compassion fatigue

How to Build Compassionate Badassery Boundaries for Life

Imagine waking up in the morning…

and you feel rested and ready for whatever comes your way today. You know that there’s a long line of animals and people who need your help. No doubt, it can feel overwhelming sometimes.

But you take a deep breath, pour yourself some coffee, put on some comfortable pants (not necessarily in that order) and feel totally confident that you can handle the challenges today will bring because you’ve got Compassionate Badassery Boundaries.

You know you can trust yourself to:

  • Block off time for yourself and your own needs
  • Turn down last minute requests that don’t work for you
  • Only answer emails at set times
  • Limit the free advice you give to friends and friends of friends of your dentist
  • Empower others to problem solve and help themselves
  • Say yes to your ideal clients and work load
  • Pause and think about what you really want before you give your answer
  • Recalibrate when you start to take on too much
  • Cope with uncomfortable emotions
  • Offer yourself compassion that you can’t help them all.

How does that sound?

Let’s stop imagining and make it happen.

Forget that fantasy you have about being able to do it all, fix everything, and save ALL the animals.

What do you REALLY want for your life?

What do you want your days to look and feel like?

Do you want to help animals AND have dinner with your family every evening? Do you want to help people AND get in bed early to read a good book? Do you want to help your community AND meet your BFF every Wednesday night at the gym?

It may not feel like it right now, but: You actually have a choice. 

And I built a new class to help you create those choices for yourself.

It’s called Building Compassionate Badassery Boundaries and we’re getting started on January 14th.

building compassionate boundaries challenge class

Building your Compassionate Badassery Boundaries is all about figuring out what you want and value in your life and then creating the boundaries you need to make it happen.

Over 6 weeks, (because healthy boundaries take longer than a few days to build!) you’ll access six modules, private discussion boards, and 4 live video group coaching calls to help you do that.

You’ll be learning with people who 100% understand how hard it is to set limits when animals are in need.

We get that the struggle is real.

Here’s what you can create with the tools from this course:

  • Know with confidence what you’ll say (or email) in order to have respectful, kind relationships with other people, even when you’re saying NO.
  • Create an end-of-the-workday routine, so you can stop multitasking and be present for your life at home.
  • Take regular breaks and trust that your staff or clients can handle things without you.
  • Deal calmly with any discomfort, including the guilt or anxiety that comes up when you state your policies and limits.
  • Start doing yoga or cooking dinner or making a scrapbook of your cats (or whatever it is that you’ve been wanting to do, but haven’t gotten around to it in a few, er, years) with your newly created free time.

Sound good? Then join us this winter and let’s get started!

Here’s a $50 Early Bird discount – it’s good until 12/7/18.

Have You Thanked a Shelter Worker Lately?

It’s National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, so I thought I’d share an older piece I wrote years ago for StubbyDog (originally published Oct. 2011) called Everyday Heroes: Shelter Workers.

They stand at the doorway each morning and take a deep breath. The dogs, recognizing that they’re no longer alone, have erupted in a cacophony of demands for food, bathroom breaks, attention.
Overwhelmed by the noise, hearts pounding, trying to pick a direction to go in first, they say, “I’m coming just as fast as I can everybody. I love you all this morning.”

And then they start running.

They weave through the chaos: an injured dog, the hysterical family of a missing elderly cat, an animal control officer with a van full of strays, new volunteers who need training, making a call to an adopter that didn’t show to pick up their new dog, setting up a safe kennel for a victim of cruelty in desperate need of medical care.

There are more dogs than there are kennels.

There are adopters to meet with, kennel cough to be treated, biographies to write, veterinarians and trainers to consult with, surgeries to find funding for, rescue groups to reach out to, social media trolls to quiet, documentation of cruelty cases to complete, baths to be given, and hard, painful choices to be made.

The daily work continues: Kennels must be scrubbed, food delivered, medications carefully administered, evaluations to be completed, kennel charts filled out, yards to be cleaned.

There are 24 hours in a day and 100+ hours of work to be done.

They feel tiny in the presence of this mountain of work and the countless souls they’ve been trusted to care for. How fast can they work, for how long, and will it make a difference?

But just when they feel like they’re slipping under water, it happens: one great day.

A long-term resident finally gets adopted, a local business stops by with a donation of a new washing machine, the dogs they feared wouldn’t make it find foster homes, a child’s birthday party brings toys and treats, an adopter calls to tell you how happy they are with their new cat, a volunteer brings coffee and hugs.

They are flying on the wings of this good day, fueled by the hope that there will be more just like it. Powering into another work week, trusting that, if they keep their heads up and their feet moving forward, it will be okay.

 

They are a vital part of our community. The safety net for our pets. The beating heart deep in our collective hope for a better world for our animals.

