Nonprofit workers are good at the pee-pee dance, but not self-care

Susan Comfort
3 min readJun 25, 2020

You’ve done “the pee-pee dance” when you’ve waited too long to go to the bathroom, right?

But do you do it regularly? I learned the dance from my mom, a medical professional. I practiced, for decades, and later taught it to my daughter.

We are three generations of martyrs who nurture other people instead of ourselves. And we’re not alone.

The “helping” sectors — nonprofit, health care, education — attract people who thrive on helping others. And guess what? We are good at the pee-pee dance because we don’t stop helping.

This is why calls for “self-care” will fall on eager ears (we know we need it!), but then die a slow death (can’t find the time!).

In addition to self-imposed martyrdom, consider that many people don’t have the personality type to achieve their own internally-set goals. Reading Gretchen Rubin’s “The Four Tendencies” quiz gave me insight on this. Of the millions who have taken her quiz, over half of us have a tendency to resist inner expectations even though we might respond well to external ones.

Again, “self-care” is difficult when you have trouble holding your own self accountable. According to Gretchen, I’m an Obliger. Yup.

In this era of Covid-19 and massive social unrest, we pee-pee dancing obligers must take better care of ourselves, physically and mentally. It’s time for “team-care” instead of “self-care.” This way, we’ll set up systems for taking care of each other — something we’re actually pretty good at.

Nonprofit Wellness completed a six-month pilot study where 60 nonprofit workers tested “wellness benefits” like those enjoyed in the corporate world. We delivered what participants requested, then we measured the results.

  • yoga classes
  • exercise/wellness coaches
  • financial counseling
  • meditation instruction
  • bikeshare memberships
  • fun things, like float spas and theatre tickets and zip lines

Interestingly, what participants thought they needed didn’t always work in their schedule or offer them the most benefit. They were rarely able to leave the office to get to yoga class on time. They couldn’t get to the gym, despite a no-cost membership.

What helped participants the most? Two things: phone-based solutions (like wellness coaching or mindfulness apps) and bringing experts into the office (that way, no one had to leave and everyone could participate as a group). The groups that discussed or took action on their physical and mental health challenges were able to problem-solve together. Groups that established wellness committees or programs put structure — and sometimes a little money — toward their workers’ health.

For all of our findings and recommendations, check out the Wellness Equity report.

The pee-pee dance is a funny example of a disturbing trend. When we put off our own needs, we get sick or we burn out (or, urinary tract infection?). The nonprofit sector can’t afford either result. Not in today’s America, which needs its activists and helpers more than ever. We must emphasize team-care more than self-care. We are far more likely to succeed.

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Susan Comfort

Co-founder of NonprofitWellness.org, manager of the DC/Balto/Pitt Alvéole teams, Tinkergarten leader, queer parent, bee promoter.