Nurture is such a warm word, isn’t it? It feels like your mother is right next to you. It feels like you are buoyed by someone else’s loving care. Indeed, one of the definitions of nurturing is caring for or looking after. When you nurture yourself, you do things to look after yourself. Much has been written about self-care in our 24/7, technology-enabled (and sometimes disabled) culture. You nurture yourself when you take time to eat well, to sleep longer hours, to exercise more, to spend time with those you love. Those are caring things you do for the person you love – you!
But nurture has another meaning. It also means to cultivate, develop or encourage. This meaning brings with it an obligation not just to care by maintaining a calm and pleasant status quo, but to care by helping to grow beyond the status quo. This is not about feeding your body to keep it healthy; it’s about feeding your spirit to give it the capacity for reflection, change, risk-taking, and innovation. It’s not about exercising your body to keep it fit; it’s about exercising your mind and ideas. It’s not only about spending time with those comfy people we love; it’s about tapping into those sometimes prickly people who stimulate our curiosity. This definition of nurturing sheds the warmth of the womb for the global climate change of making choices.
It’s not that one definition is good and the other bad. They are, after all, the same word. We need to do both. Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing (Doubleday, 1996), describes two types of such nurturing behavior:
- What we do to keep ourselves glued together and integrated
- What we do to channel the fire inside us
We do the caring nurturing for ourselves to keep us glued together and integrated, not falling apart from stress or physical fatigue. We do the cultivating nurturing for ourselves to channel the fire that’s inside of each of us, to develop and make use of each of our talents to their fullest. The intersection of the two is the real nurturing of our leadership spirits.
You’ve heard and read plenty about self-care. Let’s take a moment to consider the ways to channel the fire inside us, to cultivate our leadership spirits. Consider these questions:
- What feeds your spirit? What makes you feel a real sense of personal worth? For example, I feel I’ve left a tiny legacy every time I see someone gain a personal insight as an outgrowth of an interaction with me. When I see a light bulb go on, it warms me.
- Who feeds your spirit, and what do you learn from them? Because ‘cultivating nourishing’ invites personal development, take a look around you and take note of who feeds you new learning and new ideas. Hang around more with those people! And keep a repository of those ideas. Reflect on them and jot down your own notes.
- Whose spirit do you feed, and how do you do it? One nonprofit leader with whom I worked answered that beautifully, “I am at my best when I help others recognize that they have choices; that they’re not stuck. It’s the greatest gift I can give them, more than any service I provide.” Exercising our ability to help and encourage others is generative for us as well; we grow with them.
How are you nurturing your leadership spirit? Are you helping it to feel glued together, avoiding stress and fatigue? And maybe even more importantly, are you giving it a good dose of the things that make it soar?
Written by Marge Combe, VMC Consultant