This is a text-based version of my presentation given at UserConf in San Francisco on 11/13/15.
Are you happy with the way things are in your life currently?
Do you believe that things could be better?
Chances are, it's because they could be.
My name is Mercer, and I’m the Integrations Manager at Campaign Monitor, an email marketing company with an office right here in beautiful San Francisco! Today, I’m here to talk to you about self-care and how you can help promote it within your company and personal life.
Self-care. What’s that, huh? Sounds kind of...icky, right? Self-care is, wait for it, the act of caring for yourself. I’m not talking about making sure you’re clothed and fed and that you have a roof over your head, though in the most basic sense, that is self-care. I mean ensuring that you are taking care of all of your basic needs (of which there are six categories), and being the happiest and most productive human that you can be. And that your company is supporting you in doing that.
Here’s an example, for those of you thinking that this is about to be the basic bitch of all talks: how many people in here have gone to work when they were sick, because there was some deadline they had to meet or some other important “something” that had to get done? Raise your hand. Basically all of you, right? I can’t really say anything about that because I’ve been there too. The point of this talk and why I am giving it is because we have all been there. If it’s a friend that was saying “Yeah, I’m going to come into work even though I’m not feeling well,” you would tell them “No, no! Stay home, rest up!” Whereas, if it’s you, you’re all about being Typhoid Mary for your entire team. Why would you treat your friend any differently than you would treat yourself?
Support and customer-facing people are all innately nurturing, caring and kind people. It’s why we have the jobs that we have. If we weren’t all of those things, we’d be developers (hyuck hyuck hyuck, just kidding)! We spend every second of every day thinking about how we can make other people happy or solve other people’s problems, but never thinking about our own. For some, it’s because we feel selfish putting ourselves first, for others, we don’t even realize that we are doing it. You are your own most important asset. Without yourself, you could not do anything. Literally. Which means that all the people that need you around to help them and assist them couldn’t do anything either.
Self-care helps everyone. It might feel selfish to start off, but it isn’t. Taking a few moments (or even an hour or more!) for yourself, means that the rest of the time that you have in your day can be spent more productively. You do better work when you are happy, healthy and all of your needs are being met. You will be a stronger contributor to any groups that you are a part of, professional or otherwise, if you give yourself the space to take care of yourself. If you take just a few moments of each day to do some self-caring, you will be that much more open to caring about and helping others. Plus, it feels good. It’s a goddamn miracle drug. It lights up all the pleasure centers of your brain, and helps you do things like remember more, learn faster, and even beat out depression. Even further, you could be responsible for helping to implement something truly awesome for the rest of your company, and helping to pass that good feeling on to others.
We talk about work-life balance as if it means that the two, working and living, are separate, but I think that’s an outdated idea. We don’t need to spend equal amounts of time on both, but instead put equal commitment into feeling fulfilled at both. But, there are many different things that make up a “balanced” happy life. In comes the self-care wheel or self-care pizza if that speaks more to your tastes.
Your professional needs are some of the hardest to have met, primarily because they so often depend on someone else: your boss. In my own life, it has been hard to overcome the guilt associated with professional self-care: it’s meant leaving jobs, turning down opportunities, and sometimes even severing ties of professional relationships which might have started out as healthy. All of these things, though, came out of the motivation to ensure that my needs were being met, something which I have turned into my own personal guiding light after living a lot of my life very unhappily.
Think back on the past year of your life and the question that I asked at the beginning of this presentation: could things be better than they are right now? When was the last time that you worked overtime, on the weekend, canceled a personal engagement that was important to you in order to make a meeting? We are here at a professional conference to all learn how to do our jobs better, which implies how important it is to us as a whole. “Professional” is it’s whole own chunk on the sociological self-care wheel, which shows how important it is in terms of your overall wellness, too. As I dug deeper, though, I discovered that each of the other slices of this delectable pie were intrinsically tied to professional life, as well. Because, when you think about it, most of your life is work. We think about it when we are on the train, we spend 8 or more hours a day at the office and, if we are given the tools we need to be happy, we enjoy it.
Other than the professional aspect, there are five other pieces to healthy self-care: personal, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual. To be a healthy, balanced individual you theoretically need to have aspects of each of these needs addressed in your everyday life. And, because so much of our every day lives are spent working, you should be practicing each of these at the office as well. While you might not hit it out of the park with each different aspect at your own company (if you’re batting a 4 out of 6 average, I’d say you’re doing pretty well), I wanted to share some great examples of ways other companies are bringing this balance into their DNA.