They are the magicians, the master jugglers, the contortionists, working endlessly to pull one more miracle out of their bag of tricks. One more life saved by their weary hands. They are the underpaid, overworked operators working the lines until there is a happy ending.

They are doing the work most of us could never bring ourselves to do. We depend on them to care for the animals in our families and communities. We demand more and more from them and they show up for the challenge. They are willing to take the heartbreak, the lost lives, the failures, the sadness and exhaustion. Because they know the animals can’t make it without them.

They are our determined hands, our compassionate hearts, and they need our support.

They are shelter workers and they’re everyday heroes. Be sure to thank them for their service.

p.s. I think volunteers and foster families are the bomb too and wrote tributes to them back in 2011. You can find them here and here

Is Self-Care Letting Organizations Off The Hook?

I’m always full of questions, but lately these are at the top of my mind:

Who benefits when we don’t ask the right questions? And how does this potentially uphold the status quo?

Here’s what I mean: have you ever questioned why everyone is so focused on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue?

Who does it benefit when self-care is the ONLY way we’re taught to manage this predictable byproduct of our work?

The answer is simple:

 

The message staff gets is: If you don’t take care of yourself, it’s your fault that you have compassion fatigue.

That’s just not accurate.

To be clear, self-care IS critically important and it’s the foundation of everything I teach (because no one can take care of you for you. Sorry, no one is coming to save your ass).

I love the pants off of self-care.

But, all the self-care in the world won’t matter if:

– You have a job description that has no boundaries (how many people would it really take to accomplish everything that’s been assigned to you?) and you never have time off to DO self-care.

– Or you work in an unsafe environment with low pay, no benefits, and are treated like an unskilled, expendable resource (“churn and burn” baby!).

– Or you have toxic coworkers that you suspect would run you over in the parking lot if you asked them for help and a cruel boss that tells you that if you “really loved animals”, you wouldn’t need to take a break.

 

When organizations focus ONLY on self-care as the solution for compassion fatigue, then they get to blame YOU for having compassion fatigue and wash their hands of this complex issue.

Organizations have a responsibility to create a healthy, ethical work environment where individual self-care efforts are supported and strengthened by the organization’s efforts to treat their staff like the valuable resource they are through: education, mentoring and supervision, fair policies, safe equipment, appreciation, time off, conflict resolution, adequate pay and benefits, and trauma-informed support.

I’m not saying it’s easy or that organizations can make these changes overnight, but they’ve got to step up to the plate. Addressing CF isn’t just an altruistic move. It benefits the organizations when they tackle one of the root causes of expensive issues like turnover and presenteeism.

If we want to address compassion fatigue effectively – which benefits everyone –  then we always need to be looking at this issue from the individual AND the organizational level.

The researchers backs that up. Self-care alone isn’t enough.

So if anyone tells you that self-care is the be all, end all of compassion fatigue management, just ask them: who does that benefit?

Psst, just one more time for the folks in the back…ya still have to do self-care.

#AMA, UFL, and Other Acronyms You Might Want To Know About

Here’s the scoop: I’m hosting a Facebook Live next week and I want you to send me your questions about compassion fatigue, burnout, and resilience!

But honestly, you can ask me about anything. Like, how I came up with the idea for DINOS: Dogs in Need of Space or my favorite antique store in Maine or how to make a vegan blueberry muffin pie.

If you have a question for me, I want to hear it!

Just leave me a comment here and let me know what questions you have, then I’ll be sure to answer in my Facebook Live on Wednesday 9/5 at 4pm EST!

You can tune in and watch the AMA here.

Did you know that I’m only teaching ONE live compassion fatigue course in 2018 and it starts soon?

If you’ve been wanting to take a class with me, connect with your peers in animal care and welfare, and learn about how compassion fatigue impacts all of us so that you can thrive (not just survive) in the challenging work you do, I hope you’ll join me for Compassion Fatigue Strategies at UFL!

Class starts September 24th and it runs for 8 weeks. I know it can help you and I want you to join us!

Learn more and sign up here (56 people and counting are already on board, so don’t miss out on your chance to start feeling better ASAP).

But don’t take my word for it:

Remember to leave me a comment with your questions, ok?

 

Practice Compassionate Badassery

I learned the phrase “compassionate badassery” a few years ago when I stumbled into Lauren Rosenfeld’s Etsy shop YourToBeList. A silver bracelet, stamped with the words “practice compassionate badassery,” caught my eye.

Lauren described compassionate badassery like this:

“Being compassionate takes courage. It takes the strength to make ourselves vulnerable in order to be with others when they are in pain, so their pain can be transformed. So if you are a compassionate being, you are by definition — a serious BADASS.”

I bought it.

