An Invitation to Leaders During Challenging Times

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We’re in a particularly difficult time right now in animal welfare and animal sheltering.

I’m hearing a lot of despair, panic, and hopelessness, not only from staff, but from folks in leadership roles too.

So, I wanted to offer up an invitation for leaders to consider how they’re publicly speaking about this hard time that we find ourselves in.

Here’s what I know is true:

The stories that we tell about the challenges we’re facing have the power to deplete OR sustain our resilience.

This means we need to be mindful of the way that we’re framing this difficult time whenever we’re talking with our staff or volunteers.

We can say whatever we want in private, but publicly we need to be aware of our messaging so that it helps to sustain, not drain, the people doing the work.

Research reveals that human beings have five essential needs that, when met, help us to get through and recover from adversity:

  1. Safety (physical and psychological)
  2. Calm (the ability to calm physiologically)
  3. Social support
  4. Self and collective efficacy
  5. Hopefulness (for the future)

Let’s look at those last two.

Having a sense of self and collective efficacy means we believe that we have what it takes to get through a challenge both as an individual and as part of a team, organization, or community.

We believe in our ability to cope with difficult emotions and we believe we have the technical skills to handle what we’re facing.

We have what it takes – the competence – both individually and collectively to rise to the occasion.

Hopefulness is the faith that it will be okay at some point in the future. That we’re going to be alright, even if we’re not right now.

We need leaders to bring a sense of collective efficacy and hopefulness into conversations with staff right now.

Workers need to know that we have come so far in animal sheltering and that all that progress is not going away. Even if we’re in a really tough downswing right now, even if we take temporary steps backward, it’s not going to permanently erase all the progress that we’ve made.

Do you remember what it was like 15, 25, 40 years ago in animal sheltering? In the span of a single career in this field we’ve done incredible things.

Our euthanasia rates used to be what our live release rates are now.

Not long ago there were no veterinarians trained in shelter medicine, there was no such thing as veterinary social workers. In the 1980s, the term compassion fatigue didn’t even exist, let alone the work I do!

I think back to my time in animal sheltering in 2008, during the Great Recession and the housing crash. Generally speaking, shelters weren’t adopting out pit bulls without a TON of restrictions.

We weren’t adopting out cats with FIV or treating ringworm. We didn’t have much in the way of dog play groups or robust enrichment programs or behavior departments.

Just a couple of decades ago we didn’t have a global transport network or HQHVSN clinics around the country. We didn’t have social media to market our pets.

We were just starting to build the pet owner support and surrender prevention programs that are such a huge part of our work now.

And I know there’s lots that I’m not listing here. The point is we’ve been steadily improving things for decades.

I’m not saying this in a: “Back in our day, we had it so much harder, so you need to suck it up!” kind of way.

Not at all. I’m sharing this as a reminder that we’re part of a great lineage of people who have been moving this field forward for years.

We can lean on that history.

People made those innovations happen in difficult times with very few resources and very little support. Despite the odds, they moved the field forward.

The reminder of how much we’ve accomplished – our collective past – can help sustain us in the present.

Despite how difficult things are right now, all the evidence points to us succeeding over time.

No matter how slow or nonexistent the progress seems right now, we are continuing the work.

And there is very good reason to believe that we have the competence to get through this. All of those decades of training, knowledge, programs, systems, and practices we’ve built – they didn’t just disappear.

Even if we’re not able to function at the level that we’re used to or that we wish we could right now, all of that progress is still present in the work we’re doing.

That gives me hope that it’s going to be okay at some point. I don’t know when it’s going to be okay, but I do know that everything is a cycle.

Spring always comes after winter. Day always comes after night.

Metaphorically we are in a deep winter right now. We don’t know when winter will end, but we know that spring will come.

We need to hold the hope that things are going to be okay.

That doesn’t mean that we dismiss how difficult this is.

We can ground ourselves in the current reality of how challenging things are and adjust our expectations so they’re more realistic for 2022. We need to tend to ourselves and each other, because we are hurting.

And, at the same time, we can believe in our ability to cope with this challenge and hold hope for the future.

It’s always both/and. That’s what will sustain our energy and resilience.

So that’s my invitation to all of you in leadership roles (and the rest of us): consider the way that you’re framing this challenge for your staff. They are looking to you to tell them if they’re going to be okay.

Think of how we look to flight attendants when there’s turbulence on a plane. If they’re calm, we trust that we’re going to be okay. But if they’re panicking or despairing, we know we’re going down.

As a leader if you do not model that competence and confidence for them, staff are not going to believe that they have what it takes to get through this. They will not have hope. They will have despair.

Our sense of self and collective efficacy and our hope for the future is deeply shaped by the people in our organizations with the most power and experience. It comes from the top.

