The Secret to Balancing Service and Self

Serve others. It’s expected, noble, and arguably the most important reason we’re put on earth.

But serving others can be exhausting. If you’re not careful, it will deplete you of all the skills and traits that make you a useful servant in the first place.

Everyone I know is consumed by the do-it-all culture we live in today. College students, executives, parents, working moms, and stay-at-home moms are over scheduled and sleep deprived. On top of the endless list of responsibilities, they willingly pile on acts of service. Volunteering, rescuing, helping. Not a single person I know sits around eating bon-bons and watching The Today Show. (I take that back, I do know one, but nobody likes her).

Spending most of your time serving others is a good thing. Until it becomes a bad thing. If you don’t make time to take care of yourself, you’ll crash and burn. Over the last year alone I’ve watched people develop chronic illness, clinical depression, and overall lousy moods. One friend even pulled her car over on the side of the road, calmly got out, and walked off into the woods never to be seen again. (Or was that just a daydream I had yesterday?)

The two things keeping us from taking care of ourselves are time and guilt. But consider this. Most of us are running on fumes. If you want to be effective when pouring your life into others, you’ve got to stop and fill the tank.

So what’s the secret to balancing service and self?

Bookends. They hold everything together. 

Bookend the day. Start each day doing something for yourself. Get up 15 minutes earlier and enjoy a cup of tea alone. Go for a run. Read. Paint. Anything you love to do. End your day the same way. Make time to do something for yourself as your final “task” before you go to bed.

Bookend the week. I find it unrealistic to bookend my life every day. Sometimes I feel like a ninja blocking wrenches thrown at me from invisible forces of evil. But, I am relentless about bookending my week. On Monday mornings I meet my friend Aimee to run Town Lake trail. Friday mornings I do yoga with my friends Laura and Brettne. Everything in between might look like organized chaos, but I start and end my week with something just for me. Exercise and time with friends.

Bookend the month. At the beginning of each month, take time to look ahead at your calendar. Highlight important appointments, review responsibilities, and be intentional about placing some fun things on the schedule that YOU want to do. At the end of the month, plan a party. This could be as simple as lunch with a friend. A round of golf. Or a beer at your favorite pub. But end the month with something enjoyable.

Bookend the year. Kick off each new year by setting personal goals. Plan time for yourself. Conclude the year reviewing how well you did. Celebrate success and document lessons learned from mistakes. Write. It. Down.

Bookend your life. Strike this balance and you’ll be a much better friend, spouse, or parent. Your job performance will improve. And you can serve others with joy rather than bitterness.

What are some other strategies you use to balance service and self?

 
 
  • Andrea Mullens

    I’ve had to learn to be ok saying ‘no’ even to good things. It was hard at first but it’s getting easier.

    Love the thought here on ending our week/month/year with something we enjoy. I’d say it’s a good idea to do the same anytime we complete something significant especially if it was difficult.

    • I handle stress much better when there is something to look forward to. And stopping to celebrate milestones is key, whether at home, school, or in your organization. Thanks for stopping by, Andrea!

  • jjude

    I love this.

    I also love the image of you in black ninja wear knocking flying wrenches aside.

  • bmassa

    Tracy, I always knew you had a little bad axx ninja in you. 🙂 Great post, could not agree more. Spot on my friend!