I’ve thought a lot about what it means to practice compassionate badassery, specifically how it informs my work as a compassion fatigue educator.

I see practicing compassionate badassery as a skillful way to stay healthy while effectively helping others. It’s based in a belief that self-care & service inherently belong together.

It’s not some kind of title we get or status we achieve. It’s a mighty practice we engage in (mostly imperfectly) over the course of our lifetime.

In this practice, we’re always growing and learning. We’re never cured and we never graduate!

Practicing compassionate badassery means mindfully making vulnerable, courageous choices that support sustainable, ethical, and satisfying caregiving.

There are two linked ideas that ground this practice:

  1. Choose to embrace uncertainty and paradox.

  2. Pledge hardcore allegiance to your own welfare.

 

That’s the short version. Here’s the TLDR version.

What does it mean to choose uncertainty and paradox?

Life is full of contradictions and change. It is simply the way things are.

It’s the way YOU are. As Walt said, we are large and contain multitudes.

Same goes for our work.

If we fight the contradictions and try to control everything, we’ll exhaust ourselves. Embracing uncertainty and paradox redirects our energy and allows us to thrive in the complicated spaces we hang out in.

Wait up, what’s a paradox again?

A paradox involves two elements, truths, or perspectives that seem contradictory, but are both true.

You know, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, “Good people do bad things,” and “I know one thing. That I know nothing.”

Giving and receiving can be a paradox for helping professionals. These ideas seem to be at odds with each other. I have a duty to take care of others and I have a duty to take care of myself.

Both statements are true. But we often perceive that it’s a choice between two extremes.

Some choose pathological altruism and cause great harm to themselves in order to help others. But it’s not a contradiction to care deeply for yourself, as you serve the world.

Then there’s the “killing-caring paradox” which is specific to animal welfare work.

Many of us are tasked with ending the lives of healthy animals in our work. It seems like a paradox, but it’s true that we can love animals deeply AND end their lives.

Life is complicated. Things are rarely black and white. Almost everything is both/and. Not either/or.

But if we’re burning out or experiencing compassion fatigue we tend to drift into polarized, rigid thinking. It takes energy to stay flexible.

Compassionate badassery means we push back on that crusty, rigid thinking and choose to practice openness and curiosity in the face of uncertainty and paradox.

This is not easy, given what we witness and experience. It involves energy and risk. Our hearts will break.

That’s why it’s badassery.

If it were easy it would be called compassionate brunch life and everyone would be doing it. #compassionatebrunchlife #liveyourbestbrunch

Want to practice compassionate badassery? Let’s dive into some juicy contradictions:

 

Strong back and soft front. The ultimate compassionate badassery practitioner, Roshi Joan Halifax, reminds us, “All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive…If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we risk having a front that’s soft and open….”

Healthy boundaries help hold us up, without completely armoring up. This strength allow us to soften, opening our hearts to ourselves and others. That’s how we remain compassionate in difficult circumstances.

Vulnerability requires strength. Just like Lauren said.

 

Compassion and detachment. As helpers we can be flooded by empathy, which exhausts us. Cultivating compassionate detachment is necessary.

That doesn’t mean we don’t care deeply. It means we give without getting lost in the pain of others, without taking responsibility for other people, and without becoming too attached to the outcome.

Buddhists might call this compassionate non-attachment.

We take a step back to access our sweet spot of empathetic engagement. When we practice compassionate detachment, we can do what’s best for those we serve AND what’s best for ourselves at the same time.

It’s a balancing act of self-regulation that can help to reduce compassion fatigue.

 

Work hard and let go. Speaking of non-attachment, our caregiver roles require us to work very hard to achieve a positive outcome. But the outcomes are out of our control.

We are not in control.

For example, we could be PERFECT (spoiler: no we can’t) and things still won’t always work out.

This work is not completely up to us.

There are too many moving parts, the complexity of living beings, and cosmic unknowns that we do not have control over.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot be certain of the outcome.

“However hard you work, however much you give, and however many years you deny and sacrifice yourself for the sake of your work, the outcomes of that work are not up to you. We can determine our contribution to the world, but never the outcomes of that contribution.” – Elie Calhoun

This means we need to find a way to feel alright about our work and ourselves, even when the outcome isn’t what we’d hoped for. I recommend setting “internal conditions for success.”

Margaret Wheatley knows, “If we’ve returned again and again to our work, if we’ve taken up the challenges rather than avoiding them, if we’ve known when to give up, when to change, when to open up, when to love…well, I for one, will feel very successful.”

 

Accept limits and show up. There are limits to what we can do. So many problems cannot be fixed. We need to keep showing up to serve anyway. Did you know fixing and serving are different?