Help your people see the big picture. They need to know they are part of something much larger than themselves.

No matter how hard it is right now, no matter how many temporary steps backwards we may take, ultimately, our collective efforts always add up to make a positive impact.

We will continue to move our mission forward.

Spring is going to come again.

I believe in all of you. I know we can get through it.

I know this because we have decades of evidence that proves we have always found a way forward. Always.

You’re pretty amazing, you know that?

The 3 Drama Roles We All Play (And How To Stop)

If I know one thing to be true, it’s that a lot of us are struggling with unwanted DRAMA in our lives right now. 

And I’m not talking about the “Which teammate did they turn into jerky when they were stranded in the wilderness for 19 months?” Yellowjackets kind of drama.

Are you watching that show yet?! Because I can wait if you want to quick watch the whole season and then finish reading this. 

I’m talking about the kind of DRAMA that pops off every day when you work in emotionally-charged environments, populated by overwhelmed employees, stressed animals, and agitated members of the public, like veterinary clinics and animal shelters. 

So I wanted to share something called the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT), a tool developed by psychiatrist Stephen Karpman, because it helps me a lot.

The DDT consists of 3 main drama personas that people take on (and can switch between) when we’re in stressful, emotional or high-conflict situations. 

The three drama personas are Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor.*

* In this model we’re talking about victimhood and rescuing as a form of identity, not situations in which someone is the real victim of crime, racism, abuse, etc. or when we rescue an animal in need. To be clear, this model is never about victim-blaming. 

A quick way to sum up these three personas are:

  • The Victim: “Poor me, it’s not my fault!” 
  • The Rescuer: “Poor you, let me help!” 
  • The Persecutor: “You’re a poor excuse for a human!” 

Once we’re hooked into the DDT we end up playing all three of these positions whether we like it or not, because that’s the nature of the triangle.

Here’s an example of how we can move around the different positions on the DDT:

“I was just trying to be helpful when I offered up that advice (Rescuer), but they got irritated with me for no reason (Victim), so I told them point blank they were doing it wrong and needed to listen to me (Persecutor), and then they complained to my boss, so now I’m in trouble. Why does this stuff always happen to me? (Victim).”

Here’s the nutty part: Rescuers and Persecutors don’t even have to be people.

They can also be a situation or condition like illness, being short-staffed, or even ways we numb out aka rescuing ourselves by using food or Netflix. 

And get this, we can be all three personas in conversations with ourselves. 

If you’ve ever been super critical of yourself (“I’m such an idiot!”) then you’ve met your inner Persecutor. 

There’s nothing wrong with you if you experience these three drama personas. We all do, myself included!

And the Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor can be very appropriate in certain situations. 

But fundamentally these drama personas function as a way to help us temporarily cope with our fears and anxieties. 

There’s a short term payoff for each position on the DDT: 

  • Victims get to be taken care of and avoid responsibility
  • Rescuers get to feel important for being the hero
  • Persecutors get to feel powerful and in control

But the long-term cost is that we perpetuate dysfunctional social dynamics and miss out on the chance to create healthy relationships and sustained positive change in our organizations and our lives.

We keep wasting our energy reacting to the drama, instead of truly solving the problems.

So what do we do about it?

We get off the DDT when we calm ourselves down enough to witness these patterns, without reacting to them, and then choose to shift our focus. 

That’s where The Empowerment Dynamic akaTED* created by David Emerald comes into play.

In this alternate model, there are 3 new empowered personas we can shift to: Creator, Coach, and Challenger:


Source: David Emerald, The Center for Empowerment Dynamic
  • Creators take responsibility for their thoughts and actions and focus on creating desired outcomes
  • Coaches ask meaningful questions, develop and honor healthy boundaries, and encourage others
  • Challengers become catalysts for growth by compassionately holding others and themselves accountable in order to support learning

If you want to start using the DDT and TED* as a tool in your own life, begin by noticing when you may be playing the role of Victim, Rescuer or Persecutor.

Pay attention to what triggers you and how those triggers put you on the DDT with people you work with or your family.

Just noticing that you’re on the DDT is a powerful place to start. You can’t change what you don’t notice!

And you may want to check out David Emerald’s book: The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic)

This has been such a helpful framework for me that I just did an intensive training with David and became a Certified 3 Vital Questions Trainer so that I can use the DDT and TED* tools more effectively with my clients.

Speaking of which…

Want to learn more?

This week in The Compassionate Badassery Lab we’re going to break down the Drama Triangle and how to get out of it using The 3 Vital Questions.

You can join us as a monthly member and attend the webinar with us live on Thursday 2/17 at 8pm ET. Or you can watch the recording any time afterwards.

