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Memoirs of an Essential Employee: Self-Care is Essential too

By Heather W

Earlier this year, our lives were “flipped-turned upside down”, as the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would say. Cities and states nationwide were put on lock-down ordering non-essential businesses to close their doors and forcing other businesses to come up with creative solutions to stay open. 

This pandemic threatened more than just our physical health but our financial, emotional, and mental health too. None of us have been able to escape COVID-19 completely unscathed. Luckily, we all have this amazing ability to find creative solutions, adapt, survive, and thrive. This has been done with much trial and error on my part and I’m sure on yours too, but we managed!

My inspiration for this article comes from personal experience with struggles I have faced being an essential employee during COVID-19. In my attempt to cope and overcompensate I developed unhealthy habits that quickly caused me to feel emotionally, physically, and mentally burnt out.

I can say that though this pandemic has created so many new challenges for me and I’m sure for you too, I have learned so many things about myself, my company, and the people I work with and live with. 

Most importantly I’ve discovered the necessity of self-care, especially in times of organized chaos.

I find inspiration from a quote by Helen Keller, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead... 

head stone-1I'm the training and development specialist for Abby Connect and had a class that had started just before the lock-down went into effect. It was my biggest class to-date by the way. Also, we had just moved to a new office the same week that Las Vegas was put on lock-down 

As I’m sure you can imagine, stress was no stranger to me at this point. And, the "Understatement of the Year" award goes to...

Not to worry though, I had everything totally under control. I could do this. I mean, I had to do this. I could practically hear Audrey Hepburn telling me, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, ‘I’m possible’!” 

I felt my normal response towards meeting a challenge of anxiety, excitement, and determination. I was ready to prove to everyone that I could do more with less and be just as capable, efficient, and reliable as ever!

I could hear the praise in my mind already, “I don’t know how she does it! She makes the impossible, POSSIBLE! She’s like a machine, but way prettier and obviously more compassionate!” 😉😊

So, I kept going as if everything was totally fine. Normal even! Then the newest members of our team got on the phones and we were off and running. Now I just had to train them on new accounts, set and monitor daily goals, host and award for weekly competitions, coach on good and bad behaviors, meet with other departments to ensure that all new policies were being implemented, meet with their future supervisors to keep them updated on their progress, act as quality assurance and listen to call recordings to make sure the new hires were handling their calls properly, perform an overall training performance review to show their future supervisors detailing their learning style, personal and professional goals, best coaching methods, and things they need to focus on.  

Oh, and I needed to plan for the next class starting at the beginning of April, track attendance, ensure COVID-19 policies were being adhered to, answer questions, and take over escalated calls. No worries! I’ve got this! I've taken walks in the park more challenging than this! 

I’m sure you have already seen the major flaw in my method, but I soldiered on. I could totally work 12-14 hours a day at the office, 2-3 hours from home each night to score calls, and then catch-up on my weekends as long as I worked a full 8-hour day Saturday and Sunday. "Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy", my daughter would say. 

I just had to set aside most of my daily routines such as mediation, yoga, breakfast, lunch, work breaks, time with my family, reading, watching TV, normal sleep schedule, healthy eating, etc. I mean everyone was having to make sacrifices, right? Everything was going to be fine.

Cue Morgan Freeman narration: “In fact, everything was not going to be fine for Heather and she knew it.” 

Wonder Woman, I Am Not...

not wonder woman-1I truly had the very best intentions when I set out to tackle all of these tasks, working 80+ hours, 7 days a week. I wanted to do my part to absorb the weight and stress of all of the changes necessary to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially working with new hire employees, I felt I had a duty to show no fear in the face of so much uncertainty. I had to be the calm, reliable, and reasonable one.

As you can tell, I may not have been seeing things clearly, but my heart was definitely in the right place.

Good intentions, unfortunately, did not help relieve the enormous weight of my self-imposed burdens I kept up my routine of insanity for about six weeks until I hit a massive (metaphorical) brick wall. I constantly felt overwhelmed and stressed out. I felt like I didn’t have enough time in the day to get everything done. I was getting more and more frustrated with co-workers. I started having trouble sleeping. I was on a downward spiral that was not slowing down. I was ready to break down and cry at any moment, but, of course, I didn’t have time for that either! 

On my journey of dedicated self-destruction, I had a few pivotal moments that led to my moment of clarity and reconstruction.  