“Serving requires us to know that our humanity is more powerful than our expertise.” – Rachel Remen

Listen to Sharon Salzberg, OG compassionate badassery tour guide:

“We don’t always know how to relieve others’ suffering; often we can’t, in fact. Then our only recourse is to be present and attend to the suffering, which can be difficult.”

Showing up and being present is EVERYTHING. Or as my coach would say, we gotta hold that space.

In animal welfare work, compassion holds and hospice are a beautiful example of this.

Back to Sharon, “…any skillful caregiving relationship relies on balance: the balance between opening one’s heart as much as possible and accepting the limits of what one can do.”

Yo, that’s soft front, strong back again!

With compassion balanced by equanimity, we can show up and be present to suffering, even when we can’t fix a thing.

 

Imperfect and still awesome. We’re highly skilled. We strive to meet our personal and professional standards. Lives are on the line.

And yet. We make mistakes. We fail. ALL OF US DO.

We are not our mistakes. We are imperfect human beings, doing our best in imperfect organizations and systems, with limited resources, helping complex living beings.

Striving to be awesome at caring for others is a wonderful trait. But lots of us are stuck in perfectionism instead.

“Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain or blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield…it’s other-focused. What will they think?”  – Brene Brown, compassionate badassery researcher

Perfectionism is self-destructive. No one can perform at 100%, 100% of the time. Trying to do that is an express train to Burnoutville.

Know that you will cause harm (paradox alert: you can cause harm and be a healer) at some point. Accept this ahead of time. Try not to judge yourself. Fortunately, mistakes will help you grow.

You are both imperfect and awesome. The answer to all of this is mega doses of self-compassion.

 

Small moments and big picture. If we want to feel like our work is meaningful and we’re having an impact (despite all of the above) we need to pay attention and toggle our perspective.

Learn to zoom in mindfully, so that you notice you are making a difference for at least one animal or person every day. Then zoom out to take in the big picture impact you are making over the course of your entire lifetime.

Both matter.

Sit in a kennel and comfort a scared dog. You are a success.

Adopt out thousands of dogs. You are a success.

Neither is negated by the fact that you couldn’t comfort or save them all.

Neither is negated if you take a break or quit or change careers.

 

Use judgement and stay curious. We need to use our good judgement every day at work. How else will we make decisions? But using our best judgment is not the same as being judgmental.

Complex work + imperfect human beings + systemic barriers = few ideal outcomes.

When you catch yourself judging others (we all do it), consider how their actions are helping them to cope with a problem. It may not be a skillful approach, but it’s probably the best they can do with the resources they have.

Assume people are doing their best. It feels better and helps us to serve effectively.

Meet people where they are. Stay curious. Question your assumptions. We’re not so different from each other.

Use your judgement to help others take whatever small steps they can. Trust it will lead to the best possible outcome.

 

Welcome joy and pain. No mud, no lotus, as Thich Nhat Hanh likes to say.

Or as I like to say, no shit, no roses. My garden beds are full of alpaca poop right now. I’m going to eat some tasty peas this summer. Hooray for shit!

“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.” – Naomi Shibab Nye

Word.

The joys of helping others are often directly connected to the painful parts. This is the tension of opposites that we have to live in.

Our joy and pain are in a committed relationship. They’re not just friends with benefits.

Sometimes we get stuck only noticing the pain. We need to train ourselves to see and savor the joy.

“If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller

Say thanks often. Gratitude fills us up and open our hearts.

Maybe we’re desperately trying to avoid the pain. But if we numb out pain, we numb joy too.

“Pleasure is not a reward. Pain is not a punishment. They’re just ordinary occurrences.” – Chogyam Trungpa

Don’t worry. Neither is permanent.

So much of what we love about our work is rooted in pain. The work breaks our hearts AND fills the cracks with gold (see: the art of kintsugi).

Our deepest suffering is fertilizer for our deepest, most badass compassion.


 

Honestly, this is hard. Like Buddhist nun level hard (that’s why they’re the ones giving us all the good advice).

It takes deep resources.

That’s the other half of the compassionate badassery equation: pledging hardcore allegiance to your own welfare.

I’m talking holy rolling, ride or die chick dependability, hand-over-heart pledge allegiance to yourself kind of self-care.

My girl-crush Renee calls this self-loyalty.

Caring for ourselves is both a sacred obligation and our professional responsibility. It’s not something we need to feel bad about or selfish for doing.

Caring for our tools (heart, mind, spirit, and body) allows us to serve others for the long haul, doing ethical, effective work.

Here are some ideas for saying “I do!” to yourself:

– We need internal space to hold those contradictions. Create it: breathe, meditate, pray, do yoga, share your stories, allow for silence, trust in something bigger.