Self-Care Is Not The Solution for Burnout

In the second half of 2021 I sent out a survey to find out what your organizations and managers have done right since the pandemic began.

More specifically, I wanted to hear what helped you to feel less stressed and how your leaders and supervisors demonstrated they cared about your wellbeing. 

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond!

Some clear themes emerged in your answers that are worth sharing.

In no particular order, this is what you, the workers, appreciated and want more of:

  1. Consistent, transparent communication
  2. Flexibility 
  3. Appreciation  
  4. Sustaining pay and benefits
  5. Authentic concern/care

No one said they wanted their organization to provide more yoga.

And that’s where the inspiration for our next book highlight comes from…

This month we have an excerpt from the 2021 book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Fix It by Jennifer Moss:

“If you want to address the burnout problem, the first step is repeating and internalizing this mantra:

Burnout is about your organization, not your people.

Yoga, vacation time, wellness tech, and meditation apps can help people feel optimised, healthier. But when it comes to preventing burnout, suggesting that these tools are the cure is dangerous…

We can no longer suggest wellness strategies that place ownership on individuals for preventing and managing their own burnout.

Instead, we need to look at ourselves as leaders, at the role our organizations play….

Burnout is most often triggered by [one or a combination of]:

  1. Workload
  2. Perceived lack of control
  3. Lack of recognition and rewards 
  4. Poor relationships
  5. Lack of fairness 
  6. Values mismatch 

The roots of burnout are often associated with poor [organizational] hygiene.

Basic needs must be met…paying people what they’re worth and on time; they feel physically and mentally safe; everyone knows what they’re doing or can get access to tools and resources if they don’t; people get along – you know, the basics.

When people are complaining, we shouldn’t assume they’re being ungrateful or whiny and dismiss them.

We need to say, “How can we help?”

Andinstead of asking, “What do I do about burnout?” 
we need toask, “How do we create a better, healthier workplace for people, so they don’t burn out?”

It’s all about intervening upstream.”

For me, this passage is helpful because it reminds me that:

(1) The standard advice for fixing burnout is incorrect and harmful. Self-care isn’t the answer (it’s a helpful addition

(2) The current state of turmoil in animal sheltering and vet med has been exacerbated by the pandemic AND burnout is nothing new in our field.

Our approach has always been to downplay and ignore the needs of our workers. As in, “If you really care about the animals, you’ll suck it up.”

(3) We’re great at reactively trying to address burnout with short term fixes, but we’re allergic to root cause solutions: basic organizational hygiene overhauls that could actually solve this problem. 

Look, I’m not saying that addressing burnout during a pandemic and the Great Quit is easy.

I’m saying the opposite.

If we want to actually solve this issue, it will be a challenging, multi-year process. 

In the meantime, listen to workers and do the following right now:

  • Say thank you! A lot. Be authentic. Positive reinforcement works
  • Communicate transparently: Gaps in communication cause stress, so it’s better to say “I don’t know” then to stay silent
  • Be flexible about schedule and workload so your staff can meet the ever-changing demands in their personal lives
  • Check-in often, so they know you care, and encourage boundaries and self-care, so they know it’s okay to do those things
  • Pay them more ASAP and if that’s not possible, do what you can to give them more PTO or other benefits ASAP

Which one of those items is most doable right now? Most of them cost nothing. Pick one, make a plan to address it, and then do it. 

If you’re looking for strategies to help you address burnout in your workplace, this book is an excellent resource. You can find a copy here.

It’s Time Animal Welfare Adopted a Trauma-Informed Care Approach

“To be truly visionary, we have to root our imagination in our concrete reality while simultaneously imagining possibilities beyond that reality.” – bell hooks

It’s National Mental Health Week which seems like a good time to explore what many experts have declared is the public health crisis of our time: trauma.

Specifically, I’d like to look at the organization’s role in actively reducing the traumatization of staff in the workplace.

I’m talking about trauma-informed care (TIC).

Trauma-informed care is a model of care that acknowledges the widespread impact of trauma amongst all populations and creates an environment of awareness and understanding for those that have been affected by trauma.

Those that have been affected by trauma include: the people in our communities who we support through our services AND the people in our communities who work within our organizations. 

Why bother with TIC you ask?

Trauma impacts more people than not.

  • For example, the majority of Americans report having at least one adverse childhood experience before the age of 18 (such as abuse, neglect, divorce, etc.).
  • People who work in helping professions typically experience vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress – which refers to the impact of indirect exposure to difficult, disturbing and/or traumatic images and stories of the suffering of others – at some point in their careers. They may also experience direct trauma on the job as well. 
  • We have all been exposed to toxic stress and trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with increased racial violence and political unrest (that isn’t to say we’ve all been impacted to the same degree – we have not – just that we’ve all been impacted).

