Helping Yourself

As managers of humans, I hope that taking care of ourself is seen as an expectation, not a suggestion. The belief of always needing to do everything and be "on" all the time slowly wears on us and can deplete our drive to achieve goals that we’re passionate about.

Helping yourself, staff, volunteers, and colleagues have more resiliency during this time might be the most important thing you can do. In a single day as I am pinballing between Zoom meetings (national, state, and local), I am hearing people that are overwhelmed and exhausted. This year, I have the privilege of joining reDirect’s Supportive Environments for Effectiveness (SEE) Learning Circle to explore how we can build supportive environments for our staff, colleagues, and ourselves, to be effective and thrive in our roles. SEE has served as a beacon of light for me during a time when nonprofit staff and volunteers are unanimously tired of pivoting to meet the changing demands of their organizations, as well as the dynamic community health situation presented by COVID-19.

Nonprofits and many industries need their human capital to continue doing more and we are not seeing a reprieve soon. As I was preparing and polishing things to share during my SEE Learning Circle, I reviewed the principles of Supportive Environments for Effectiveness. It reminded me to “hang the mirror”. In other words, it is not enough as managers to just encourage and support our staff to take care of themselves, but we also need to practice self-care and model what that looks like. When people take care of themselves, they are better able to step up, lean in, and help the community. If you lead staff, volunteers, programs, or a friend group, empower those you lead to give themselves permission for self-care, demonstrate self-care, and celebrate when people take care of themselves.

I am proud that I am part of teams and collaborations that are brave enough to be honest and vulnerable to say, own, and acknowledge individual feelings and an emotional state of being. All feelings are valid; it is okay to feel overwhelmed, tired, stressed, etc. Whether your feeling is negative or positive: own it, acknowledge it, and reflect on it. If it is negative, through self-care, and resiliency, I hope you can let it go (at least for a little bit). As winter thaws here in Iowa you may increase your ability to be capable and clear your head by taking a brisk walk on a sunny 55-degree day or basking in the sunshine and peering out your window at the green grass starting to peek through the melting snow.

As managers of humans, I hope that taking care of ourself is seen as an expectation, not a suggestion. The belief of always needing to do everything and be “on” all the time slowly wears on us and can deplete our drive to achieve goals that we’re passionate about. Self-care is not something that we only do at the last hour when our passion is a tiny lingering flame about to be burnt out; we need to dedicate time for resiliency in team meetings, have self-checks and report-outs, and create team trust to allow for vulnerability.

For our organization, considering our individual needs takes shape in several ways. For example, during supervision check-ins, we ask people about their capacity and what they are doing to recharge and reset. We provide permission to pause activities/projects to allow people to refocus and be more capable of executing a higher priority item. We also ask people what drains them the most, and to assess if continuing that task is necessary or whether in the long-term, it could be a better fit for another team member. I would recommend considering taking your supervision check-in outside or having part of it as a strolling meeting to encourage self-care, while also restoring your ability to focus in the hours ahead.

There is little in life that you are alone for; always ask yourself, how can you engage others? I challenge you to rethink asking for help instead as a means to invite others to grow with you and deliver the mission of your organization. By leveraging volunteers and empowering staff, you are a stronger employee; often skilled volunteers can do things better and faster because it is what they do best. We need to leverage the talents of our network to work smarter, not harder. In our own team, when one of us needs help, we lean in and help each other. The key is having a team culture of transparency and vulnerability so that everyone feels comfortable about sharing how the team can rally to support each other. I hope that others are able to recreate a similarly supportive environment in their own jobs.

Ironically, in addition to the SEE framework helping me to hold myself accountable for self-care, I will also be using it as we continue to invite others to grow with us and deliver United Way’s mission. No matter if it is staff, or a volunteer, we need to make sure that we are empowering them with enough information to be capable, and yet not overwhelm them. You wouldn’t want a project-based volunteer to feel like they need to take a semester-long course to help. So often we provide more information than is necessary for the volunteer to perform their duties, and potentially make it seem that years of expertise are needed to create an impact. Many of the volunteers that I leverage bring skills, talents, and perspectives to the table that we can start with and build upon. If we build on their familiarity and passion, they will more quickly make an impact. We know that volunteers will continue to lean in, delivering more support and services for our organization when they feel that they can do what we ask of them. Making sure to acknowledge and thank those that help also helps them realize the extent of their impact.

If you need a little beacon of light to help those that you lead, I encourage you to check out the full SEE framework. However, if three quick bullet points are all that you have the capacity for at the current moment, I would encourage you to ask yourself:

  • How are you giving people the information they need to succeed and be excited about the work without overwhelming them?
  • How are you creating space and the expectation for people to take care of themselves while they bring their skills and interest to work?
  • How are you ensuring that people know they are making an impact and see the results of their efforts?

I would also challenge you to engage in a little self-care too:

  • Reflect on what excites you about your work.
  • What can help you create resiliency and restore your passion? Build two or three self-care moments into your day.
  • End your day by reflecting on three ways you made an impact.

Remember that to best care for others you first need to care for yourself.


Kayla Paulson is a Senior Manager at United Way of East Central Iowa (UWECI) working in Community Resources and Volunteer Engagement. UWECI connects community members, nonprofits, companies, and more to address community needs through asset-based approaches, sharing time, talents, and treasures to create sustainable and lasting solutions for systemic change.