A few years ago, after working with a business coach, I decided that self-care would be the central focus of my work. I chose a group coaching model where I bought 20 women at a time through a 10-week self-care reconditioning. This process included web content, group phone calls, and culminated in a three-day in-person retreat.
From the beginning, the women in my programs went much deeper into the content than I expected. Rather than just focus on improving their self-care habits, my clients began using the space of our group to: process unresolved issues from their childhoods, come to terms with toxic work environments, and unpack the heavy societal pressures on them as successful, but chronically stressed-out women.
After our work together, they left their jobs, moved to dreamed-of cities and healed their rocky marriages. They referred their friends and family members to join future courses and stayed in touch with other members of their cohort. A community began to form around my work and I realized they were looking to me to be their leader.
Outwardly, I was delighted that my work was helping people. However inside, I felt overwhelmed. My clients’ breakthroughs were much bigger than I had expected, and I didn’t quite know how to hold this kind of growth. I needed a better understanding of what it meant to be a facilitator and a transformational leader. I knew that without these self-care skills, my business of teaching self-care to others wouldn’t be sustainable.
I searched in many places and went through a lot of trial-and-error to acquire the understanding and skill sets I needed to do my work in the healthiest way possible. The following four self-care lessons are the ones that have been most helpful for me as I continue to integrate my work as a facilitator and leader, so that I can keep developing as a human being.
Create, and stick to, a weekly schedule.
For most facilitators, working with a room full of people to create change is the pinnacle of our work. However, especially if you run your own business, this can be just one aspect of how you spend your time professionally. In between these sessions, you probably have a lot of tasks like sending out invoices, writing blog posts, organizing travel, and hopping on the phone with prospective clients.
Some of these tasks will be probably be more enjoyable than others. That leaves the unfavorable ones. If you don’t have an assistant take these over, then I highly suggest making a weekly work schedule for yourself. Early on in my self-care work, I noticed I was always putting off updating my finances. Each day, I’d tell myself I’d log on to Quickbooks or record my mileage, but it never happened. Then, after a particularly challenging tax preparation due to messy records, I vowed to look at my finances each week. I chose Monday mornings and forced myself to sit down and do all the financial tasks from the past week. Surprisingly, this task took less than 30 minutes and upon finishing, I felt a sense of relief that lasted for days. The next Monday I did it again, and after a few weeks, I had formed this as a habit.
I expanded my weekly work schedule to include writing my newsletter on Wednesdays, recording podcasts on Thursdays and making sales calls on Friday afternoons. Having these tasks already built into my schedule helps me to relax because I know they’re getting done. I’ve found that if tend to these areas, and schedule in ample amounts of self-care time around them, my business runs smoothly enough for me to give more focus to the facilitation work that I love.
Pre-program, and follow, your post-workshop relief.
Another area I love to pre-program is the self-care I do after a retreat or big workshop. These powerful facilitation experiences are life-changing for everyone involved and thus they require a lot of energy from me. After holding so much space for an extended period of time, I get pretty depleted. Early on in my work, I would come home from these weekends and try to figure out how to take care of myself. Too tired to cook or even order take-out, I’d eat crackers straight out of the box and drink too much wine. Then I’d scroll through the selections on Netflix for way too long, unable to decide on a movie. Finally, I’d go to bed, suitcase still unpacked, not feeling at all replenished.
I soon learned that I needed to plan out my self-care for before I left for the weekend. I made sure to have an easy-to-prepare dinner on hand and a movie already selected to watch. Now, as soon as I walk in the door from the retreat, I take ten minutes for a quick unpacking so I can access my toothbrush before bed. Then, while dinner is heating up, I take a long shower and put on my comfiest PJs. After, I sit on the coach, eat my dinner and watch my movie. There’s nothing revolutionary about this routine, but it helps me to unwind from the intensity and begin integrating the transformational work of the weekend.
Establish, and use, your support team.
As a facilitator and a leader, you stand apart from the group. As I’ve learned from Diane Musho Hamilton, one of the greatest gifts you can give to others is to take firm leadership when asked to do so. Knowing that there is a strong person at the helm to steer the process, participants can relax and be led into deeper states of change. As a leader though, this position of authority can often feel lonely. While your presence is organizing everything, you also have to stand apart from everyone else, especially when making tough decisions.
I recognize this loneliness while dealing with a conflict in a group. In these situations, I realize that I am truly the one in charge. My work is to evaluate all perspectives and make the decision that will benefit the good of the group. When it goes well, it’s an empowering experience. However, when it doesn’t, it can be both difficult and isolating. A couple of years ago, an interpersonal conflict arose between two members of my group coaching continuity program. Excited about the conflict-resolution skills I had just learned through the Integral Facilitator program, I advised that the best course of action would be for me to facilitate a conversation between the two of them to address the issue. One woman was eager to get to the bottom of the situation, but the other didn’t want to discuss it further. She pulled away and stayed distant for the rest of our six-month program. Although I know it was more complicated than me, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had acted too aggressively in the moment.
The self-care that’s helped me in these situations is to establish a group of confidantes and to use their support often. These four people – who include my brother, my partner and a couple life-long friends – understand what I do and the unique challenges of being a leader who runs her own business. Thus, when I am struggling to make a decision, or feeling self-doubt about how I’ve acted, I know who to call. I’ve established that I can ask for their counsel and trust that they already understand the context of my work. While I am ultimately responsible for my decisions, having a strong support system helps me to more carefully consider my choices as a leader and trust in them, even when others don’t always agree.
Create (and maintain) a sense of integrity with yourself.
As a transformational leader, you work with a lot of energy. Helping participants unwind old habits and create new ways of being unleashes a powerful momentum, not just for them but also for you as the leader. The first step is recognizing that in transformational work, this energy get accelerated for everybody. The second step is learning to see the places where that energy gets stuck inside you. For me, this means seeing the places where I am not in integrity with myself and understanding how this can also create a blockage in my work.
As my self-care work really began to accelerate in its first year, I was also in a romantic relationship that was as consuming as it was draining. It held a passionate, fight-and-make-up dynamic that I would often vow to leave and would just as often return to. After a few months of this, I began to understand that I was addicted to the relationship, and that during the periods when I was immersed in the back-and-forth, my work suffered. I felt more distracted during coaching calls and less able to respect what I was saying to my clients. If self-care was really so important, why was I still giving so much of my energy to this toxic person?
If it were just about me, I might have stayed in the back-and-forth longer. But my work, and the transformation it brought others, felt too important to squander. I made the decision that I needed help and began reaching out to resources so I could understand why I was so bound by this relationship drama. What I uncovered helped me to unpack unexamined issues from my childhood and how that has molded my adult attractions. Slowly, I lost interest in this relationship and gained a new sense of integrity in myself.
Working through these issues using self-care has also helped me to facilitate similar breakthroughs with my clients. If I hadn’t dared to face these shadows in myself, I know I wouldn’t be able to help others do the same.
This is the beauty of being a transformational leader. My work often asks me to go deeper into myself than I would prefer. This kind of personal development is always challenging, but when met with self-care, it also yields so much growth. This growth continues to serve me, my clients and hopefully, the larger whole.
As you read this, I’m curious what is arising for you. What small self-care actions could make a big difference in your facilitation or leadership? How can you use self-care to stay in integrity with yourself and perhaps, bring even more transformation to your clients?
Gracy Obuchowicz is a Washington, DC-based group facilitator, retreat leader and self-care coach. She helps overwhelmed professional women find a deeper work/life balance and live their way into real purpose with strength and ease. Learn more about her work and sign up for her weekly self-care newsletter at www.selfcarewithgracy.com