To spare you 2000 words, I’m not going to go into a detailed explanation of trauma, but if you’d like to understand trauma better, here’s a good free webinar.

What’s important for us to consider is that trauma can lead to such mental health and co-occurring disorders as chronic diseases, substance use disorder, clinical depression, anxiety disorders, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

People who have experienced trauma may feel isolated, powerless, or helpless in their relationships and environments. Trauma may also cause feelings of shame, blame, fear, and guilt. Trauma can also be exacerbated by environmental factors, such as triggers in our workplace.

And trauma can weaken a person’s ability to regulate stress, creating a heightened physiological reaction to triggers, and sensitizing them to future trauma, thereby increasing their chances of developing a mental health disorder.

Consider the professional ramifications of that last sentence.

How might a person’s ability to regulate stress effectively have an impact on their performance and interactions with other people within high-stress, trauma-exposed work environments like animal shelters?

Remember that trauma exposure is happening AT work and is ongoing. So no matter what happened to them before staff walked through the doors, their experience of secondary and vicarious trauma ON the job is likely going to impact their ability to DO their jobs well. 

Let me speak plainly: our people are hurting. Their unhealed trauma ripples out and hurts the people and animals they serve (and one another). 

Like the old saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” 

Trauma (at work and home) is a root cause of so many of the issues that the field of animal welfare struggles to address decade after decade:

  • Why are our adoption counselors having such a hard time with open, barrier-free adoptions?
  • Why do they take behavior euthanasia decisions so hard?
  • Why do they cross lines with people they’re supporting in community outreach programs?
  • Why are they struggling to implement DEI training?
  • Why are they so resistant to change and polarized in their thinking?
  • Why do we have so much conflict between staff? Between staff and volunteers? Between staff and the public? Between rescue groups and shelters?
  • Why does our staff struggle to regulate their emotions?
  • Why do they over identify with the animals and their pain?

Look, I’m not saying it’s the ONLY cause for these issues. And I’m not making any excuses for harmful behavior. 

But it is a root cause that we have NEVER addressed through thoughtful, non-reactive, organization-level approaches.

We’ve definitely tried individual approaches (Use the Employee Assistance Program! Do some yoga!) and those are important, but as we’ve seen (and the research backs up) they’re ineffective on their own.

Environment matters.

Given the intensity of the past 1.5 years and that we’ve had to reinvent how we work and live, this is the ideal time to start learning about Trauma Informed Care practices.

Other fields, such as human social services, have already paved the TIC-way in terms of how to create healthier workplaces, in which staff are better supported, thereby reducing the risk that they will cause harm to the animals and people they serve in their communities.

We do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can learn from experts in other fields.

Here are some basics:

SAMHSA uses a four Rs rubric to describe a “trauma-informed” organization, program, or system:

Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand potential paths for recovery;

Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;

Respond by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and

Actively resist re-traumatization.

The 6 core principles of any trauma-informed approach are:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness + transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration + mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice, + choice
  6. Cultural, historical + gender issues

Organizations that integrate trauma-informed principles and strategies into their policies and procedures are better able to ensure that their workplace is culturally competent and trauma-informed for both staff and community members.

Organizations don’t shift to a TIC approach overnight. This is a long, slow, thoughtful process that typically takes place over the course of years.

There is no quick fix for this issue. We’re getting at the foundations of organizational health.
It’s not something we tackle in a lunch and learn. It’s not something we understand by reading a blog post shot off by someone who took a mental health first aid training (ahem, that’s me).

We’re not turning around a speedboat. We’re trying to turn around a freight ship in the Suez Canal. Not impossible, but it’s not happening quickly either.

The Missouri Model recommends the following four steps to becoming a trauma-informed organization:

Awareness: Organization becomes aware of how prevalent trauma is and its impact on workers, clients, and business outcomes.

Sensitivity: Organization begins to understand trauma-informed principles, causes, expressions and possible ways to overcome problems that affect workers and business.

Response: Organization begins to implement changes that affect culture, routines, and human resource processes to eliminate triggers.

Informed: Organization begins to implement trauma-informed practices and monitoring the impacts of changes made to policies and practices.

Here are some examples of trauma-informed strategies that can be implemented at the organizational level:

  • Involve community members in the planning and development of programs that impact them.
  • Educate all staff on the effects of trauma and a basic understanding of how trauma affects an individual’s mind and body
  • Promote opportunities for staff development, connection, and self-care.
  • Collaborate with staff on the development of organizational policies.
  • Prioritize the creation of a safe, supportive environment that minimizes environmental triggers.

One simple (but not easy) way to begin our shift towards a trauma-informed approach would be to reframe the question “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

We already do this for the animals. Now it’s time to do it for the humans in our workplaces.

