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The #1 thing your boss doesn’t want me to talk to you 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.

It’s…

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?

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.

2021 Word of the Year: Reverence

Do you have a word of the year (WOTY)? WOTY is a word or a short phrase that serves as an intention for the year to come. 

For me, WOTY is 1000% more helpful than New Year’s resolutions. It’s serve as my compass for how I want to live my life for the next 12 months. 

Here are some of the words I’ve chosen in the past:

2020: Deliberate
2019: n/a
2018: Ease and Receive
2017: Joyful Responsibility
2016: Full
2015: Integrate

Looking back on 2020, DELIBERATE turned out to be a tough, but helpful WOTY. I started off the year making very intentional, non-reactive choices about how I spent my time.

Enter COVID.

The pandemic slammed me into reactive mode, busy in the extreme, struggling to be deliberate and consistent in caring for myself.

But it turned out that just knowing my WOTY was DELIBERATE helped, because it kept me honest about how unintentional I was being each day.

That awareness helped me to re-assess and, eventually, to pump the brakes on the runaway car that was my work life. I was able to end the year with a return to a more deliberate approach.

Some of you may remember that I took 30 days off of social media in January 2020.

This January, I left completely (more on that coming soon!).

The choice to leave social media personally and professionally was the result of my WOTY – my intention to live a more deliberate life.

Which brings us to 2021.

I was looking for a word that would capture my desire to be fully present with and grateful for the animals and people I love, to feel satisfied with what I have and what I can do, to care deeply for my body and the land I live on, and to not miss out on the beauty of being alive because of my tendency towards perpetual busy-ness.

That’s a lot to ask of one word!

It took me a week and then, on New Year’s Day REVERENCE popped into my head.

Reverence means to have profound respect, mingled with love, devotion, or awe.

Yep, that’s the one. 

So I asked myself: What does reverence look like in daily life?

I think it may come down to this: to be reverent is to have radical respect and gratitude for all aspects of life. 

Approaching daily life with reverence requires a certain degree of slowness, simplicity, and openness.

It takes the word DELIBERATE and adds heaps of gratitude and mystery and love.

Some of you may be familiar with Albert Schweitzer’s work with animals and his philosophy of Reverence for Life.

He wrote, “Reverence for Life says that the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass – and of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect that we wish for ourselves.”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel gets right to it: “Reverence is a salute of the soul, an awareness of the inherent value of all beings.”

Many of you work with animals and already have a deep reverence for their lives.

But what about your own life?

Do you believe in your own inherent value, apart from what you can produce?

And do you offer yourself the same care and respect you generously give to animals?

I struggle with this and I know that many of you do as well.

That’s why I chose REVERENCE for 2021.

Reverence is my intention to stay connected to what is most meaningful for me, approaching all areas of my life with radical respect, so that I am present with what is sacred.

“Living in a sacred manner means looking upon the ordinary with a mystical eyesight. When seen differently, the common things are soon handled in a different way – with reverence.” – Edward Hays

What would be different if I looked at the everyday parts of my life with reverence? How would I relate differently to:

  • My body, mind, and spirit?
  • My family and friends, human and animal, past and present?
  • The people I have the privilege to work with and care for?
  • The animals, plants, minerals, and water in my yard and around the world?
  • What I consume – from food to information?

How would life be different if I moved at the speed of radical respect and awe?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out in 2021!

Because reverence is such a BIG word, I chose a 2nd, more earth-bound, support word for 2021: CONSISTENCY.

For me to live with reverence I need structure, routine, and ritual.

Like many of us, when things are very stressful I tend to drop my most supportive structures – just when I need them most. This immediately takes me out of living with a deep respect for myself (not to mention others), so this year consistency is married to reverence.

What about you? What’s your WOTY?

Whatever word you chose (or don’t!), I’m wishing you a year filled with laughter, health, happiness, and safety.

My Fake TED Talk: Practicing Compassionate Badassery [Shifting from Self-Care to We-Care]

Earlier this year I gave a short presentation at a national animal welfare conference, but since it cost $$ to attend (unless you lucked out with a scholarship) my talk wasn’t accessible to most folks in animal shelters. 

This presentation – I’m calling it my fake TED Talk – is my deepest wish for the animal welfare field. So I really wanted to make it available for everyone!

Want to know my challenge to the field and 5 things we can do right now to increase worker wellbeing? Click the image below to find out:

Want more resources? Check this page out.

BIPOC Mental Health Resources (plus, affordable therapy options for all)

Right now, with all that’s happening in our country – including the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and racial violence – we could all use more support and therapy.

Sadly, therapy is not accessible to everyone who needs it, even those with health insurance.

And not every therapist will create a safe space for BIPOC and LGBTQIA clients, so therapy isn’t always a positive experience.