– Self-care is more than massages and taco night. It’s medical and dental care. It’s doing your bills, taking your meds, and having difficult conversations. More here.

– This is not all on you as an individual. Self-care can’t fix a toxic work environment or an unreasonable job description. Question the systems you work within. Organizations need to be held accountable for the conditions they create. Fight to make them better only IF you have the energy and safety to do so.

– Life is a series of expansions and contractions. Plan for this. When you’re in an upswing, put resources in place for the downswing.

– Remind yourself that you do not have to earn your self-care. EVER. You deserve care simply because you exist. Just like the animals do.

– Pay attention to your body. It’s keeping the score and it’s trying to talk to you. Listen, please.

– There will always be more need then you can address in a day (or lifetime). Your to-do list regenerates at night like gremlins. There is no finish line. Rest as you go.

– Notice your self-talk and tone. Ease up. Talk to yourself with the same kindness you’d give to your BFF (or your dog).

– Embrace “good enough” rules. Screw perfect. Find your own version of “good enough” when it comes to self-care, work, parenting, or anything else. The Good Enough Club is always accepting new members.

– Build healthy, flexible boundaries. Start by saying no to what drains you, so you can say yes to what energizes and supports you.

– Invest in your life outside of work, even if the work you do is your calling. Playing will counterbalance the intensity of the work you do. Refill that cup, girl!

– Your journey will have ups and downs. You will likely still experience compassion fatigue or burnout, even if you do everything “right”. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

– You cannot do this alone. No one can. Tend and befriend. Ask for and accept help.

– Emotions are contagious. You’re not a silo. “Take responsibility for the energy you bring into the room” – Jill Bolte Taylor. And notice when you’re soaking up other people’s stuff too.

– Own your mistakes. Do what you can to make it right. Be honest with yourself. Accountability heals.

– Ground your work in something bigger than your anger. Desiree Adaway reminds us that if, “…we ground our work in joy, support, community, and security we will win.”

– There is no shame in receiving mental health help. FUCK that. If your leg was broken, you’d go to the doctor. If your heart and brain are busted, go to the doctor.

– Make your life a martyr-free zone. Suffering and self-sacrifice are not competitive sports. Your suffering is not required in order for you to be of service to others.

– Recognize that you always have choices, even if they’re hard ones. Take responsibility for your life.

– Busyness and productivity are not badges of honor. Exhaustion is not something to brag about. Let go of “busy” as way to prove your value. Say it with me now: Rested is the new busy.

– Don’t take shit personally. It’s not about you. See: The 4 Agreements

– Adjust your expectations. “Happiness is greater than or equal to your perception of the events in your life, minus your expectation of how life should behave.” – Mo Gawdat

– Resiliency is like a muscle. Work it out like a boss and you’ll grow stronger, even in the broken places. Leonard reminds us that that’s where the light gets in, right?

There’s more, but I don’t want to punish you with another 2,000 words. In fact, here’s a Facebook cover image, as a reward for getting this far:

To summarize, practicing compassionate badassery means mindfully making vulnerable, courageous choices that support sustainable, ethical, and satisfying caregiving.

To practice compassionate badassery:

  1. Choose to embrace uncertainty and paradox.

  2. Pledge hardcore allegiance to your own welfare.

Practicing compassionate badassery requires that we invest deeply in ourselves, so that we can thrive amongst all of the contradictions and unknowns of serving others.

The work will never be easy or painless. Meaningful work rarely is. The waves will keep on coming, according to Jon.

But if we choose to practice compassionate badassery, then we’ll be able to more skillfully navigate these challenges, continue caring for others, and enjoy our one and only life a whole lot more.

“What are we here for if not to enjoy life eternal, solve what problems we can, give light, peace and joy to our fellow-man, and leave this dear fucked-up planet a little healthier than when we were born.” – Henry Miller


Listen to me talk and laugh about this idea (I share a poem that explains a lot called Autobiography in Five Short Chapters) in this Facebook video.

p.s. This is my take on compassionate badassery. I want to know what YOU think. Let’s make compassionate badassery a community brainstorm. What does practicing compassionate badassery mean to you?

p.p.s. Want some help with this? I offer 1-on-1 coaching and a self-study class that can support your compassionate badassery practice. You can grab a Practice Compassionate Badassery tee here too!

Are You On the Path to Burnout?

There’s a new study I want you all to read called Negotiating the Challenges of a Calling: Emotion and Enacted Sensemaking in Animal Shelter Work. According to the authors, animal shelter workers are typically on one of three “calling pathways”…and two of them lead straight to burnout.

I recommend you read this short article on the study, but here’s my quick recap.