Self-Destruct in 3...2...1... 

 self destruct modeI had been asked to join a meeting to offer suggestions on how to simplify some of the work a few of the junior supervisors were doing. By the way, the irony is NOT lost on me. I had offered my suggestions when one of the members provided feedback that my suggestion wasn't useful for her and well,...I snipped at her! For the record, I am almost always in control of my emotions. I don’t publicly snip at anyone. Ever!  

I knew as soon as the words left my mouth that I had done something regrettable. Sometimes it takes a mistake to truly learn a valuable lesson. My inability to exert self-control was an eye-opener. I needed to figure out why I was acting so out of character. I thought to myself, "Why am I like this?" I'm feeling angry with everyone and everything. 

I reached out to my supervisors – first, to apologize for my behavior - and then, to discuss the reasons, I suspected, that were creating the monster, that was...me. I was at critical overload and I could no longer sustain all of the work that I taking on as solely my responsibility. My supervisors quickly agreed to help me come up with alternative solutions to relieve me of the most time-consuming responsibilities. 

slowly started to take their advice and began asking for help. The first volunteer to hop aboard the "Help Heather Restore Her Sanity" train was my first mentor, friend, and co-worker, Mariah who is our Talent Acquisitions Specialist.

She helped finish the training for my nesting group, while I began the next training class. I was and still am extremely grateful for her help as it was literally impossible for me to be two places at once.  

The 180° Turn 

One day, a coworker brought a concern to me about releasing one of our "nesters" to higher level of accounts until I spent time with the nester myself to make sure she was ready. And, I snipped again! This time on my friends! Within moments I went back to apologize. I knew this could NOT happen again and the problem wasn’t anyone else. It was me. 

I went home that night running through all of my options trying to figure out how to get back to being myself again. I LOVE my job. I am one of those annoying people that feels lucky and accomplished because "I never have to work a day in my life". That's just how much I love what I do for work. Yet, I was starting to dread my next day at the office before even leaving the shift I was on.  Then it hit me. It was so obvious! 

180In order to get back to being myself, loving my life, my family, my career, and my co-workers again, I needed to actually spend some time with myself! By this point, my inner 12-year-old was shouting, "UM DUH!!" I was spending so much time trying to take care of work, that I stopped taking care of myself and my emotional piggy bank of energy was completely empty. The good news is that this was an easier fix than I imagined. And, I didn't totally break the bank here. 

The Road to Success Begins with Self-Care 

I woke up early the next morning determined to be better to myself. I started my day with a 20-minute yoga routine, drank a full bottle of water, and meditated to my favorite beta wave binary beats. I was focused, peaceful, energize, and excited. I felt better than I had in a long time!  

I got to work early to prepare for the day before my new class arrived. I needed to prioritize and game-plan to cut down my hours so I could spend more time with me, myself, and I. I knew I needed to start working smarter, rather than harder.  

heartLater that week, my co-worker and confidant, Mariah, was handing out surveys in our office. And, guess what that survey was about? That's right! Self-Care and Lifestyle Balance! The survey consisted of 25 questions where you rated yourself on a scale of "Never" to "Always". I had only made a few changes and I scored a 60 out of 100 which wasn’t too bad. According to the survey, "A score in this range suggests that you may have moderately good self-care skills and lifestyle balance strategies in place." (HA! 😄) 

Out of curiosity, I took the survey a second time using a different color pen to see what the results would have been if I had taken the survey the week prior. As I’m sure you have already predicted, it was a very low 25 out of 100. I felt like the survey score answer was apt, "A score in this range suggests that your self-care skills and lifestyle balance strategies may be poor and that you could possibly benefit from developing a plan to change your lifestyle and improve your self-care."

Well, better late than never! 

Prioritize & Rise 

At the end of the day, we all have to break down our priorities and how we plan to manage them. It's the first step to bettering yourself. And, this is exactly where I ended up. Hopefully, this outline of how I created and organized my priorities will inspire you to do the same. That is if you haven't already. 😉 

Priority #1 Don't Take Work Home With You

I rearranged my work to tackle my biggest jobs first thing in the morning and took on the smaller things throughout the rest of my day. I made a promise to myself, that if I didn’t finish something, I would leave it and make a note in my planner to take care of it first thing in the morning the following day.

