Self-lessness: When does it become too much?

Originating in 1825 as an officially recognised word, “Selfless” means to be “devoted to others’ welfare or interest and not one’s own”.

In our world of greed, success-at-all-costs and personal-gain, self-lessness has been couched as an antidote. What we also know, is that too much of a good thing can be bad for you. So, sometimes if the pendulum has swung too far towards being self-less, this can also be detrimental to one’s wellbeing.

There are certain career-paths that require a high amount of self-lessness; healthcare and education being the top two in my opinion. Often underpaid, the professionals are faced with multiple needs from those they serve; often going over and beyond their “job-description”. These are not just professions; they are vocational career paths. Often described as a ‘calling’, there is a deep sense of purpose and need to make a difference for others that underpin their actions. Their modus operandi is often to put others’ needs first.

Having worked as a teacher, school leader and educational speaker/coach/facilitator, I have deep experience of this ‘calling’, and am able to recognise it when I see or feel it in others. There is a passion and aroha that transends the norm. When I talk with people like this, I am captured by both their korero (talk) and wairua (spirit). 

I also recognise when it is not there (selfish), or when it is there too much (selfless). I want to share an example of how it can sometimes play-out when we are too self-less in the hope that it may trigger some reflection for those of you who also experience this.

I met Diane (pseudonym) at a school I as working alongside. She was a teacher, team leader, leading maths across the school and also involved in the PTA. She was both passionate and dedicated. Her eyes would light-up when she spoke about her students and work, and she would tell me about all the innovative things they were doing; I was in awe of her energy and sense of cause. What I soon became aware-of however, that there was very little Diane or down-time in her life. At the end of each week she was often spent emotionally, physically and mentally. Her vocation was just-about her everything – it was often on her mind, even when she wasn’t physically there. Her vocation had consumed her to the point of creating a world that had pin-point focus.

We often hear the phrase “work-life blend”. It is based on the understanding that you can never really achieve balance, and that there is give-and-take in both areas so that a healthy blend is achieved. What had happened for Diane however, was that her self-lessness pendulum/blend had swung too far… to the detriment of her wellbeing.

There is a field of thought called mBraining which is based on the understanding that we have three brains; head, heart, and gut. Each brain has their highest expressions: Compassion (heart), Creativity (head) and Courage (gut). What can happen is that we can overuse one or two brains to the detriment of the other/s. For Diane, her heart-brain was very strong often leading too much; causing her to become self-less to the detriment of her-self. She would put others needs over her own in many aspects of her life; sometimes resulting in lowered happiness and exhaustion for herself (also known as martyrdom or being the rescuer). What were admirable attributes had run-rampant and started to cannibalise her own identity.

For Diane her road back-to-selflessness came about through some specific actions:

  1. Becoming aware of her energy levels and how much energy she was putting-out versus placing back-in. This required coaching in how to manage her energy levels so she was spending it wisely, rather than going on an energy-spending-spree.
  2. Understanding what was underpinning her need to over-give. This included unpacking learned ‘stories’ she was living her life by and recreating new ones that would enable her to ‘give’ as well as to ‘live’ in a more balanced manner.
  3. Beginning to re-look and reinstate her personal boundaries. Diane’s personal boundaries had become almost non-existent to the extent where she was living her life for everyone else; denying her own wellbeing. Re-creating boundaries that would protect her own sense of self, whilst also encouraging her to empower others to solve their own issues was a big learning for Diane.

As we head towards the second half of the year where the pressure is on, energy levels become lowered and demands increase, I urge you to reflect-upon your energy-tank levels.

  • How much of yourself are you giving-away to the detriment of your wellbeing? 
  • What are your ‘me-time’ levels looking-like?
  • Where might you need to reinstate boundaries so that you are both empowering others, as well as raising your own wellbeing levels?

Keep an eye-out for my ‘Creating a Culture of Care’ organisational wellbeing programme coming-out in next week’s newsletter. It is based on the understanding that band-aide approaches don’t work, and we need to take both a deep and wide approach to creating healthy organisational communities where their interconnectedness is utilised for optimal gain.

Also if you would like to focus-on getting your wellbeing-levels back on track, contact me to discuss my coaching packages. I love working alongside people to help them achieve the lives they dreamed-of. 🙂











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