The Three Paths

1. Identity-Oriented: You want to make a difference for animals and you see yourself as having a special connection with animals. A big part of your identity is based on the belief that you are uniquely suited to caring for animals. You’re shocked by what you experience at the shelter, perceive challenges as a threat to your sense of self as being gifted with animals, and feel broken down by the work.

2. Contribution-Oriented: You want to make a difference for animals and you see yourself as having special skills that will help the organization. A big part of your identity is based on your belief that you have valuable skills that are in short supply and can make a positive impact for a cause. You are shocked by the challenges at the shelter, perceive them as a threat to your sense of self as a talented contributor, and feel defeated by the work.

3. Practice-Oriented: You want to make a difference for animals. You don’t see yourself as uniquely gifted or talented, but you are just as passionate about working with animals as the other two. You have more realistic expectations of the work and perceive challenges as opportunities for learning. This empowers you and contributes to your belief that you have the capacity to grow and master new skills. You may feel fatigued, but are still happy and fulfilled by the work.

All three “paths” feel called to work with animals and all three feel negative emotions about the upsetting aspects of the work. But according to the study, the first two lead to burnout. Only the third path leads to fulfillment and engagement.

How come? The study goes into great detail about how we frame and make sense of challenges. But one way to consider the three paths is through Carol Dweck’s work on mindset.

Growth Vs. Fixed Mindset

Mindsets are the internal running accounts of what’s happening to us, what we think it means, and what we should do about it. We all have this going on in our minds and it frames and interprets every experience – every challenge we encounter.

The first two paths seem to be more of a “fixed” mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed, static traits. They spend their time documenting and judging their skills. When a challenge at work occurs, failure is to be avoided at all costs, so they can maintain their identity as gifted or skilled. In an environment like an animal shelter, where conditions are never perfect, this means there will be lots of perceived “failure” and sense that one is never “good enough.”

The third path seems to be a “growth” mindset. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—skills and talent are only the starting point. When a challenge at work occurs, they see this as an opportunity to learn and improve their skills and talent. They’re focused less on proving themselves and more on developing themselves. And they believe others can learn and grow as well. This makes them more resilient to the challenges of working in an environment like an animal shelter.

 

Next Steps

I frequently get asked if there is a test that organizations can give during interviews to determine if someone would be a good fit for this emotionally challenging work. I would never base a hiring decision on one quiz, but I do think that there’s something to be said for recruiting staff who already have a growth mindset and therefore may be less judgmental (towards themselves and others) and more resilient to the inevitable challenges of the job.

Folks who are more aligned with the idea of learning from others and take pride in being a part of and helping their community (versus someone who only cares about animals and over-identifies as a “helper”) may be able to withstand the ups and downs of the job better.

The good news is that all of us can take steps to help ourselves (and our staff) to develop a growth mindset. For example, managers can help folks on the Contribution-Oriented to recognize that while it can be tough to make a positive impact for animals all the time, they can make a very important, meaningful impact on their coworkers, employees, and the public.

By becoming more aware of our running internal monologue, learning to challenge these thoughts, and committing to the practice of life-long learning, we can open up space for change and growth. And less burnout!

This is the foundation of my online courses and my 1-on-1 coaching. We can’t stop the challenges from coming our way, but through increased self-awareness, a willingness to explore new approaches, and deliberate practice we can learn how to manage them better and become more resilient in the process.

If you’d like to read the full study, which I hope you do, I’m happy to email a single copy to you (copyright prohibits me from sharing the full study here). Just email me.

p.s. if you’re wondering, I see myself in all three paths at different points in my career. I’m happy to report that, with practice, I’m walking that third pathway of growth and collaboration these days. How about you?

Your Heart is Your Powerhouse

And I bet it’s working overtime these days. So many compassionate people I know, who already work so hard as helping professionals, have recently become even more engaged in service and activism work in a multitude of efforts to protect the people, animals, and environment we hold dear.

Self-care is more important than ever. Activism, just like animal welfare and care work, is a long game. If you want to keep going, you have to take care of your tools, starting with your heart.

Your heart is a muscle. It’s about the size of your two fists

It beats approximately 100,000 times in one day and about 35 million times in a year. Even at rest, the muscles of your heart are working hard – twice as hard as your leg muscles when you’re sprinting to the ice cream truck. You are so strong!

Figuratively speaking, your heart is just as powerful as your source of empathy, kindness, and compassion. Your role as a caregiver and healer is work of the heart – meaningful, connected, sensitive, and life-affirming. You are so loving!

All of this is to say, your heart is magnificent and essential. Please don’t forget to take care of your powerhouse, as you take care of the world.

Go to the doctor. I know you go to the veterinarian’s office every other day (I see you there!), but now it’s time for your annual physical exam. And while you’re at it, go to the dentist, since gum disease and heart disease are connected. Medical care is self-care.

