Put Yourself First in 2017

As an educator I have always relished the idea of celebrating a New Year twice annually. I enjoy setting goals in the fall in preparation for a new academic year and then reviewing and revising as I prepare for the calendar New Year on January 1. My goals usually center on becoming better at taking care of others and clearing obstacles for their success. Other goals evolve around things like clearing out my email inbox daily, spending more time in classrooms, or maintaining better records. I strive to have the heart of a servant leader, but I realized over time that by not establishing proper boundaries I was burning out. My cup was almost empty.


Putting yourself first is not selfish. Quite the opposite. You must put your health and happiness first before you can be of help to anyone else. ~Simon Sinek


During the flight safety protocol on an aircraft the flight attendant clearly instructs passengers to put their oxygen mask on first BEFORE assisting others. While this is a simplistic analogy, it is clear that we are not going to be of assistance to anyone else if we are incapacitated. Yet I continue to watch school leaders allow themselves to become overextended, overstressed, overweight, and lose sight of any balance within their lives. Sadly, I have had colleagues who have been hospitalized from heart issues or anxiety manifesting as chest pains.

After years of similar behavior I knew I had to make some personal changes. Over time new behaviors replaced the old, ensuring my physical and emotional health, which made me more available to support and care for my team and family. So as you begin to reflect on the past year and your current situation, I challenge you to consider the following suggestions in developing a plan to put yourself first in 2017.

1.   Fitness & Exercise: No excuses, everyone can carve out 30-45 minutes a day. Taking care of your physical health is incredibly important. You must make the time and put it on your calendar as an appointment. Everyone has a personal preference for morning or evening workouts. For me, my workout has to be in the morning or I know it can easily get lost in a hectic afternoon of demands. For more than eight years this meant a 4:30AM wake up call due to an early start time for my school.

There are many programs that take little space and can be done at home. I enjoy PiYo and 21 Day Fix Extreme (both from Beachbody) and have also found Dailyburn.com to have some excellent workouts that can be streamed on a device. I personally alternate these workouts with running for 30-40 minutes 3 mornings a week with my dog and I take Sunday off to rest.

2.   Diet: The only way to eat a healthy diet in a school setting is by preparing ahead. If you have worked in a school then you know the teachers’ workroom is a dumping ground for all food items that are unwanted from someone’s home or gifts supplied by well-meaning parents (usually unhealthy sweets). Start a shopping list and do some meal prep on Sunday evening. Prepare for a couple of snacks a day and do as much of your lunch meal prep as possible so you don’t fall into the trap of skipping meals or eating unhealthy take out or delivery. Planning ahead makes all the difference.

If you are surviving on soda, diet soda, or coffee, please do some research on the negative health effects of this habit and push yourself to hydrate with water after having no more than 12-16 ounces of coffee in the morning. Your mental clarity and energy will increase, I promise.

3. Set Time Boundaries: Let's face it, running a school requires a good deal of paperwork, reporting, and attending to email. In addition there are meetings and face to face contact with parents, students, and teachers. Good leaders don't lead from behind a desk when they have a building full of students and teachers with whom they need to engage and interact. Choose two days that you will stay into the evening or come in early to have the quiet work time that you need to catch up on tasks. Make sure your loved ones know these are the routine days you will work longer hours and stick to the schedule. On all other days you set a reasonable time to exit and LEAVE YOUR WORK AT SCHOOL. I promise, it will be there when you return. I say this from experience. I used to sit on my couch with my laptop open reading and responding to email until 11:00PM or later and it never helped me to catch up. It is an endless cycle. As a school leader you will never be caught up on your work as it involves the business of people. This means there will always be observations to type, meetings to be had, emails to manage, data to review, reports to prepare, and the list goes on. Establish clear boundaries and stick to them.

4.   Maintain a Social Life: Years ago when I attended training for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I learned the lesson of “big rocks.” If you aren’t familiar with this idea look it up and watch the video on YouTube. You must schedule time with friends and loved ones. Put it on your calendar like any other appointment or you will lose track of time and find yourself alone and on an island. Grab coffee on Saturday morning, go to Sunday brunch, take a walk at a local park, or head to happy hour on Thursday after work, whatever it is that you enjoy doing with friends. You must make it a priority to maintain this network with the people who care for you the most.

I am a believer in servant leadership, Level 5 Leadership, and the concept of leading by example. However, we must maintain balance in our lives and prioritize our personal well-being by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and strong support network of friends. Don’t get trapped in a cycle of believing you are not a good leader if you don’t give every ounce of your being and time to your organization or school. Your professional community will benefit greatly from your healthy example and your family and friends will be glad to have you back.

Happy New Year!

Please feel free to share your thoughts, strategies, and ideas in the comments section so we can learn from one another. I am always happy to make new professional connections on LinkedIn, so if we are not yet connected, reach out and let's support one another through this forum.