There is an activity used in training that teaches a lesson in self care. In this activity, you are handed a bucket of water. Other people are identified in the activity: your partner, your boss, your children, your aging parents, your friends, your foster children, your co-workers, your clients, your trainer and so on. As they come to you, you must dip out of your bucket to fill theirs. After a while, there is nothing left in your Bucket.
The point of the activity is that you cannot continue to pour out your life sustaining water without finding a way to replenish it.
That activity aptly identifies how you as a service professional can become empty. Empty: Void of the energy, passion and commitment that led you to become a Social worker. I have been there and it is a horrible feeling. Have you been feeling disconnected? Almost apathetic? Do you wonder why your deep passion for the service to others is being replaced by frustration and resentment? Trust me in this. You are not alone.
One night, coming home from a late meeting, I had been riding with a friend and we were getting ready to take the back road to my home. I knew the stretch would last for 10 dark miles with no stores and few houses. As we turned onto the road, I heard a warning bell. When I asked her what it was, she explained to me that it was the low fuel alarm. I tried to convince her that we needed to turn back and replenish her gas. She laughed and told me she had plenty of gas left. We made it to my home. I was never sure if it was because of her knowledge of her gas tank or my fervent praying all the way home. Either way, she was right. She knew how far her car could continue to run after the bells.
Do you know when your low fuel bells are blaring? What do you Do? There is no one answer-fits-all. What fills you up is different from what fills me up.
I used to feel so guilty when I had run out of water. I couldnt understand why the career I loved left me so disillusioned. I had ignored the warning bells and kept going. The result was that I found myself stopped, stranded and immobile. I felt like I couldn’t go one more day or give one more drop. But I knew what I had to do.
I had to first get alone: read, pray, meditate and fill the hole in my bucket. In my alone time I often went to the lake to fill my eyes, ears and nose with nature. Sitting by the water’s edge, I listened to the geese as they called their young to get in line. I watched the calm lake shatter like glass with the leaping of a large bass in pursuit of a dragon fly. I smelled the freshly cut grass and the luscious aroma of Jasmine on the wind. As I surrendered to these senses, my own issues were put into perspective and my bucket slowly refilled. After my alone time, I reached out to my friends for non work related fun and laughter. Reconnecting with joy filled my bucket to overflowing.
And so it went. I continued to pour out of my bucket every day. But I learned from my friend to know my gauges. This helped me to see the low water level before I hit the despair of empty. I was able to reach out earlier and get some fuel before the warning bells came.
We are all water-givers. That is just who we are. There are many in our lives who are just water takers and we accept that. There are going to be times when we become empty. This is not a terminal condition. You can not only replenish your bucket but also put in your own “bells” to warn you when your water is low. No one knows your bucket better than you. If someone has to point out your empty bucket, it has been empty for too long. Diligently search for and what fills your bucket. For some it is playing with their children. For some it is listening to music. For some it is singing, reading, painting and yes, writing. When you find your replenishing cistern, then learn your gauges. Don’t wait until you are empty to draw out water. Make it a regular habit to drink in so you can continue to pour out. Keep your bucket full