You Can Run But You Can't Hide

That dreaded Self Care Monster will find you.

I can hear your protests (Nooooo…..not self care…..I don’t have time for self care…..ahhhh…..). I can see you trying to click away, but deep down, you want to be caught.

A while back I helped a psychologist wrangle a private practice that had gone wild.

The problem? Her business was booming. She was so busy seeing clients that she didn’t have the long-term plan or day-to-day processes in place to really take advantage of a flourishing business. She was doing everything: scheduling, collections, filing, record keeping. The biggest time killer? Calling insurance companies for approval and payment. She was working so much she didn’t have the energy or capacity to even begin the strategic planning process. Worst of all, she had no time to spend her hard-earned money on a vacation. Eventually, she hit a tipping point. She took the leap and asked for help. Hallelujah! Gold star! Bravo!

In the midst of helping this psychologist, I started playing around with the concepts that brought me here. I kept noticing helping professionals burning out, so I scheduled a workshop for leaders in the helping professions. I wanted to provide an outlet for them to spend some time thinking about how to help their employees do their work in a sustainable way. The turnout was dismal. I had one leader who brought her very small staff. This particular leader was already doing all the right things. They actually made it a rule that their staff was not allowed to work overtime. They had a policy and culture that family comes first. They had required paid self care time, meaning they could not use it to go home and do chores. The entire staff was less than 10 people. If they can do these things, everyone can. If all healthcare organizations were as pro-active as this woman, we would all be a lot better off. The remaining attendees at this workshop for leaders included a few of my friends and two women who worked for a tech company. Basically, I had three people at my workshop in my target audience. Although I was happy to talk to “regular people” about self care, I was internally admonishing the healthcare leaders in the community for not taking compassion fatigue seriously. Where were they?!

Meanwhile, the psychologist kept telling me, “my therapist friends need a retreat.”

Her colleagues in solo private practice were experiencing similar challenges. So I answered the call. I scheduled, planned, and marketed a two-day retreat. I already had a hunch that it would be hard to get people there, so I made it within driving distance. Luckily, where I live in Montana, serene natural settings exist right out our back door. I wasn’t expecting an overload of people, but I thought a few therapists could find the time in their schedule to focus on their own well-being and the health of their business for two short days. I was a new face, but with the help of my psychologist friend connecting me to her colleagues, I figured it would come together. After all, wouldn’t it be great if they could take a short time-out, in nature (but not too far), and learn a few simple business techniques that would lighten their load over the long term? Not one therapist signed up.

Where did I go wrong?

Was two days simply too much time for them to take out of their schedule? Possibly. Did I charge too much? Perhaps. I mulled over where I might have gone wrong. I considered how I might structure things differently at my workshop or my retreat. I pondered my marketing strategies.

But then I was asked to speak at a conference for helping professionals.

This conference was aimed at encouraging resilience. Instead of focusing on the problem (compassion fatigue), this conference focused on the solution (compassion resilience). I thought this was really a great approach because I like all that positive affirmation stuff. I added this to my list of marketing considerations: what if the problem was that people didn’t want to think about the problem? I could just give everyone some rose-colored glasses. Genius!

In any case, this conference was planned out better than my retreat.

They got lots of people to attend. They made the ingenious move to get a large healthcare employer to require all of its employees to attend. If you can’t lure them with the promise of sunsets, mountain streams, and chirping birds, then you have to rope them in and tie them down to uncomfortable conference room chairs. If they can see the outdoors, they might never come back. The attendees no doubt walked away from the conference with some useful information and experiences (one woman offered a dance class!), but overall they seemed like they would rather be doing their regularly-scheduled work. Do you know that feeling? Where forced fun and relaxation actually feels worse than work? After all, you’ve got people to take care of and reports to finish. If you can’t get your work done, you take it home to swirl in your mind and interrupt your regularly-scheduled Netflix-bingeing. Vacation can make your workload worse than not going at all.

I was no different.

One time, when I worked in child protection, an outside organization decided to acknowledge all the hard work we were doing. This created an interesting mix of emotions and responses that I did not expect and could not have predicted. First, they called us all into the conference room, interrupting my impossible task of saving children. I was annoyed, mostly because they didn’t tell us why we were being summoned. I’m even one of those people that, in general, likes meetings. I fully acknowledge my weirdness. I was also the college student that would start reading textbooks before the school year started. Once we were in the room, they verbally thanked us for our work and I got choked up. I think there were actual tears that fell. This was the most meaningful part of the whole thing. I couldn’t believe these people were thanking us. Thanking me. Seeing me.

The next part was almost too much to believe: they gave us each a gift certificate for a massage and some other small gifts.

This was totally unexpected because working for the state meant you had to provide our own coffee. There were no employer-sponsored creature comforts. Well, there was that one time when the Governor thanked us by giving money back to the taxpayers instead of giving us raises. Oh, and we also got a mini-bag of trail mix from Costco because the trail mix represented all the different people working in the Department of Health and Human Services. I think we were the nuts.

But guess what? I never used the massage certificate.

At a time when my salary was not enough to pay my bills, I would have told you that I would give anything for a massage. I would have told you that the only thing stopping from getting a massage was the money. I would have argued with you if you tried to contradict me. If you had a crystal ball and showed me the future (the one where I didn’t take advantage of the free massage), I would have told you to send your crystal ball back to the manufacturer. Surely there is a defect. But no. I actually did not get the massage.

I had succeeded in avoiding the Self Care Monster one more time.

Whew. Little did I know, the Self Care Monster is pumping iron while it waits for you. While you move through denial, avoidance, apathy, and exhaustion, the Self Care Monster knows that one day, you will not be able to hide anymore. It knows that the day you take it seriously, you will discover it has been training to give you the best bear hug you’ve ever had. Actually, it prefers to call it a monster hug.

Tell me how you've avoided the Self Care Monster (your peers might need some expert tips).


  • Share with your friends. (You get more by sharing. Tell your inner pre-schooler.)

  • Leave comments. (This is your chance to connect with people who get you!)

  • Tell Jamie what compassion fatigue issues are nagging at you so she can write about them.

  • Listen to the Cared to Death Podcast on Mondays at 8 PM Mountain Time.

#compassionfatigue #burnout #selfcare #avoidance

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