I believe that everyone who works in a helping profession would benefit from mental health support, so I’ve been gathering a list of more accessible, culturally-sensitive resources to add to the CiB Program. I thought I’d share that here with everyone.

Before I do, I want to acknowledge that all human beings struggle and are exposed to trauma.

But folks who are part of the BIPOC community have distinctly different experiences of racial trauma and systemic oppression that needs to be acknowledged. 

See: What is racial trauma?

Below is a list of affordable mental health options for everyone, as well as some specific resources for BIPOC.

Everyone deserves support. I hope this list makes it a little easier for you to find the support that truly meets your individual needs. 

General resources for affordable support:

7 Cups, free emotional support

Emotional support hotlines (warm lines) directory

General resources for affordable, inclusive therapy:

How to find affordable therapy.

The Open Path Collective, a non-profit that offers reduced cost, inclusive therapy

Ayana an app that connects marginalized and intersectional communities to online mental health help (offers limited free online help for frontline workers during COVID)

Inclusive Therapists directory offers a number of resources for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, the LGBTQ+ community, neurodivergent people, and people with disabilities

Therapist directories and resources for Black men and women:

The Loveland Foundation offers resources for Black women and girls, including financial assistance for therapy

BEAM: Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective offers a Black virtual therapist directory (for tele-sessions)

Therapy for Black Girls directory

Therapy for Black Men directory

Melanin and Mental Health dope therapist directory

Boris L Henson Foundation therapist directory and free telehealth session

National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network

Looking for more? Check out 44 Mental Health Resources for Black People Trying to Survive in This Country for a comprehensive list of resources. 

Tips on how to find an anti-racist therapist from @melaninandmentalhealth:

I’ll be adding these resources to The CiB program, so that they’re a permanent resource going forward. If you know of any resources you’d like to see added to this list, please leave a comment.

I do want to I acknowledge that I am a white, straight, cis-gendered female and it’s not my intention to cause harm to anyone with this post, but if I do – please let me know. I am open to your feedback.

This Question Could Change Your Life

I have a New Years resolution for you.

This goes double if the holidays were a strain on your:
Time
Finances
Energy
Emotions
Relationships
Pets
Waistlines (c’mon, I can’t be the only one who eats sugar cookies for breakfast Christmas week?!).

When we have so much coming at us in our free time, plus work, it wears down our ability to make good choices for ourselves.

Our boundaries get wonky.

Overwhelm arrives. And with overwhelm comes drama, reactivity, and loads of poor self-care choices. Cue exhaustion.

So as you move into 2019, here’s one simple way you can repeatedly steer yourself away from overwhelm.

Every time you are faced with a choice, pause and ask yourself:

Is this energizing or draining?

Sometimes we have to do stuff that drains us. That’s life.  

But loads of times we do things we don’t really want to do because we’re telling ourselves we “should” do them. That drains us.

  • I should go to the gym 5 days a week because that’s what a good New Year’s resolution looks like. 
  • I should accept that dinner invite because I’m a nice person and that’s what nice people do. 
  • I should let my friends bring their dogs over to my house, because my dog should be able to handle having canine guests and because I should be polite. 


Imagine if, before you answered these requests, you paused and asked yourself: does this feel energizing for me or does it feel draining?

If it feels draining, can you give yourself permission to say NO?

Instead, can you say HELL YES to spending your limited resources on what you actually need right now? Or what authentically feels good?

If so, would you choose resting instead of running? Or a peaceful visit with friends instead of a dog fight over dinner?

I did this earlier in the week when I kept pushing myself to meditate. Why all the resistance I wondered?

Then I asked myself: If I’m being honest with myself, does meditating feel energizing or draining right now? The clearest answer came back: draining!

What would feel energizing I asked? Taking a pottery class instead.

OKAY!



You can back away from the edge of overwhelm by pausing before you automatically agree to requests from other people.

You can back away from exhaustion by asking yourself if what you’re about to make yourself do energizes or drains you.

If it feels draining and you’re leaning towards doing it anyway, ask yourself:

If you knew that no one would ever judge you for saying NO, would you still say YES?

You have a right to choose what works for you.

That might mean going against the grain of what other people expect you to do for them or what our cultural says “good people” who have their shit together do.

Make your resolutions work for you.

Lean towards what naturally sparks your energy. It doesn’t always have to be so hard, you know?

Cheers to an energizing 2019!

Gone Creating! Be Back Soon.

 

Not much is happening here, but all kinds of greatness is taking place offline and behind the scenes. I’m building stuff and I can’t wait to share it here as soon as it’s ready-ish.

Here's a bus to look at in the meantime.
Here’s a bus to look at in the meantime.

Be back soon!

High five,

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