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?


The One Thing Your Children Need to Hear

Do you love your children? The majority of parents would respond with a resounding yes. A large percentage claim to love their kids unconditionally and want them to know it. But throughout my experience coaching, teaching, and volunteering in schools I have seen too many kids tie their self-worth to individual performance.

Deep down in their hearts, they feel the following pressure:

My parents will love me LESS if I…

  • Miss the shot
  • Fail this test
  • Don’t try my best
  • Get caught in a lie
  • Wake up in a bad mood

My parents will love me MORE if I…

  • Score the most points
  • Make good grades
  • Have lots of friends
  • Obey all the time
  • Never fail at anything

Growing up in today’s pressure-to-perform culture, most children feel this way. But you can change it with these simple words.

I love you the same no matter what you do.

[Read more…]


Communicate Early, Communicate Often

Think of a time you assumed your expectations about a project or service were made clear, but you ended up with a result gone horribly wrong. You intended to communicate effectively, only to find out the message was misinterpreted or missed altogether.

There’s the time I hired a plumber to repair a leak underneath the kitchen sink. He was here for one hour and sent me a bill for $719. He gave the pipes a vasectomy without my knowledge. At least that’s the only reasonable explanation.

Or the time I asked for an “up-do” for my wedding portraits and my hairdresser made me look like Bridezilla from 1987. That portrait ended up in the Houston Chronicle.

But nothing illustrates the importance of clear communication like what happened to me yesterday. [Read more…]


3 Ways to be a Remarkable Friend

I want to be a better friend. It’s something I’m working on in the new year. Thankfully, I have some amazing people in my life who model how to be a true friend every day.

We can also learn a lot from people about what not to do. In this case, a story about Miss Perfect and her love of laundry. (No, really.)

Oftentimes, the problems in our friends’ lives don’t overtly stand out. Instead, there are symtoms. Smaller issues that indicate a bigger problem below the surface.

Last year I hosted a group of women from church for a luncheon. I hadn’t seen Mother Perfect in months and she asked how I was doing. I wanted to tell her about the depression, sleepless nights, and chronic pain. But all I could muster was:

“Honestly, I’m low on sleep and struggling to keep up with the house. Specifically, the laundry is killing me. I’m folding at midnight at least three days a week. It’s overwhelming.”

I try not to complain or rant to my friends. I’m generally a positive, grateful person. But that day I needed to vent to someone who would understand. My laundry was multiplying faster than a jackrabbit on a date and I couldn’t take it anymore.

Astonished, she looked at me with a furled brow and said:

“Oh, not me. I love doing the laundry! I count it as great joy to have a family to do the laundry for!”

(Is she freaking kidding me right now?) [Read more…]