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The First Step To Taking Care Of Yourself Is Knowing Yourself

My EA Career

2020 continues to be a challenge for all of us. In Australia we watch with apprehension as some parts of the country experience a resurgence of cases of Covid-19. Any feelings we may have had that things were returning to normal are being replaced by uncertainty and insecurity. There doesn’t seem to be a respite ahead and the pressure on us as employees, co workers, partners, friends, parents (the list goes on) grinds on relentlessly. 

In Episode 108 of the Being Indispensable podcast I shared a blog post by Bonnie Low-Kramen discussing the signs of burnout and ideas for what you can do if that’s the case. They included:

  1. Do you go to bed at a decent time and still wake up tired?
  2. Do you feel paralyzed by not knowing what task to do first?
  3. Do you feel that you are not doing anything well? Not your work or your life.
  4. Is your imagination going wild with fears of the future?

Number two really resonated with me. I’m definitely experiencing burnout but my struggle with procrastination and delaying tougher tasks is not new. It’s just particularly acute right now. At the best of times I am the queen of procrastination and this predisposition was made much clearer to me after I read the book “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin. 

My Lightbulb Moment

The big win I gained from reading the book was the realisation that  I need an accountability buddy to help me manage myself. I’m a classic Obliger, which Gretchen defines as someone who meets outer expectations, but struggles to meet inner expectations. 

In other words, I’m someone who, left to my own devices, doesn’t get much done (yes, I’m being hard on myself). But when I’ve got a deadline to work to (say like delivering a two day training course) I am soooooo capable of getting stuff done!

The Four Tendencies also feature when I’m training Executive Assistants. Participants in my two-day training program get to take the Gretchen Rubin quiz and interestingly I have found that a large proportion of EAs discover that they’re also classified as Obligers. 

There’s a good reason for why this is the case. We Obligers make GREAT employees because we care DEEPLY about letting others down. So much so that we will ignore our own needs. How many of you have stayed back in the office or stayed up late at night at home completing a document or presentation that your boss needed. 

Our Own Worst Enemy

I coached an EA who would answer calls from her boss in the middle of the night. Her justification was that he was in a different time zone and it was day time for him there. She felt compelled to be available regardless of the impact on her sleep and wellbeing. Unfortunately her boss took advantage of this Obliger tendency and worked out that even when they were in the same timezone he could still rely on her to pick up his calls!

Sacrificing our own needs in order to deliver on the promise to not let others down is unsustainable. In fact, Gretchen Rubin describes the phenomenon of “Obliger rebellion” when we reach a point where we can’t stretch any more and, like an elastic band, we snapback.  Unfortunately for others, in the same way a snapping elastic band can inflict damage…so too can someone on the other end of your obliger rebellion feel the sting.

In the case of my EA client this meant exhibiting passive aggressive behaviour with her boss that only served to make an already dysfunctional relationship even worse and led to her needing to find a new role. 

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t act. At this time when so many of us are close to burnout, it might be a good idea to check out the quiz and see if knowing yourself is the path to taking care of yourself. 

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Liz Van Vliet - My EA Career

Meet Liz

I work with executive assistants and administrative assistants to equip them with the skills and confidence they need to influence more effectively and demonstrate the leadership and interpersonal skills to make them a 'linchpin' to their boss and organisation.

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