So, if we’re talking about mental health this week, we would do well to acknowledge one thing that’s “happened” to our staff is ongoing exposure to trauma on and off the job, coupled with some pretty unhealthy workplaces. 

Because when it comes to mental health, environment matters. 

This is a very brief look at a complex topic. If you’d like to learn more, please see the free resources linked below:

SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Workforces

Blueprint for a Vicarious Trauma-Informed Organization

In addition, we’ve just added more spots to my upcoming Compassion Fatigue Strategies Plus course, in which we’ll discuss this topic further. Class starts on 10/18 and you can register here.

To be clear, I’m not an expert in Trauma-Informed Care. But I know people who are! I’m part of a group that’s currently working to create an online learning event around trauma-informed care this winter, so can learn directly from the experts on this topic. More info about that in a couple of months.

Control Is a Myth That Fuels Compassion Fatigue

I read about 100+ books a year.

People keep telling me that’s a LOT of books. 

For me, it’s never enough.

I’m a legit book meme come to life. See here and most of these (#22!).

One of the things I’ve wanted to do forever is to share more of what I read with all of you.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

Starting now, I’ll be sharing the occasional short blurb from my favorite books.

May my extreme bookworm-ness be of benefit to yinz.

Side note: can we please make “yinz” happen?

“Y’all” just doesn’t sound right when I say it with my New Jersey accent.


First up is an excerpt from Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by Sharon Salzberg

“Another reason that we burn out is the false belief that we ought to have greater control over colleagues, bosses, clients, and outcomes than we do.

It’s only when we question the assumption of control that we begin to see how delusional it really is.

Before we heap blame upon ourselves at work, we might learn to ask: “Could I have controlled that? How could I have stopped that from coming up?”

More often than not, the answer is that we could not have prevented the unexpected for which we are nonetheless blaming ourselves…

A key to exploring the myth of control is seeing the many strands of conditioning, influences, and causes that make up any given moment.

As parts of a greater whole, we do not orchestrate all the grand motions of the universe.

On a good day, we have a measure of control over ourselves – what we choose and how we behave – but beyond that our powers are sadly limited.

The awareness of the bigger picture of causes and conditions can ease our habitual, scorching self-blame for inevitable mistakes and disappointments.”


For me, this passage is helpful because it allows me to keep showing up to do hard things by (paradoxically) accepting that I can’t control what happens when I do.

I understand that I can only control the process of how I do the work, not the outcomes of my efforts.

Having a spiritual practice helps me to stay with this challenging, bigger picture perspective.

And this bigger picture perspective reduces my compassion fatigue because:

(1) I’m able to release some of the guilt I feel about upsetting outcomes

(2) I remember that I’m part of a larger group of people who are doing this work and it’s not possible or up to me to save everyone (which means I’m allowed to rest!). 

This is a great book that I reference often in my classes.

You can find a copy here.

I Stopped Working 5 Days a Week. Here’s What Happened.

This summer I’ve been running an experiment: since June 1st, I’ve been working a four day week.

For me, this looks like working Monday – Thursday, from about 9am-6pm(ish), and taking taking Friday – Sunday off.

I’m averaging of 35-40 hours of work per week, so I’m getting all my major tasks and client work done, despite the shorter workweek.

I have needed to adjust some of the deadlines on my deep work projects, to give myself more time to complete them.

I’m okay with that because not being burned out feels pretty amazing and it’s good for my work long-term. 

5 things to know about my 4 Day Workweek experiment:

1. After the summer ends, I won’t be going back to a 5 day workweek. 

2. That’s because the 40 hour, 5 day workweek is a construct. It’s just a made up amount of time we’ve been socialized to think is a “normal” workweek.

Countries outside of the US have different social and organizational norms about workweeks. 

100 years ago there was no such thing as a weekend.

It’s all made up. It’s always been an experiment!

We can make up something different that works better for us and our employees.

I recognize that not everyone can do this (there have been many years where I’ve worked 2-3 jobs to pay the bills and had no days off).

But if you do have the power and privilege to create something new for yourself and others, go for it. 

3. Flexibility is key. Some weeks I work a few hours on a Friday morning. Most weeks I don’t.

It’s important (to me) that I not get caught up in all-or-nothing thinking with this approach.

It’s likely that I will need to work 6 days a week here and there this winter in order to finish some big projects.

Work and play ebb and flow with the seasons, so I’m embracing those cycles. 

4. The research is clear that shorter workweeks boost productivity.

It’s good for organizations and it’s good for workers.

This year we’re facing an epidemic of burnout in North America – across all fields, not just animal welfare – so it’s time for a big change.

If you’re thinking about doing this at your org, there’s lots of evidence and advice out there. See here and here and here and here

5. And finally, people love my out-of-office message. Folks are excited to see someone publicly owning their time off.

What that tells me is that we need to explicitly talk about our rest and play.