I cannot stress this enough. Do your very best not to take your work home with you. There's always a project or deadline to be met but your work should be kept at work. You deserve the night off. Trust me on this one.  

Priority #2: Take Your Breaks at Work

Just because I was determined to not take things home, did not mean I needed to continue working through my lunch and other breaks. That day I went out to lunch with my Operations Manager, and friend, Elaine. Not only did I take my lunch, but I left the office to do so, so I couldn’t possibly take my food to my desk and continue working. 

Removing yourself from your workspace to take our break is essential. Otherwise you'll find yourself getting pulled back in every time you take a bite of your lunch, only to notice that email that just came in. Get up, get out, and take your breaks. 

Priority #3: Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection.

A lot of the tasks I needed to take care of were taking me three to four hours to complete because I would obsess over them even once they were finished to make sure every little detail was perfect. My supervisor, Racquel, had told me, "Sometimes done is better than perfect." admit, my initial reaction to what she said was at best reluctant with a touch of petulance, but at this point, I needed to make changes. I could always refine later, but I had to start somewhere. I made a plan to cut down the tasks that were taking me three to four hours a day down to five hours total for the week.

I know that you know there is no such thing as perfect. I also know that if you're anything like me you tend to forget this little tidbit of information. Don't! Remember, what you think isn't good enough is often really good stuff. And, if something you're working on needs a few tune-ups and tweaks, it'll be there for you to work on in the morning. 

Priority #4: Make a Self-Care Routine & Follow It.

My goal was to wake up every morning with enough time to do a 10-minute to a 20-minute yoga routine, drink a bottle of water and meditate before coming to work. I was also going to work at the office for only 8-9 hours a day, then leave work at work and go home.

When I got home, I would do another yoga routine 15-30 minutes, spend time with my family, eat dinner, and go to bed at a decent time. On the weekends, I could work up to five hours, IF I had only worked 40 hours in the office.

My cap for working hours was lowered to 45 hours total for the week. Mind you, when I tallied up all of the hours, I had been working previously it was somewhere in the 93 to 115-hour range. So, this was a major adjustment.

Sometimes that's just what has to happen. A major adjustment to your schedule. But it's the only way to pave to the road to successful self-care. Plan a routine and stick to it!

Serene Routine 

I'm passionate about the opportunities I have to help others, teach, train, develop, mentor, assist, support, encourage, and inspire. I thrive on the passion and love I have for what I do and I am excellent at it. I just simply have to be as passionate about my own needs too.  

yogaTwo weeks ago, I started with yoga, meditation, water, fewer working hours, and taking breaks at work. Towards the end of that first week, I could tell people were starting to relax around me again. As if they realized I had, had some sort of exorcism and everything was going to be fine again.

meditateThis last week, I worked even fewer hours hitting my goal of 45 hours total for the week! I am doing more yoga. I drink more water. I have started eating healthier again. Which, by the way, makes a HUGE difference in your mood, sleep, thought process, everything! I had an at-home "Spa Day" with my daughter which I would highly recommend. purchased beautiful flowers for myself. I read a book that has given me new ideas to use in my training. And, I have regular morning coffee talks with my mom and grandma.  

Now, I know this may sound crazy, but I can say that I am grateful for the lesson that this pandemic has taught me. I understand now what makes me a cherished, valuable employee. It's my drive for helping others. However, in order for me to be that smart, loving, inspirational person, I have to take the time to recharge, be inspired, lovedsupported, enjoy moments with myself, my family, my co-workers, and my friends. I took all of this for granted as something optional versus treating it as a necessity

Stop the Madness and Start the Process 

It has only been two weeks since I reinvested in my self-care regime and the results have been so drastic and miraculous, I had to share them with you! We have all had to deal with enormous amounts of change and challenges, and I’m sure there are some of you like me that dove-in with expanding hearts at our own detriment. We are essential and in order to be essential, we have to make sure that we take care of ourselves.  

If you're feeling anything like I felt before, I invite you to come up with an easily manageable serene routine as I have. Even if you attempt it for just one week. Remember the words of wisdom from my supervisor, Racquel. "Sometimes done is better than perfect." The hardest part is to stop the madness and START the process. But once you start you’ll wonder why you hadn’t been doing this all along! We are essential and our self-care is essential too!

Tags: Leadership & Management

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