Leaders Don’t Have to be Martyrs

Leadership is hard, but we make it harder by our own missteps. Leadership is challenging, but we make things worse when we don’t honor the limits of our bodies and souls. Leadership involves making hard choices, and dealing with conflict, but we make things worse if we don’t practice self-care. Instead we wind up fatigued, reactive, short-tempered, and feeling victimized by our role.

Just because we are leaders doesn’t mean we have to be martyrs.

Leadership is hard enough … let’s not make it harder. Let’s not glorify suffering, and delude ourselves into thinking there is spiritual merit in overwork. Jesus withdrew from the crowds when he needed to, and arranged his ministry in phases of deep engagement, and times apart from the crowds and busyness. We should too.

Melodie Beattie has a great meditation in her book “The Language of Letting Go” that encourages people to let go of the martyr archetype. Listen to what she has to say:

No one likes a martyr.

How do we feel around martyrs? Guilty, angry, trapped, negative, and anxious to get away.

Somehow, many of us have developed the belief that depriving ourselves, not taking care of ourselves, being a victim, and suffering needlessly will get us what we want.

It is our job to notice our abilities, our strengths, and take care of ourselves by developing and acting on them.

It is our job to notice our pain and weariness and appropriately take care of ourselves.

It is our job to notice our deprivation, too, and begin to take steps to give ourselves abundance. It begins inside of us, by changing what we believe we deserve, by giving up our deprivation and treating ourselves the way we deserve to be treated.

Life is hard, but we don’t have to make it more difficult by neglecting ourselves. There is no glory in suffering, only suffering. Our pain will not stop when a rescuer comes, but when we take responsibility for ourselves and stop our own pain.

Today, I will be my own rescuer. I will stop waiting for someone else to work through my issues and solve my problems for me.

Some of that might ring true for you, some might not. That’s okay. Look to God for help in dealing with your challenges, but remember that God won’t magically rescue us from ourselves. We’ll get into trouble if we don’t put ourselves in places where we can receive strength and grace (ie. if we don’t take time to spend in silence, in retreat, and in supportive community.)

Nobody will put the brakes on for you. Only you can decide to slow down and cut back on your commitments. Nobody will step up to the plate for your self-care if you are not willing to make it a priority for yourself.

Of course this is not to suggest that we become lazy and self-absorbed. We will still have to work hard. We will get tired. We will face challenges. But leadership is more like an long race than a crucifixion. Except for extreme situations, it will tire you out, but not kill you.

Come down off that cross. Chances are, God isn’t calling you to be up there anyway.