By: Chelsea Montes de Oca


During a brief stint in college, I was studying to be a paramedic. My teacher told us the first rule of being an EMT was to secure the scene for your safety before you attempt to save someone else. She use to say, “You are no good to the person you are trying to help and to the other paramedics when you are incapacitated so make sure you look out for yourself first”. This made sense to me in the realm of emergency medical service. But I have also come to see this motto applies to how we perform service in our schools too. Don’t get me wrong, corps members aren’t encountering dangerous physical emergencies daily. But serving in under-resourced schools can be emotionally and mentally draining work. If servers don’t take care of themselves they run the risk of becoming cynical, frustrated and uncompassionate. This mentality is not only a detrimental to the server but to their team and the students they are trying to help.

Self-care has always been on the back burner for me during my two years of service with City Year. I was here to serve the kids I dedicated those years of my life to, not to serve myself. I was the corps member that worked through her lunches to finish that one assignment. However I started noticing I was losing focus half way through tasks and it took longer than usual to finish them. I wasn’t doing a lot of work with high quality. I was doing a lot of work, slower and carelessly. Burn out was creeping up on me and my students were noticing. I wasn’t as fun, I smiled less and they frequently asked me if I had forgotten to drink my coffee that morning. I started to realize just how important taking time for you is to being an effective leader.

I can’t say I have become an expert at self-care or that I have completely turned some of my bad habits around. However, I’ve learned that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and when I need it, to ask for it. I’ve learned to schedule out my personal time just as intentionally as my professional time. I make it a point to take my lunches as just lunches or not take work home with me. I fill that time with hobbies that I love like photography, writing and reading. I make sure to hold myself accountable to doing them just as seriously as I would my work assignments. This has not only made me a more compassionate and effective leader but a much better time manager.

Taking care of yourself is not selfish. It’s the best thing you can do for yourself as well as for others.


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