I have been working with a coaching client recently who has spent more than 20 years of her career serving others through various roles in the association management profession. Now, for the first time in a long time, she wants to focus on her own needs and desires more, and make plans to relocate to an idyllic new home “near mountains and water” where she can create some “me time”, as she puts it, while still pursuing her career. Perhaps you are a little bit like this, too?
Among other issues, I am coaching her through a process to envision, explore, choose a new location, and begin the process of moving to a new home and lifestyle. A rather unique goal after 20 years of coaching, I might say!
I have found that people such as her, who have what I call a true “servant’s heart”, struggle with time management; they often have a hard time saying “No”; they take on too many responsibilities by choosing their own projects yet also accepting responsibility for others’ interests, too. Even the assessments I use – DISC, Attribute Index, Values Index… – vividly confirm her extreme other-directedness. All of this describes this wonderful, giving person with whom I am working.
We recently discussed a sometimes difficult dynamic: How does someone who has invested a lifetime dedicated to serving the requests and demands of others shift her focus toward pursuing her own needs and desires? Below is a slightly adapted version of what I wrote to her as a follow-up to our discussion.
“I hear you describing how you let the urgencies of other people’s lives become the most important thing in your life, and that you’ve done this for years now – to the point that it feels natural if not exactly ‘right’.”
I love you just the way you are.
Do you know one of the things I love most about you? I have found many people who are on a journey to develop more of a “servant’s heart”; you, on the other hand, already have a remarkable servant’s heart. I love that about you! Perhaps that’s one of the things you love most about yourself, too?
I have a hunch about you, too. In a few key ways, your servant’s heart seems to create some personal dissatisfaction for you at times, making you leery of changing how you do things because you don’t want to risk “giving up” being a servant, even when it’s in our own best interest.
No one, including me, wants you to do away with your remarkable servant’s heart. However, I hear you sharing with me a downside to servanthood over and over again, whether you realize you are saying this or not. I hear you describing how you let the urgencies of other people’s lives become the most important thing in your life, and that you’ve done this for years now – to the point that it feels natural if not exactly “right”.
Living in “reaction mode”.
So often (not always) the requests, interruptions, expectations, failures, crises, changes and lack of planning that others bring to you on a daily basis become your utmost priority. This creates the potential to live in “reaction mode”.
As a result, the commitments that other people want from you tend to determine your priorities; others determine your schedule. How your day goes depends on how “pressing” those requests are to the people who bring them to you, on any given day or week. Their lack of planning (and respect for your time) puts you in crisis.
The urgency of the moment, which the people around you produce, causes you to forget the intent of your day – or even the purpose of your life. You end up merely prioritizing your schedule. Your real priorities and your own desires get set aside until they become urgent (or forgotten), which produces pressure, stress, long days, all the things you have described to me that you want to change.
Another choice allows you to serve people as much as you always have, but it may require you to see your circumstances in a slightly different way. That is, YOU determine what is important now and what is urgent based on your own priorities – your own values, short-term and long-term goals. This doesn’t take away your servant’s heart because your gracious heart still informs your priorities and choices.
You want fewer interruptions, for example, so you “train” yourself and others to allow fewer interruptions. You get more work done at home, so you identify what it is about home that works and begin to shape your environment at the office to be more like that. You want different circumstances with your work contract, so you provide those decision-makers with a choice to make instead of assuming you need to sacrifice more out of a personal sense of duty.
“Success is the continual achievement of your own pre-determined goals, stabilized by balance and purified by belief.”
What do you want?
In many different ways, you can begin to schedule your own priorities rather than just prioritize what’s already on your schedule. You can do anything you want with a servant’s heart. That’s what I love about you.