Move your body. Exercise helps cuts your risk of heart disease, but it also helps you shake off the stress that builds up all day at work. I recently stumbled on this guy and I can’t stop laugh-dancing. That’s a thing, right? I dare you to do this with your co-workers the next time you feel like pulling your hair out.

Ground your work in something bigger than your anger. That’s a complicated one. I know. John Lewis helps me understand this idea of love in action better. And Desiree Adaway reminds me that if, “…we ground our work in joy, support, community, and security we will win.”

Sync your values. I bet most of you would consider compassion to be one of your core values. Many of you work in “humane” societies. But really: how humanely are you treating yourself? How much of that compassionate care are you offering yourself? You deserve and need just as much, if not more, love and care as you give to others.

Here’s some help in that area:

Self Care Flow Chart: for when you don’t know what to do, but you know you need to do something.

Finding Steady Ground: 7 behaviors to strengthen ourselves, so we can keep taking more and more powerful and strategic actions in the world, plus How to Get Out of a Cycle of Outrage.

The Modern Violence of Overwork: a short passage from Thomas Merton, the American Trappist monk, and a powerful question from Parker Palmer, to read again and again.

This is What I Believe: Do no harm, take no shit, be real, don’t take it personally, and more brilliant inspiration.

Compassion Fatigue Strategies Course Starts Soon!

The next session of my course, Compassion Fatigue Strategies (CFS) through the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program, is about to begin and registration is now open!

The class launches on March 13th and runs through the first week of May.

CFS is a four module, online, self-paced class for people who work with animals. It’s designed to give you the space to learn about how to manage the impact of compassion fatigue in your life.

You do the work on your own time. There are live calls with me, but even those are recorded, so you’ll never miss a thing, no matter how busy you are.

Would you like to join me and a group of your peers for 8 weeks of thoughtful, honest, and courageous discussions? Want to earn 15 CEUs? Think getting together for 4 live calls to practice stress reduction and mindfulness practices sounds good?

Sign up here!

 

 

I know you’re busy, but nothing will get better unless we tackle it. We can do it together. But I need you to make a commitment to yourself.

Can you give yourself about 2 hours a week (that’s 15-20 minutes a day) for 2 months to learn and explore practices that can support you for the rest of your career? Can you put yourself on your to-do list this spring?

Here’s what one CFS student shared on Facebook about her experience with the course in 2016:

“I just finished this course. It was very eye opening and worth every cent. I highly recommend it to anyone in the animal welfare industry.”

 

Here’s what another student had to say to me about not being sure about taking this class:

“I’m not the kind of person to readily discuss my feelings. I’m the kind of person who loves my job and wants to get my work done and do it well. I’ve gotten to the point in my career that I know this is an industry where I could work myself past the point of no return, whether that be burning out or leaving animal welfare entirely. But I came to this work because I love it. I just needed to figure out how to do it sustainably.

Jessica Dolce’s CFS class was recommended to me by a friend in the field and has been a great source of information, discussion, and the feeling you get when you realize you’re not alone. The work we do is insurmountable. It’s never ending. Sometimes it’s thankless. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we started doing it in the first place. This course is approachable and self-paced. I am a terrible procrastinator, but I got it done and I’m glad I did.” – Shelter Medicine Veterinary Assistant, CFS alum

 

Do you want things to be different this year? Then let’s get you on a new path this spring!

Read more about the class and what the students had to say about it here.

 

See you this spring!

Compassion Fatigue Strategies Course Starts 9/19

The next session of my course, Compassion Fatigue Strategies (CFS) through the University of Florida’s Maddie’s® Shelter Medicine Program, is about to begin. The class launches on September 19th!

CFS is a four module, online, self-paced class for people who work with animals. It’s designed to give you the space to learn about how to manage the impact of compassion fatigue in your life.

Would you like to join me and a growing group of students for 8 weeks of thoughtful, honest, and courageous discussions?  Want to earn 15 CEUs? Think getting together for 4 live calls to practice stress reduction and mindfulness practices sounds good?

Sign up here!

 

compassion fatigue strategies class testimonial

 

Here’s the simple truth: there is no magic pill or quick fix for compassion fatigue.

But there are strategies, tools, resources, and new ways of thinking about the complex work that you do which will help you transform how compassion fatigue is impacting your life.

You can learn how to take care of yourself, while you care for the world.

Students from past sessions have shared that the course helped them to feel empowered and to better prioritize their tasks, let go of work at the end of a shift, make more time for themselves and their personal lives, become more aware of their own emotions, mental states, and stress triggers, create healthier boundaries for themselves at work and at home, and much more.

If that sounds good to you, then I hope you’ll give yourself this class as a gift. Think of it as an investment in yourself.

