Live United: Remember to fill your cup as you’re serving the community
Published 8:45 pm Friday, August 12, 2022
Live United by Erin Haag
The last month has been particularly challenging for our office. I’d even go so far to say that it’s been the most challenging month I’ve had since I started here. It wasn’t that we were dealing with challenging situations because we always have challenging situations. It’s kind of what we signed up for. I mentioned to a nonprofit leader across the county that the spirit of our office seemed flat. He joked, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” I laughed, but of course we’re not that big corporate office with unfeeling presidents in the corner office on the top floor that has no idea what the boots-on-the-ground people are dealing with. There’s three of us, and there’s no big corner office. We didn’t have issues with office politics or policies or any of that.
Sure, I could pick apart specific things. All three of us were struggling with personal issues, illness, day care issues, family members who needed our help and more. We were overwhelmed, overextended, irritable and just slogging through the day. It happens to everyone, and it’s normal. We were giving grace when needed, and working hard to support each other. What I found was that as much as we lift each other up, we were unintentionally bringing each other down, even if it was just through worry about the other. In the past, we’ve said that sometimes when we’re stressed at home, it’s nice to come to work and focus on something else for a change. After all, we’re working to make the lives of our community members better, and often we get reminded of why we do what we do. That type of perspective makes it a little easier to look beyond the stresses of our houses. Lately though, our office was just another thing to add to the pile.
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I can’t control the weather, and I can’t wave a magic wand to solve all the stress that my team faces in their personal lives. If I could do that, I’d be out of a job, because there’d be no need for our organization. So I struggled. It’s easy to say to practice self care and that you can’t fill from an empty cup. Those things are correct, but the bills have to be paid, the job has to get done, the phones need to be answered. Our personal stressors were deep — the challenges of raising little ones transitioning back to school next week, the challenges of being a “sandwich generation,” raising littles and loving and caring for older family members, too. Not enough sleep, too much packed into days too short and a long to do-list both at home and work. Did I mention that our babies are growing up way too fast?
Our projects got done, clients got served and we were a visible presence at community events. But where we normally would leave feeling tired in that good way of a job well done, we were feeling drained and overwhelmed at the idea of another event. Somehow we had to get back to our cohesive team, where coming to the office was our safe place, not yet another source of deep stress. We’re heading into the busiest time of year for our office, and we needed to get our groove back. I had no idea how to do it, but we had to try.
Words have power. I came in armed with flowers from North Farm Gardens and a loose plan. I had this idea of doing a reflective exercise to do some free thought expression to eventually pull out some themes and strategies. As the three of us sat there though, I started my topic and then I went off script. I told them, “Maybe we don’t need to write anything down. Maybe we just need to voice it out loud, affirm that we’re dealing with this and go from there.” So that’s what we did. Here’s why this is such a good team though. We all knew it needed to happen, we were just putting our heads down and keeping on going. The day I came in with flowers, I also got flowers. The day I called a meeting, my team had sent me a meeting invite on my calendar. We were all on the same page, we just hadn’t carved out the time yet to take that deep breath. It also worked because the three of us were willing to be vulnerable, to share, to voice what we needed in the workplace and to listen. It wasn’t all just talk though — we said, “what can make our jobs easier?” and we made a list of action items complete with due dates and assignments. Sometimes the solution is as simple as adding in a giant white board for office communication. We can do that. We just needed to Name Our Need.
Our work is community work. It’s important to remember that the community is sometimes right beside you — the community in our office, in our volunteers. Thursday was a day dedicated to the community of our office. We laughed, we cried, we planned and then we went to lunch. We came back and we tackled our to do list, and there’s no longer an elephant sitting in the room. I always believed in the power of words, but I’m amazed at the power of Naming The Thing has. Coming back from lunch was like going outside after a good rainstorm cuts through the humidity, fresh and renewed.
I’m not naive enough to believe this is all we need to do. We’ll be working to preserve this newfound sense of peace, of renewed spirit in our office. I’ve got a brand new orchid to add to my collection of office plants to remind me. The Lakeview Lions helped cement that fresh sense of renewal unknowingly — just by showing up. Our phones rang all afternoon with volunteers signing up for our next Welcome Pantry Mobile Distribution. That will be happening on Aug. 23, with public shopping hours from 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Albert Lea Armory. If you’d like to join us, give us a call at 507-373-8670. We’re also looking ahead to our Winter Gear Drive and future mobile distributions. There’s plenty of opportunities to participate in things this fall, and we’d love to share them with you. Until then, remember to fill your cup. Our community needs each other, each and every day.
Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.