What is Self-Care? Learning from Three Leaders

How do we cope with the pressures of daily life? How can self-care help? And self-care a selfish act, really? Let’s learn from three leaders, who in my view display poise and balance in their work, as well as being leaders in their sectors.

They are, in alphabetical order:

. Steadman Harrison, CEO of GoInnovation, who has time and time again amazed me for his energy, and the impact he is bringing in his leadership development endeavours at a global level, with optimism and a mentoring heart;

.Yodit Hizekiel, a Learning Coach, a leader in her community, who constantly reminds me of the power of being warm, compassionate and trusting of life;

. Zahara Legesse Kauffman, a powerful psychotherapist and trainer at Ask Zahara, who has often invited me to be candid to myself, to look at dynamics at a deep level, and commit to healing at personal and teams’ levels.

Such leaders were asked the following questions:

  1. What does self-care mean to you? How is it related to great leadership and leading?
  2. In what way do you practice self-care?
  3. What advice do you have for the women wishing to practice self-care more?

Here are their responses and deliberations:

Steadman Harrison:

\"Steadman Steadman Harrison

​Ethiopia allows me to wear many hats.  My name is Steadman Harrison and I am a husband and a father of 3 sons.  As the CEO for go-innovation.com I have the flexibility to also serve as a senior member of a European Union funded electoral support project and wear the hat of country representative for Global Outreach International.  My roles include that of coach, facilitator, teacher, pastor, speaker, and trainer.

Given the opportunity, and at times the pressure, to wear all of these hats, self-care is a critical aspect of my daily life – and the importance of self-care comes particularly into focus after I have travelled for 10 days and find myself at a distance from my family!

My days begin with coffee and prayer and the reading of the Christian Scriptures.  This daily routine requires discipline.  I have to fight the pressures to move straight into work with the always present nature of e-mail, texts, social media, and a global team that works around the clock.  My Sundays are sacred days, set apart for rest and for fellowship at a local Christian Church wherever I am.  Alyssa and I have been married 25 years as of 2020 and it has been so important that we both practice self-care that includes rest and the care of our relationship.  We make time for date nights and do our best to debrief our days together in person or over the phone when either of us are travelling.  We appreciate having a community of like-minded friends who ask us how we are doing both individually and collectively as a family.  The accountability we find in community is absolutely critical.  For those who are seeking a healthy pattern of life, build these habits early and focus on consistency.  We are running a marathon, not a sprint, and we want to finish strong!

Yodit Hizekiel:

\"Yodit Yodit Hizekiel

I serve as a Learning Coach at the International Community School (ICS) in Addis Ababa, and am the mother of three children, now 21, 18 and 17 years of age.

Whether leading a family or a large corporation, any woman owes it to herself and to those she leads to practice self-care. When many of us hear that term, we automatically imagine well rounded meals, balanced in color, nutrients and fiber. Or sweaty bodies engaged in activity, laboring muscles and heavy breathing. To be fair, eating healthy and regular exercise are valid ways of self-care but my observation, the aspect of self-care we oversee may not be about food or exercise at all. Purposeful self-care of ourselves, specifically our mental, emotional and spiritual state is critical for anyone, whether in leadership or not, but especially if we lead. After all we must be well to lead.

As women in leadership we often hold ourselves to high standards, striving to meet the expectations on our roles. We work hard to please our co-workers, our bosses, and our subordinates, all the while balancing our home and family lives and the responsibilities that come with that. Our minds are constantly engaged and we embody ‘busy’ even when we leave the confines of our ‘job’, as we push unyieldingly to get better, higher, more. Then we do it again the next day, and the next and the next. Far too often, we forget to take time for us. Time to step away and to release stress and recharge, to connect with God, to pray, to breath and listen. We become so entangled in life all its demands, we drain ourselves daily, where we cannot see it, and can’t feel it until it becomes too much. It is critical that we figure out what rejuvenates us. If we are people who get energy from being with others, we need to do that and recharge. If pulling away to be quiet and in stillness is what we need, we ought to do that. Either one, away from deadlines, meetings and corporate work. Whatever it may be that builds us up in the deepest part of who we are, in our spirit and our mind, we need to dedicate regular time and energy to it. If not, we will reach the point where we cannot take it anymore, and will no longer be effective, but drained. We will no longer be leading as we cannot take care of others without taking care of ourselves.