We talk endlessly about how much we work, which may make it feel “risky” to publically share when we are choosing* not to work.

It’s one thing to share a “valid” excuse for taking time off, like a car accident or having COVID.

But just saying I’m off because I want to be off?! That’s inviting all kind of judgment.

*Side note: I’m not touching on the ableist ways we judge and penalize people with disabilities (“hidden” or otherwise) who absolutely need to work differently or they risk their health. That’s coming in another newsletter because we have to talk about all the problematic going back to “normal” post-pandemic stuff that’s happening. 

Here’s the bottom line: Practicing compassionate badassery means being able to tolerate the discomfort of doing things differently.

It’s worth it.

With 3 days off each week I feel better mentally and physically. I have more time for my family, friends, and pets.

I have some wiggle room in my week that allows me to adapt to what pops up without feeling totally overwhelmed.

In other words, I have a real life outside of work for the first time in years. 

Curious about my autoresponder? On Fridays it says:

“My summer hours are Monday – Thursday 9am-6pm ET. You can expect a response from me when I return to work on Monday. I’m experimenting with taking Fridays off this June-August because research shows that shorter workweeks are great for productivity and our wellbeing. It’s a win-win for everyone.Thinking about doing the same at your workplace? Consider this a sign!”

What about you? Are you experimenting with different work schedules?

Some links you might like:  

Against “Feel Free To Take Some Time If You Need It”: “When it comes to taking time off, the more explicitly mandated the break, the better. Instead of “feel free to take some time if you need it,” try “I’d really support you taking the day off.” Instead of a sentence at the end of a meeting about “make sure you’re taking that PTO,” an app that alerts you when an employee hasn’t taken any in a month.

For managers, that means modeling the behavior yourself: taking sick days, and personal days, and extended PTO, and being transparent about it — and not sneakily working in the margins. It means having enough people on staff so that a person can actually be sick, or take parental or bereavement leave, without the guilt of pouring work onto their already overburdened colleagues.”

Play with NPR’s Joy Generator. 

Time Is A Colonial Construct — Here’s How I Learned To Reclaim Mine: “Decolonization requires us to unpack the consequences of colonialism. What are its living legacies?

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, British society had largely correlated the notions of ‘civilization’ and ‘true religion’ with the profitable use of time. Their specific experience of time was a cultural construct, deeply embedded within their industrial-capitalist and Christian society. They used their clocks as a tool to dehumanize Indigenous people…’”

Link appreciation to Hilary, Aimee, and Patti Digh.

The #1 Thing Your Boss Doesn’t Want Me to Talk About

When I’m facilitating workshops and webinars, organizations typically ask me to focus on teaching their staff self-care. 

No surprises there. Learning about self-care is really important.

But, as you’ve heard me say before, it’s only one part of the wellbeing puzzle.

The other half is organizational policies and practices, like workload, training and supervision, and equitable pay (because landlords don’t accept “I do yoga everyday!” as rent payment…yet).

Still, I’m happy to talk about self-care, because it’s what individuals have the most control over and it really does help. 

But here’s where it gets interesting:  

I’ve repeatedly been asked to leave out one specific element of self-care from my workshops. 

What do you think it is?

I’ll wait while you guess.

No, it’s not financial self-care.

Nope, it’s not sexual self-care.


Spiritual self-care.

Lots of organizations do not want me to talk about spirituality with their staff. 

Which is a problem, because spirituality is a big part of what keeps us well while doing challenging work. 

I get why this topic feels taboo in our workplaces. 

I think it’s mostly because we confuse spirituality with organized religion. 

Religion and spirituality are not the same thing.

Religion: is an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; the service and worship of God or the supernatural.

Spirituality: connotes an experience of connection to something larger than you; living everyday life in a reverent and sacred manner.

Or as Christina Puchalski, MD (leader in trying to incorporate spirituality into healthcare), puts it,

“Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.”

You probably knew that already, but I didn’t understand the difference between the two until I was old enough to have a periodontist.

And it blew my non-religious mind. 

That’s when I understood that the aspect of my wellness wheel that was 99% missing were spiritual beliefs and intentional practices that would ground, connect, and sustain me. 

Since no one talks about the role of spirituality in our professional lives, I just figured it was like a bonus round of self-care you do if and when you had some extra time (like using a Waterpik when you’re already flossing and brushing).

Today I understand that regular spiritual care is fundamental to our wellbeing.

Spirituality can help us navigate through difficult choices about euthanasia and painful end-of-life experiences.

It can help us accept our fundamental limits as human beings, while also allowing us to feel connected to something much bigger than ourselves.

