Is anyone truly selfless?
I know a multitude of really good people who dedicate their lives to making a difference in the lives of others: Social Workers, Counselors Teachers, Nurses…you get it. These positions require self sacrifice to be sure. But are these people selfless?
Midnight. Saturday. Barbara, a case manager gets a call from a foster child with whom she had been working. The teen, crying into the phone, tells the case manager that she ran away from her grandmother’s home after the “new boyfriend” snuck into her room and tried to touch her. After ascertaining the child’s whereabouts, Barbara calls her own mother and tells the groggy woman that she has to go out and needs to drop off her 2 year old daughter on the way. Barbara, a single mom, has had to make this plan numerous times since she began working in foster care. Barbara, while tired, does not not resent the fact that she has to put her own child and mother in crisis. This is what she is supposed to do. It is her purpose
Jerry recruits foster parents and trains them to take special needs children. Almost every weekend he sets up a recruitment booth at local and state festivals engaging families into fostering these children. He missed most of his son’s little league games. But, he explains to a frustrated wife: “the weekend is when these events happen!” Trainings are at night when the applicants are home from work. His agency allows him to flex out days, but his wife also works and his son is at school. So when he does flex out, he sits at home alone watching reruns and eating poorly.
Are Barbara and Jerry selfless? The definition of selfless is to take care of the needs of others before taking care of your own. By that definition, I would say they are. There are many people in the helping professions that meet that definition
But what if, in addition to their own desires to help others, it was an expectation of their job? Often helping agencies geared towards public service expect, even demand that their employees work at night or on weekends in order to meet the client’s needs. And it is necessary. So we are not going to change a system culture that demands selflessness.
No, the system will not and, one could argue, should not change. Meeting the needs of the vulnerable is too important. But unfortunately, total selflessness can lead to loss.
Loss of personal relationships…
Loss of health.
Loss of self.
So…hmm… what a conundrum. We are drawn to help others at a cost to ourselves. Is selflessness a bad thing?
Not at all. Hurting and vulnerable people need social workers, therapists and other helpers. Their crises often occur outside of normal business hours or days. And helpers often Need to Help. We have to understand that need for purpose. For helping professionals, that need can be very strong.
Impasse? No. Like everything else, it is up to us to not only be aware of our need for self care, but also to take positive steps to achieve it.
“I dont have time for anything! I miss everything! But it is my job!”.
I hear that a lot. I wont insult you by denying that you shouldn’t have to work late nights and some weekends. That’s the nature of working with a population in crisis.
But it is up to you to plan and take advantage of the down time you have.
Find things that give back to YOU. Some like early morning walking or yoga. Some like writing poetry or journaling. Some like taking short road trips: camping, glamping or staying in a nice hotel. Some just make time to connect with their families for refreshment.
Barbara got home late from her crisis call and decided to let her mother know she would retrieve her daughter in the morning. Next morning, she surprised mother and daughter with breakfast from their favorite diner then took them both to the zoo. It made for a great memory.
Jerry went in to work but flexed out at noon to lunch with his son at school. After school Jerry took his son to the ball park to practice pitching before the game. That night was date night with his wife.
Both knew that making time for their families refreshed their selves.
Challenge: you will be called upon to be selfless most days. Dont accept that you dont matter.
Appreciate yourself. Being selfless is part of who you are. Celebrate your drive and purpose.
Discover things that give back to you.
Make time to engage in those things.
Be creative with down time.
So, selfless seems to imply an absence of self. But I am advocating a thoughtful balance. Your self is important and taking care of yourself gives you the energy and drive to care for all the others.