Stay Hydrated: Hard Lessons in Self Care from My Favorite President

Since Jimmy Carter left office, he has become an influencer in so many ways. He’s a Nobel Prize winner and his work for human rights through the Carter Center is well-known. President Carter has also been a regular hands-on volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.

At 92 years old, he’s helped build or rebuild 4,000 homes. And he’s still at it.

I hope to be as active a supporter of good work in the world into my 9th decade, and I look to President Carter’s example to help me get there. Today, though, he was rushed to the hospital from the work site, after a day’s work in the heat, struggling with the effects of dehydration.

I can’t know how scary it was for him to find himself collapsing, or how frightened the team must have felt. What I can imagine though, with very little trouble, is the series of decisions that kept President Carter from taking care of his needs today. How a team needing direction may have kept him from taking a short break. A photo opportunity may have distracted. A discouraged staffer may have needed his kind word. And hours later, this series of small delays, all important in the moment, led to his collapse.

In the nonprofit world, we have all had these days. How many times have you gone home to realize you missed lunch? How many nights do you work late from home and hit the pillow exhausted well past midnight? How many mornings do you realize you missed a cup of coffee? How many times have you rescheduled your well-visit?

Meetings were needed, the grant was due, a crisis occurred, and you chose to handle it. You weren’t wrong. But these choices, small at the time, can add up to collapse. At 92, I believe President Carter likely accommodates his changing ability level every single day. But today, hard at work, he simply missed the mark.

Your work is vital, your contribution is irreplaceable, and you- healthy, vital you- are important to your cause.

The symptoms of burn out don’t come when we ask them to, and they can’t be shooed away. To prevent them, we must all, as President Carter said while hospitalized, “Stay hydrated and keep building.”