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 Importance of Engaging Your Core

My fitness instructor is constantly reminding me to engage my core. She interjects during lunges, curls, and pushups. No matter the exercise, your core muscles must be engaged. The central part of the body is essential for everything else to function properly and to maximize performance. In Alli’s own words,

“It’s all about the core!”

This is not only true for athletes. It’s true in life.

The word core is defined as: the central, innermost, or most essential part of anything.

In other words, your core is who you are, deep down.

Have you been through times in life when you let your core get soft and didn’t feel like yourself? You lost sight of who you are and disengaged from the important things? It happens to everyone. Some common reasons people go through this type of slump include:

  • A career change
  • Baby blues
  • Transition to a new city
  • Death of a loved one
  • A serious illness

Major life changes can wreak havok on your sense of self. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of adjusting to your new circumstances, and forget to take care of who you are.

There are several avenues back to your core. A good way to start engaging again is this: Think of an activity that reminds you exactly who you were before you fell into a funk. The activity itself doesn’t define who you are, but participating in it makes you feel invigorated.

A core-engaging activity can be anything that makes you feel like yourself again. It’s something you love doing, utilizing your skills or passions. It makes you feel alive. Maybe it’s a sport, hobby, or volunteer position. Or simple as a walk on your favorite trail.

In the winter of 2011, I was not feeling like myself. A cross-country move, two babies, and a major career change had taken their toll. I was spiraling further down into the dumps. A gray storm cloud followed me overhead like a grouchy cartoon character.

One afternoon I saw my health club was advertising tryouts for a men’s basketball league. There aren’t many non-WNBA women my age who want to play organized basketball, so the men’s league sounded like a good option. I arrived at the tryout and was welcomed with a barrage of questions.

“You do know this is a men’s league, right?”

“Here to cheer on your husband?”

“Did someone say you could tryout? We’ve never had a girl play before.”

We played a half court game of 3-on-3 while the league captains observed. On my team were a guy in his 50’s and a 21 year old who could jump through the roof. We scored 20 points in five minutes.

After the tryout, the guy in charge of the league drafted me on his team.

Every Sunday night that winter, I laced up my shoes and engaged my core. I played the sport I love most and talked some friendly trash. Basketball doesn’t define who I am. But it was a huge part of my life for over a decade.

Playing ball again in an organized setting reminded me of something important. While I love being a wife, mother, and folding massive amounts of laundry, the core of who I am hasn’t changed. I’m still competitive, athletic, and love encouraging my teammates. I get back up when I fall down. I handle myself with grace and sportsmanship when others don’t. I know how to have fun. I can laugh at myself.

I had forgotten most of those things. And it was time to apply them to my current roles in life. It’s important to get back to your core.

By the way, the team with the girl on the roster? They won the league championship.

Question: Do you need to get back to your core? What steps can you take to engage it again?