I know you’re probably tired and busy. This may not be a great time to add something else to your schedule, but let’s be honest:

Nothing will change if you don’t carve out some time and energy to address how compassion fatigue is taking a toll on you and your work.

Can you give yourself about 2 hours a week (that’s 15-20 minutes a day) for 2 months to learn and explore practices that can support you for the rest of your career? Can you put yourself on your to-do list this fall?

Here’s what another student had to say about not being sure about taking this class:

“I’m not the kind of person to readily discuss my feelings. I’m the kind of person who loves my job and wants to get my work done and do it well. I’ve gotten to the point in my career that I know this is an industry where I could work myself past the point of no return, whether that be burning out or leaving animal welfare entirely. But I came to this work because I love it. I just needed to figure out how to do it sustainably.

Jessica Dolce’s CFS class was recommended to me by a friend in the field and has been a great source of information, discussion, and the feeling you get when you realize you’re not alone. The work we do is insurmountable. It’s never ending. Sometimes it’s thankless. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we started doing it in the first place. This course is approachable and self-paced. I am a terrible procrastinator, but I got it done and I’m glad I did.” – Shelter Medicine Veterinary Assistant, CFS alum

 

Do you want things to be different in 2017? Then let’s get you on a new path this fall!

Read more about the class and what the students had to say about it here.

 

you got this,

Are You Thinking About Suicide? And Other Questions We’re Afraid To Ask

If so, call: 1-800-273-TALK

 
Please make the call.

Thoughts of suicide are often associated with a treatable mental disorder. These thoughts are common (you’re far, far from being alone) and do not have to be acted on. If you call the crisis hotline number above, you’ll speak with a trained counselor who can help connect you to local resources and professionals who want to help. It’s free, 24/7, and confidential. Please call. There’s only one of you in this world and we want you to stick around.

Talking about suicide can be hard. I’m wondering what all of you are feeling right now, as you read this, and it makes my chest tight. So many of us are suffering.

Let me ask you all something: How prepared are you to offer help to someone in emotional distress?

I think it’s safe to assume that many of us feel less than competent in this area. How often does that stop us from reaching out when someone needs us?

On the flip side, I’m totally incompetent when it comes to helping people with physical medical problems, but if I saw someone on the street having a heart attack or a friend accidentally cut themselves, I would still offer assistance even though I really wasn’t sure what to do.

I bet a lot of you are the same. Even if we couldn’t remember how to do CPR or how to dress a wound, most of us would still reach out to someone having a physical medical emergency. We might offer a reassuring word, bust out the first aid kit, or call 911.

But what about when our friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers are suffering from a mental health emergency or are in emotional distress? A lot of us just keep our heads down. Not because we’re bad people, but because we don’t understand mental health issues. We don’t know what to do. We might worry that we’ll make things worse than they already are.

Luckily, there’s something we can do about this. This winter I earned my certificate in Mental Health First Aid through NAMI Maine. The full day training, developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health is offered internationally and helps everyday people learn how to effectively respond to individuals who are in psychological distress.

This is a training we should all take, no matter what we do for a living.

Consider this:

  • One in five Americans experience a mental disorder in any one year.
  • More than half of all adults in America will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

It’s highly likely that we will encounter someone (ourselves included) in need of mental health help at some point. So why not ditch the shame, clear up the confusion, and shed the stigma that surrounds mental health? Let’s get informed. We can learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.

Working in a helping profession requires intense emotional labor. All of us are impacted, in varying degrees, by the stress, trauma, and suffering we bear witness to every day. Sometimes it’s really serious:

1 in 6 veterinary professionals have considered suicide.

If you suspect someone may be at risk for suicide, it’s important to ask directly about suicidal thoughts.

DON’T avoid using the word “suicide.” You’re not planting the idea in their mind if you do.
DO ask the question without dread and without expressing a negative judgement.
DO be direct:

Are you having thoughts of suicide?
Are you thinking about killing yourself?

Letting people know that you care and want to help can make a major difference. Be sure to have information and resources available if they need assistance.

In the First Aid course, we learned a handy acronym to help guide us through the process of reaching out to anyone in distress (which includes panic attacks, addiction, depression, and self harm):

mental health action plan

In order to move towards the last 3 steps, we need to get educated. Here are some ways to learn more right now:

Learn the signs, what you can do to help, and more myths about suicide.

More on suicide prevention here.

Always have this number nearby: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

You can also watch the free VetGirl webinar: Suicide in Veterinary Medicine

I highly recommend this Mental Health First Aid training for all of us, but especially for people in management and leadership roles. Your staff and the public you work with (who are also in distress some of the time) need you to know this kind of basic first aid for a variety of common mental health problems.

If you would like to get trained in Mental Heath First Aid, please visit this page.