Spirituality can anchor our daily actions in our values and ethics, helping us to stay present with the suffering we witness and motivated to do difficult work. 

And it helps us tap into joy, purpose, and satisfaction. Career-sustaining stuff.  

So we’re doing ourselves and our staff a disservice if we don’t allow any acknowledgement of this important part of our individual and collective wellbeing. 

Still not sure spirituality has a place in our professional self-care?

In her research, Brené Brown found that across the board, the most resilient people have a spiritual life.

She shares, “Without exception the concept of spirituality emerged from the data as a critical component of resilience and overcoming struggle.”

If we want resilience for ourselves and our staff, then it’s time to welcome spirituality into our conversations about self-care. 

Because if there’s anything less effective than self-care, it’s censored self-care.

So if organizations want to keep the focus solely on self-care, instead of organizational care, they need to embrace ALL aspects of human wellbeing.

So what does spirituality look like at work? At home?

How does it help us care for ourselves, so we can keep giving to animals?

It starts by getting curious about what nurtures your spirit. Not mine. Yours.

What brings you joy? Creates a sense of awe? Connects you to meaning and purpose?

It may be organized religion for you or it could be something totally different, like sunsets or quantum physics. 

Whatever it is, how can you get more of that into your life on a regular basis?

And if you want to see spirituality in action at work, check out the Netflix show Lenox Hill.

Watch the staff engage in their pre-surgery ritual: a pause to connect with themselves, each other, the human-ness of each patient, and to quietly center themselves in whatever way works for them (it might be religious prayer, secular mantras, or just a deep breath). 

What would that look like in your workplace?

One powerful skill you need when you’re feeling ALL the feels

How are you feeling? 

No really, I mean it.

How are you feeling? What emotion are you experiencing right now? 

I don’t know if this is true for you, but the last year+ has been an intense rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve been leaning into what Susan David calls “emotional agility” skills to help me make it through. 

When it comes to working with our emotions, one of the more helpful emotional agility skills we can learn is how to increase our “emotional granularity.” 

Emotional granularity is the ability to distinguish and put our feelings into words, with a high degree of specificity and precision.

But most of us are anything but precise when it comes to labeling our emotions!

We typically describe how we feel in broad, non-specific words, like “stressed” or “blah.”

So, what’s wrong with that? 

Emotions are information. They help us to figure out what we need.

Get the label wrong and we might miss out on an important message or the best next steps to take for ourselves.

But when we accurately and specifically identify our emotions, then we can more accurately determine what we truly need.

So, as Susan says, go beyond the obvious and identify exactly what you’re feeling.

Not to mention, the very act of labeling your emotions can help you self-regulate. You know: name it, to tame it. 

Have you been feeling a whole lot of blah lately? This article about “languishing” is worth reading. 

And if you’re interested here’s a short article with solid tips on how to build the important (and rarely taught!) skill of emotional granularity.

Want to learn more? Join us in The Compassionate Badassery Lab for our webinar next week on emotions!

Born out of the early days of COVID, The Lab is a place where we experiment with new ideas, practices, and self-care to help us navigate the ongoing challenges of our work with animals and life in general.

If you’d like to join us in The Lab, we have an amazing library of webinars and workbooks on topics like boundaries, self-care, holding space, conflict, and so much more.

You can join The Lab anytime as a monthly member or annual member. On Thursday 5/20 you can join us for a live webinar called Compassionate Badassery Skills: Courage in the Heart.

We’ll be learning how to work with our emotions, because let’s face it: the work we do is all the feels, all the time!

The Lesson I Hope We Learned From COVID

March 2020 to March 2021 has felt like a month and a decade rolled into one, hasn’t it?

So much heartbreak. So much joy. So many hours of Netflix. So many lessons learned. 

Which reminds me, have you heard the sweet poem The Great Realisation yet?

It reminds us to ask:

What, if anything, have we gained from this year of COVID? 

What, if anything, do we want to bring with us into this next chapter of our lives?

I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I value most this year (family, birdfeeders, libraries, memes, my lungs). 

But in terms of our work, one thing I really hope we’ve learned this past year is that resilience is dynamic and contextual. 

We typically view resilience as an evaluation of one’s individual efforts and character (if you’re not resilient, then you’re to blame. You should have self-cared harder!). 

Of course, our efforts to care for ourselves absolutely matter. But this year made it very, very clear what researchers have known for a long time: our resilience is context dependent.

An individual’s home and work environment, social support, and access to resources impacts their overall resilience. 

My hope is that COVID has sped up our understanding of the many organizational, social, cultural, and structural factors that impact individual resilience, so that going forward we’ll place equal importance on self-care efforts AND we-care initiatives. 

COVID reminded us there is no clean line between resilience at work and home.

