Written by Hannah Kahl, an AmeriCorps VISTA Serving at Adelante Hispanic Achievers
When I started my VISTA position, right out of college, I was convinced that I would finally have the time and the schedule to make time for myself. Although I had more time than when I was in college, I never realized that this was something I had to demand for myself. Don’t get me wrong, my boss is one of the nicest people you will meet and he is very pro-self-care, but there were two things that stood in the way of me making time for myself, one of them being the non-profit system, and the other being me.
In the realm of non-profits, everyone is trying their best to make a difference in the world with the little resources they actually have. Until I became a VISTA I never realized how much work it was to keep a non-profit running. Although no one ever told me I needed to sacrifice everything for my job, I often found myself feeling guilty if I said no. Now, this is a dangerous place to be, because if you can’t say no to anything then you’re saying yes to everything, which means you’re going to burn out quickly.
Before I knew it I was feeling frustrated with my job, I felt discontent with myself, and I felt exhausted all of the time. Aside from the non-profit world being low on resources and human capital, I had been standing in my own way. I would be at all our events, try to do everything, going above and beyond in every way. No one at my job made me feel like that was necessary but me, because I didn’t want to let my team down. I didn’t realize I was feeling this way until Christmas break rolled around and I was halfway through my service. At this point I began to question my decision to become a VISTA and I overall felt unfulfilled in my role. It took my break for me to really think about what needed to change for me to feel differently and here is what I came up with.
The Only One Who Can Advocate for You is YOU
What I mean by this is that no one else knows how you are feeling, what you are thinking, and how you need things to be addressed, but you. You know yourself better than anyone else and if something is bothering you, or overwhelming you, or upsetting you in any way, it is your job to make sure your boss, staff, or anyone else who needs to know about it, well…knows about it. I don’t say this lightly either. Confrontation is something I deeply struggle with, but it is necessary for advocating for yourself. And remember this isn’t about anyone else but you.
Setting Boundaries is Vital
I cannot stress this enough. I think this was a big game changer for me in my VISTA service. I realized that one of the things that drained my energy was working 6 days a week. Although I was working 38 hours every week, I didn’t feel like I had a break from work. One day just wasn’t enough for me. Ever since I advocated for myself on that issue, I have been taking off Sunday and Monday, and it has been life changing. Take time to think about what you need and where you are lacking, and be creative on how to solve it. Talk to your boss to see if you can work something out to where you have clear boundaries set from yourself and your work, in a way that makes sense to you.
Making Time for Yourself Isn’t Just Important, It’s a Necessity
If you aren’t intentionally making time for yourself, then you need to. Setting time aside every day or 3-4 times a week is essential in self-care. Aside from popular belief, Netflix and video games don’t count as self-care. They can be personal time, but you’re just zoning out. Find an activity that engages your mind and energy. You want to do something to spend time with yourself and grow deeper as a person. That’s how you take care of yourself. For some people it might be running, or for others it could be drawing or painting, and some it might be dancing. Whatever it may be, find something that means a great deal to you and schedule it into your time. Make yourself a priority.
Communication Needs to be 100% On Point and All the Time
This one kind of seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed to realize how much your communication is lacking. I know for me, I never met with my boss one-on-one about what I was working on, and it never seemed like a big deal until I felt completely overwhelmed and defenseless. Communication is important because it’s hard to deal with yourself and your needs if miscommunications keep getting in your way. Take some time to figure out where your communication as a staff and team is lacking, and be pro-active!
Your Life Can’t be VISTA
Lastly, and most importantly, your life can’t just be VISTA. This is only one part of the spectacular life you are creating for yourself and if this is all you are doing, you are going to feel miserable. I know it’s easy to justify VISTA being the only significant piece of your life, because it’s helping the world and is time-consuming, but you’re too awesome for this to be the only thing you have going on. If nothing else, spending time with yourself needs to be happening.
If you don’t take anything else away from this post, please take this away. You are deserving of a bold and colorful life, where you exist at the center. You are the core of the life you live, and if you are shriveling, so is the rest of the world around you. You are important, because without you people’s lives wouldn’t be the same, so take care of yourself. I leave you with this challenge: Spend time with yourself. Dive deep into yourself and grow. Take risks and challenge yourself. Be inspirational and be bold!