Zahara Legesse Kauffman:

\"Zahara Zahara Legesse

My name is Zahara Legesse Kauffman. I am a host at Ask Zahara on all social media platforms as well as a psychotherapist, trainer, and a life coach.

Self-care for me entails constantly balancing and knowing that I can’t do it all. I am very passionate about the work I carry out and I love what I do, but it is very intense and stressful, so I constantly need to reassess myself and practice self-care. When looking at the connection between leadership and self-care, I would say one of the things I try to be mindful of is that ‘you can’t be a leader in everything’.  That is, I remind myself that I can only do what I can do with the time I have. So for me time management is a big part of self-care.

In my day-to-day work I am fully engaged, and it takes a lot of energy to do what I love. For instance, when delivering a training, I make sure that I have an early bed the night before and take the day off after I finish the training. To practice self-care, I try to exercise, spend time at home with my family, I drink lots of water, and eat healthy food. I try to not be on the phone, take calls or call people in the evening unless it is a close family member or a dear friend that I deeply care about. I have boundaries and pay attention to the people I have in my life: I tend to be around people that I can learn from, who can inspire me, have a positive impact on me, who can accept me for who I am, but who are also honest with me about how I am leading my life.

In our society, especially for women, we at times tend to see self-care as a luxury and as being selfish, not a necessity. Women are taught from an early age to take care of everyone before themselves. We are encouraged to be strong and are admired for being strong and “doing it all” by our communities. This mindset can be addictive to us as women and dangerous for our overall health. But in actuality, women need to be supported and be encouraged to take care of themselves, to assertively tell their families and communities that they are not super human and that they need support, understanding and compassion, because women, most of the time are the unsung heroes; they are the one who have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Whether they have a job outside of their home or not, women need support at home taking care of the household, raring children, taking care of extended family and their communities. This then means that as women, we have to let go of wanting to look good, wanting to look perfect, being okay with who we are and having realistic expectations about our capacities, our time and energy.  I think this takes a lot of courage; it takes courage to say: ’I cannot do it all’, it takes courage to be okay with looking bad in the eye of another.

Practicing self-care requires being vulnerable and letting people know how we feel and asking for help when we need it. When we mess up and when we fall, let’s learn from it, forgive ourselves and be kind to ourselves. Because this wonderful life we live in, can be messy at times.

Harvesting our Learning on Self-Care

There are pearls of wisdom we can learn from the above: from Steadman I learn about the power of having a spiritual practice daily to face the multiple roles one may juggle, as well as sharing self-care moments with the companion in your life, and like-minded people. Yodit reminds me about the need to give time to the self and do so by finding out what truly nourishes you. And from Zahara I gather the power of boundaries, of needing to constantly reassess myself, valuing that one can’t do everything all at one time.

At a personal level, as a student of leadership, and as I continue my healing sabbatical and my life journey, I see self-care as honouring my feelings and needs, having boundaries and simplifying my life.

I gather that being compassionate about the self and others requires the biggest boundaries by learning to say ‘no’, seeking nourishing relationships, being mindful of the food we eat, and how we spend our time and energy, as well as resting deeply when we can. I am gathering that my mind has often been over-active, over-riding my physical needs, and that mind and body need to work together. I am grateful for those around me who support me in balancing my responsibilities with practicing self-care.

Perhaps, it’s when we have fully allowed space for ourselves, preserved our energy, that we can do the same for others, and thus serve in a more balanced, focused and wholesome way.

Having a community that practices self-care, be it also in nurturing one’s growth at personal and professional levels, can be so helpful. A case in point is the work of AWiB in Ethiopia, and coincidentally, this month, AWiB 2020 President led a Round Table Discussion on ‘Self-Care’ itself. I truly value the learning and solace I receive from this association, its members and many activities.

So, truly, self-care cannot be selfish, but a healthy and needed one. Indeed, as Parker Palmer once said: \”Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was
put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it
requires, we do not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.”

I am wondering what self-care is for you, and how you practice it in your daily life?

Key words: #Self-care #Leadership #AWiBEthiopia
Written by: Nadia Waber