Group of matches standing upright with one burnt one leaning over



Rethinking…creating new norms for how we work.

The “Rethinking…” series will explore some of the standard or traditional ways we do our work and why it’s worth rethinking these norms. Although much of our work (and my writing) focuses on motivating change among external audiences, it’s always important to consider what change is needed from within.

Most of what I’ll share are my own personal observations and experiences. I know they won’t hold true for everyone or every institution. Yet, I hope they will provide healthy prompts and inspiration for making small steps towards change in how we work.

Here is the first installment. Enjoy!


Sometimes we need a little feel-good TV viewing to leave our worries behind.

Lately, for me, that has involved watching (okay, BINGE-watching) episodes of Queer Eye.

After watching several of them in a row, I not only feel that my wardrobe needs a major overhaul, I also notice a recurring theme on who the ‘Fab 5’ are called in to help.

Most of them are individuals who are hard at work pursuing their passion and fulfilling a greater purpose, like:

  • Rescuing special-needs animals
  • Bringing the love of creative writing to children
  • Creating homes and supportive communities for the unhomed
  • Mobilizing youth for climate action
  • Addressing healthcare inequities

The core of each story is the same: this person is SO consumed by their calling that they lose themselves in the process.

Maybe more accurately, they lose a sense of joy. Joy in hobbies. Joy in socializing. Joy in family moments. Joy in self-care.

All members of the Fab 5 reiterate the same message to these individuals: without taking care of the self, we cannot sustain efforts to take care of others.

Bringing our BEST selves to the cause

I can’t help but see myself and my colleagues, peers, and friends in those shows.

How much we give of ourselves to protect the planet, oftentimes putting our own personal needs on the back burner.

I think of the weekends and evenings I worked through, the holidays I missed while traveling, the working vacations I took. All for “the cause”.

Only to eventually be forced to take a break due to getting sick, usually a result of burnout. A recovery period that is not the same as true rest.

It’s not entirely our fault. “The cause” loves the fact that we continue to give and give. That we will sacrifice ourselves for the greater good.

But this is in dire need of rethinking. 

Bringing our best selves to this work doesn’t happen through the sheer force of more hours, more emails, more trips, or more meetings.

It happens when we ensure our own personal house is in order. Meaning our minds and bodies are tended to and cared for.

We can do this by:

» Setting boundaries for when we need to be “off the clock.”
» Socializing regularly in a way that restores our energy.
» Allocating time to a hobby.
» Spending time out in nature.
» Enjoying our guilty pleasures from time-to-time, like watching Queer Eye.
» Prioritizing time for self-care.
» Pre-planning our vacation days for the year.
» Carving out dedicated time for rest. Check out this book for the three kinds of rest we need: active, mental, physical.

If you need self-care ideas and inspiration, then check out this blog and webinar on creating a resilience regimen.

Changing the norm from within

It’s not likely that our places of work will set these boundaries for us.

In my days of being an employee, I rarely heard the phrases “go home”, “we can finish this tomorrow”, or “let’s push this to next week, or next month”, even though many deadlines are internally & arbitrarily set.

I frequently saw the spoken norms of not working at night or on weekends ignored by managers, which ultimately established the true norm of A.B.C., Always Be Conserving (that’s a play on Glengarry Glen Ross).

This is something I would love to see change.

As managers, we should hold ourselves accountable for ensuring our teams and staff are taking care of themselves.

Not since my time working in the advertising industry has a manager kept an eye out for my own signs of reaching burnout. Prompting me to schedule a vacation when she could tell that I was beginning to run on fumes, before I even realized that I was heading down that path.

Nothing along these lines ever occurred when I worked in the nonprofit sector. Not even close.

Even though I was more frequently on the brink of burnout, more dedicated to the cause, more driven to give more of myself.

Yet, these bumpy roads helped me create my own boundaries, like many of the ones I mentioned earlier. When I became a manager, I helped my team members set those boundaries for themselves and kept an eye out for their burnout indicators.

Our institutions won’t be quick to change, yet we can still begin to shift the way we work (individually and within the teams we manage) to emphasize self-care over self-sacrifice.

As the Fab 5 would tell us: we are allowed to take care of the planet AND take care of ourselves.

And as JVN would say: LOVE IT! (IYKYK)

Prompts to get you rethinking…

Where in the next week can you carve out time for you?

Block it off in your calendar! It can be for exercise, meditation, reading, knitting, walking, napping, taking a bath, or whatever. As long as it doesn’t involve work or cleaning your house!

Where do you need to set better boundaries between your work and the rest of your life?

Identify times when you should stop checking for and replying to emails. Consider which notifications on your computer or phone can be turned off, so your off-hours are not disturbed.

If you’re a manager, how can you support and encourage your staff to create these boundaries?

Consider establishing collective team norms around self-care, and aim to demonstrate them for the team as often as possible. Set annual goals for taking vacation and personal days, so they all get used.