Pay Yourself First – A Lesson in Sustaining Leaders

By: Kate Steiner

I was listening to a radio show this week and they were talking about the concept in personal financial budgeting that first you pay yourself. In budgeting this means that from every paycheck you first put money away into savings. The savings is then your safety net, there when you need it, should an emergency arise. This practice of paying yourself first also relates to leadership, but instead of dollars you are paying yourself in energy.

As leaders we often are most concerned about other humans around us. Leaders are often the care takers in their organization, taking on the worries of everyone. While it is important to be there for others, we cannot do so if we first have not taken care of ourselves. Think about a time where you were trying to do the work of a leader, but you’re tired, hungry, or even sick. How did that go? For me, those are not moments that I thrive in, the need for a nap or a snack can greatly affect my interactions with others and not in a positive direction.

This is a busy time for many student leaders so how can you implement the practice of paying yourself first? Here are few suggestions that can help you bank some personal savings.

  1. Sleep. All humans need quality sleep time. This is the time that our bodies regrow and recuperate. More importantly than the number of hours is a consistent sleep schedule. Strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Creating a sleep cycle means that you will fall asleep more quickly and sleep more soundly.
  2. Fuel Your Body. Find a physical activity that you enjoy, bonus points if it also includes a social component. This could be playing intramural sports, taking a fitness class, even just walking to class with a good friend. Do your best to eat a healthy diet. Add a few more vegetables or fruits. Or try to eat less fast food.
  3. Ask for help. Over the years I have learned to work within my strengths and ask for help in the areas where I am most challenged. As an idea person, I often include follow-through people in my team. Why, because I struggle sometimes with following through an idea to the finish. Whatever you might need some assistant with know that asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.
  4. Talk to someone. Whether you chose a friend, an advisor, or a professional counselor sharing your concerns, fears, joy, confusion, excitement, or anxiety. Sharing your thoughts and feelings is an important part of paying yourself. Think about the amount of energy it takes to hold those things back and the sense of relief you feel once you take that step to share them.
  5. Play! Researchers are finding that play is just as important to adults as it is for children. Play is an unstructured activity with the sole purpose of having fun. Studies show that adults learn better when they are having fun. Play also enhances or imagination, which helps us to be more creative and better problem solvers.

Take a moment and consider how full your bank is right now. If you have not been paying yourself first, you can start today. Take one suggestion above and see how you can incorporate it into your daily practice. Remember you can accomplish more when you have the energy to give to others.