by Melissa Dlugolecki

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to teach and coach. From a young age, I found myself wearing many care-taker hats, but I never understood that in order to reliably show up for others, I had to take care of myself, too.

I was chronically burned-out. I had mono multiple times, called off of work, had breakdowns, and cancelled plans at the last minute.

It wasn’t until losing my infant daughter Leyden and facing life as a bereaved mother, that things changed. In my shattered state, I learned what self-care truly meant. It’s not fancy robes and vacations. It’s not a shopping spree or an extra piece of cake. I became fascinated with and committed to understanding how I could best care for myself, so I could still care for others. And I like to think that these life-changing lessons are gifts from my daughter Leyden.

Here are my top five strategies to give to others without the cost of burnout.

  1. Show up for someone, but don’t do the work for them.

We can’t do anyone else’s homework for them. We just can’t. And sometimes, even when they are hurting, broken, and struggling, the ones we are supporting need to learn on their own, sometimes over and over, how to create the change they seek. Empower. Don’t enable others to be their best selves.

  1. Set boundaries externally.

Remove the notion that boundaries are cold or harsh. Replace it with trust that boundaries are loving. Apprehension of setting them is about our fear of disappointing; that’s not service. Clear expectations are considerate. Let people know appropriate boundaries. Empower them to access your resources in a way that works for both of you. They will appreciate not having to guess if you are available or wonder why they haven’t heard back. And your consistency and reliability will reduce unnecessary angst.

  1. Set boundaries internally.

We cannot feel everything the people we are supporting are feeling. Doing so limits our ability to show up for them, to help them see out of their experience, to find growth and clarity. When others are in a storm, we have to set our own energetic boundary to not jump in with them.

  1. Have input accessible.

When we are exhausted and depleted, we can’t think long and hard about what we need. Write down twenty things that will fill your energy tank. It could be five quiet minutes in the car, putting your phone on “DND,” taking a bath, or sleeping in. The more aware we are of what makes us feel human, the easier it is to stay feeling human. Keep it simple. And keep it accessible.

  1. Don’t Take Anything Personally.

If someone you are supporting thinks you are the greatest change agent, don’t take it personally. If someone thinks you are the worst, don’t take it personally. This can be tricky. I find that communicating in advance that they can expect to feel angry at times will help them when it happens. Being clear on my own process so I don’t get pulled into the emotional experience supports staying aligned with the work to be done.

Remember, service is about giving to others. It’s leading them in their journey and holding mirrors up for them to grow. It’s trusting that what they have within them is more powerful than doing it for them. Even if it’s uncomfortable, remember that giving to others shouldn’t come at your expense. And holding true to that allows you to give more to you, and in turn give more to them.