How’s your body doing lately? Are you getting 8 hours of sleep every night? Do you have a regular workout schedule? Your company should encourage you to get out and be active: it’s proven to be psychologically as well as physically beneficial to get your heart rate up and participate in group physical activities: does your company have a sports team, or promote physical activity and exercise in another way? Trello, for example, gives employees full reimbursement of gym costs, while Help Scout recently implemented a Slack bot that randomly pings their remote team members to do crunches, push ups or squats each hour. If your company doesn’t offer things like this, it might be a good opportunity to talk to them about it: ask why that isn’t something that is being encouraged, especially if its something like a Slack bot that can be built in for free. Exercise, along with producing and releasing endorphins in your body, enacts something called neurogenesis which generates new and protects existing neurons. This promotes better memory, learning and reasoning capabilities, all just from a tiny jog or some crunches. For me, this entailed going out and getting my yoga teacher certification so I could teach others, but maybe for you this looks like asking to have a fitness instructor come in and teach at lunch, or taking it upon yourself to lead some calisthenics if you feel so inspired.
When was the last time you bonded with someone over your profession? Do you ever go to support meet-ups, or have any kind of group you can talk with about support issues? There are tons of great opportunities for professional learning through sites like Meet Up, or Eventbrite—especially if you are living in a big city. Maybe, if you’re in office, you could even host a Meet Up at your space. If you’re a bit more isolated, online communities like Support Driven, and conferences like this one here are outstanding places to bond with others and gain great perspectives about what you could be doing better, or might be able to do more of at your own company. Many companies, like Zapier and my very own Campaign Monitor, provide very generous options for conference meet-ups that help you develop professionally, meet like-minded people, and gain some psychological self-care points. Belonging to a group or participating in group activities stimulates the same part of our brain that is responsible for feeling physical pleasure and pain, along with a sense of self-worth; as fun as it can be to talk with likeminded people, it’s also immensely psychologically important and rewarding. Take these opportunities as often as you need, and fully devote yourself to learning—no answering tickets the inbox when you are supposed to be focussing on a talk!
How often each week do you tell yourself (or hear from others) that what you are doing is valuable? Do you and your team have any kind of recognition system in place? Support is so often an unsung hero that it is even more important to implement in-team recognition as regularly as possible. The support team at Campaign Monitor, for example, has a weekly email that they send out that notifies the whole company of really awesome support interactions or work that their team members are doing. This is also something that I worked on when I worked at Wistia. Providing this kind of recognition serves as encouragement to keep working, even if the job can be difficult or frustrating at times. Further more, in such a sometimes thankless job, it can be important to remind yourself (whether that be by someone telling you, or by you telling yourself) that you are important. Providing and receiving positive recognition from your peers can help to validate your sense of self-worth and empowerment, and may even make you (or others) more inclined to tackle goals that you wouldn’t have without that encouragement. Many of the things happening at your company would not continue to happen were it not for your and your team’s tireless and great work. Make sure you are as loud and proud about that as possible.
Does your office have a meditation room or quiet space? Do you have any kind of volunteering policy? Participating in volunteer work with people less fortunate is a great way to feel more connected with the community around you and to feel more spiritually fulfilled. Volunteering and donating time or money provides us with a dopamine rush—the same kind of experience we would have if receiving a great gift or eating a delicious meal. So, while it feels good, emotionally, to give back, it can also lead to feelings of euphoria, happiness and physical well-being. Campaign Monitor offers one paid day off a quarter to go and participate in volunteer work at a local non-profit or charity organization. Something that we did while on our company trip to Fiji, for example, was help to renovate a school house by painting a new mural, building and varnishing furniture, and bringing a new library and sports tools for them to play with. Maybe, if your company doesn’t already have these opportunities, you could be the one to spearhead them.
How often do you ask yourself “what do I want to do with my life?” And, are you currently doing it? Personal self-care means taking the time that you need to focus on yourself and where you are going. Maybe you want to be a support team lead, maybe you want to move into a role in marketing. Start visualizing what needs to happen in order for you to get there, start making moves. How transparent is your growth cycle? Neurologically, each time you set a new goal or think about steps in your future, your brain already perceives that goal as being an intrinsic part of yourself, and releases dopamine each time you take a step closer. Scientifically, your brain likes it when you set goals—it is important and beneficial to its chemical makeup. Buffer, as most people know, is a great example of a company where transparency in how you are doing and where you want to go is key. How much everyone is being paid is made open not only to the internal teams, but to all Buffer customers as well. This helps employees to understand where they fit in the scheme of things, and even feel more brave when asking for raises or new job titles.
Many people leave jobs because they are looking for advancement that they don’t perceive as available in their current company. By making paths of growth as clear as possible, companies give their employees the autonomy to think for themselves, and be truly aware of whether or not what they want to be doing in the future is possible at their current job. From the employee side of it, this means that you need to be speaking up and asking for more transparency if you don’t see a feasible way to get to where you want to go. Talking about it, and encouraging that, perhaps, a new process be built will help you meet your personal self-care goals, and will help others moving forward.
Just like in an airplane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help other people put theirs on. You have to take care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of others. Once you make the commitment to start paying attention to and working on these things, whether you do so for your company or by yourself, you will start to see all kinds of things fall into place. Start slowly: make relaxing or meditating, or thinking about your future a TO DO on your list of things—forcing yourself to consider it as an important task will help you reframe the way you think about self-care.
Create a plan, set your boundaries, go forth and conquer. Things can be better, and you can make them that way.