What happens in our personal life impacts our work performance and what happens on the job impacts the quality of our life at home.

COVID also made it abundantly clear that while we may all be in the same storm, we’re in vastly different boats.

When this many people are struggling to keep their heads above water, we can’t keep pushing them (or ourselves) to work harder as if it’s business as usual. 

“Suck it up and deal” and “think positive” are cliches, not real strategies. Resilience is more complex than that. 

If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to Susan David and Brene Brown’s solid 2-part conversation on toxic positivity, emotions at work, and compassion fatigue.

They remind us that when we force ourselves (or others) to repeatedly repress our emotions and deny our biological needs it never ends well. 

When we consistently ignore our body’s needs and we keep our feelings bottled up it creates toxic internal pressure.

Eventually, we implode (mental and physical illness) or explode (outbursts and violence). 

So we’re going to need to intentionally make time to attend to our feelings and chronic stress now – and make space for our staff to do the same – or we’ll be forced to deal with the consequences later. 

One way that we can begin to help our own bodies rest and repair from this past year (and to cope with the continuing challenges ahead), is by building the skills of awareness and self-regulation.

Yes, those are individual self-care strategies. Because we need those too. 

Even if we can’t control what’s happening around us in the world or in our workplaces, we can change how we interact with and perceive these challenges, which can reduce some of the harmful effects of stress.

Self-regulation practices that soothe our nervous system can help us feel safer and steadier in our bodies. This allows us to access our thinking brain so that we can make better choices for ourselves and those around us.

It also gives us the capacity to hold space for the complexity of what it is to be fully human at work and at home.

If COVID has taught us anything it’s that it’s possible to radically change the way we work overnight.

This year, I hope we can apply that kind of radical thinking to worker welfare, whether we’re self-employed or have a staff of 500. 

If you’d like to explore these ideas for yourself or your staff, here are some resources:

  • If you’d like to try out some self-regulation practices, you can join us  in The Compassionate Badassery Lab for a webinar where we’ll look at the window of tolerance, trigger stacking, and how to shift out of chronic stress activation. You can join The Lab as a monthly member or annual member.

The Medicine We All Need in 2021: When Dogs Heal

Did you know that a really common symptom of compassion fatigue is cynicism?

Cynicism looks like a lot of eye rolling and feels like weariness and suspicion. 

Honestly, it’s a pretty understandable response to all the pain and suffering we witness at work and in the world.

Over time, stress and trauma-exposure will change the way we see things and makes it harder to trust people. 

Back when I worked at the shelter, there came a point when I thought everyone was lying and everything was destined to end badly.

I was a real hit at parties.

And by parties I mean the couch, where I cried-yelled-eye-rolled my way through vats of ice cream. 

But this is what traumatic stress does to us: it changes our perceptions and we struggle to connect with and see the good in people. 

Enter Jesse Freidin’s new book, When Dogs Heal: The Healing Power of Dogs Within the HIV Community.

Jesse is an amazing photographer. You may know him from his book about the animal rescue community called Finding Shelter whichI interviewed him about here.

When Dogs Heal was created by Jesse in collaboration with adolescent HIV+ specialist Dr. Robert Garofalo and it documents the experiences of people living with HIV and the dogs who help them though it all. 

Just about every story had me in happy tears.

Over and over people who had been cruelly rejected, isolated, marginalized, afraid, and in profound despair were found, seen, and healed by their dogs. 

Their stories confirm everything you and I know about the bond between animals and people: it’s magical and medicinal.

But their stories might also teach you something new, as they did for me, about what it’s like to live with HIV in 2021.

The continuing stigma is stunning and I’m grateful to the people who bravely shared their stories in this book.

But let’s get back to cynicism.

From my perspective as a former shelter adoption counselor, I couldn’t help but notice how many people in the book got their dogs from places that typically make us nervous (I’m looking at you Craig’s List) and checked the boxes that would typically get them rejected from adopting (in-between jobs, young, renting, un-housed, etc.).

Despite that, all the stories (with one exception) had a happy ending for the dogs.

The conditions were imperfect and challenging, yet the dogs are still deeply loved, protected, and cherished by their humans. 

The families in this book are everything we could hope for in an adopter.

And so this gorgeous book has an unintended consequence for those of us in animal welfare: it’s the antidote to cynicism. 

Reading the stories will make you feel the way you did, before the work hurt your heart. 

Sometimes, when all the bad stuff we witness has hardened and exhausted us, we need to have our hearts broken open again.

We need something to help us shake off the cynicism, so we can feel hope and know joy.

We need stories that will shift and widen our perspective, so we don’t cause harm.

We need to know these stories exist, so that we can heal a little too. 

When Dogs Heal is the kind of heart-medicine that we all need right now. You can get your copy here.

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