s wonderful work comforting others, has deepened my understanding of why it’s so important to not let burnout eclipse our gifts. So, yes, burnout can be a friend, as long as it’s a friend you pay attention to. As long as you don’t get stuck.
Here are the key lessons I’ve learned about self-care from my energetic (that’s the nice word for “crazy”) working dog:
- Surprise yourself. Sit when you’d stand, stop when you’d go. Mix it up.
- Ask questions and the answers will come
- Small shifts lead to big changes
- Help comes from surprising places: a child, a dog, a stranger
- Pay attention
- Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it
- Grow in curiosity and giving back
- Travel light–see what you can get rid of and see how that makes you feel
- Cast off resentment–it just gets in the way
- Don’t be afraid of uncertainty or emptiness: wait, sing, a path will open.
Not bad lessons from a dog! Be brave and share your thoughts. That will help all of us have the best year ever.
Yes, I know, everyone has advice about resolutions, getting fit, eating better, reducing stress and so on. But my suggestion is different and it’s simply to step outside of your normal schedule and try something new. Just last week I added a spinning class and I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to my car. My legs felt like rubber! But the fun thing is that I felt energized by it, and yes, I’ve gone back.
What could you do and why would you do it? See what calls to you. Is it something related to music, or is it an idea that you’ve had for a while but haven’t done anything about? It could be as simple as trying a new recipe, taking a different road on the way home from work, visiting a neighbor. Why do these small steps matter? I don’t really know the answer except that for me, new things are energizing. They add sparkle to life. I read once that when we’re on a path that we haven’t taken, that we tap into an ancient response that makes us more aware and alive. So don’t make resolutions that feel like one more thing you don’t want to do, but instead shake it up. Have fun! You might surprise yourself.
(Image courtesy of Inc.com)
My best friend, Nancy, made this beautiful arrangement. She’s been studying Japanese flower arranging. So in this busy season, I thought I’d share it along with a short paragraph from Joan Chittister’s book, “The Gift of Years.” They go beautifully together:
“A blessing of these years is the invitation to go lightfooted into the here and now–because we spend far too much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present.”
I had the great pleasure of speaking at the MASS-ALA conference last week and it was really special. Chris Foley and her team made it seem effortless, but went beyond that and made the conference welcoming and upbeat. I spoke on “Stop Burnout: Five Steps to Re-Energize Your Work for Your Best Year Ever” and we had a blast. Not only was it interactive, but the whole group was up on their feet dancing when we got to the slide: “Sitting is the new smoking.” It may seem silly, but a 15-30 second break where you move your body, enjoy music and refresh, is really a smart burnout buster. And for sure that will make you “Assisted Living Strong.”
Okay, I’m an author and I love books, but I was thinking it would be fun to share thoughts on a book that has made a difference to us, whether now or in the past. It could be related to stopping burnout, or tips on how to find your next job. Or, it could be fiction–a story that grabbed you and stayed with you. So here’s mine:
“Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing at a Time” by Devora Zack. First of all, it’s a riot. Here’s how it starts:
To my dearest reader:
You are hereby released from the temptation to overachieve. Your friend, Devora Zack
P.S. You’re welcome.
That gives you a sense of her tone, but her witty and light hearted approach is backed up by impressive research. She quotes major business leaders as well as neuroscientists–all to support the radical idea that we can only do one cognitive skill at time. (Yes, you can fold laundry and talk on the phone at the same time since the folding is not a cognitive skill.)
So if you want to do yourself a huge favor, read this book. Keep it on the front passenger seat of your car. Reread a paragraph before rushing into work. It could just change your life, and will help you stop burnout and have the best year ever.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)