Burnout and compassion fatigue reached a fever pitch during the pandemic, but these problems have existed forever: caregivers and service providers get exhausted, then the beauty of their work—caring for and helping other people—is eclipsed by apathy. To help people return to self and rediscover their passion, author and educator Elizabeth Bishop wrote Conscious Service. Now she joins host William C. Moyers to discuss the practices and philosophies that protect us from burnout.
0:00:13 William Moyers
Here we are with another podcast in our Let's Talk series, brought to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, and today we're talking to an author. Her name is Elizabeth Bishop. She's written an intriguing book titled Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim Your Calling, Move Beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference Without Sacrificing Yourself. It's being published by Hazelden April of 2022! Welcome, Elizabeth!
0:00:42 Elizabeth Bishop
Thank you so much for having me, William, I'm pleased to be here.
0:00:45 William Moyers
And how is the book doing so far?
0:00:48 Elizabeth Bishop
I think it's doing well, I've had lots of great response and feedback. And fun promoting it and talking about it. So yeah, I think it's going well.
0:00:56 William Moyers
So tell us what does it mean conscious service? [holds up book]
0:01:01 Elizabeth Bishop
You know, I've had that question more than once for sure. And I mean I asked it of myself when the idea came to me. And it was not so much that I think people are unconscious in their service, but I know from my own personal experience how easy it is to be disconnected from what we're doing. So when I talk about conscious service, I'm talking about having a sense of self-connection. Bringing self into the work or the service that we are offering in the world. And having an embodied sense of presence and engagement in what we're doing. And being reflective. Reflecting on what's happening, thinking about what inspires us, what we intend to create, how we're wanting to show up.
0:01:41 William Moyers
What inspired you to write this book?
0:01:44 Elizabeth Bishop
Well, many, many years [both chuckle] of working in the field. I started in Human Services when I was a teenager. And I definitely felt a calling to that work. So I've always felt blessed by that, that I knew what I wanted to do. And you know of course the career unfolds in a variety of ways that are unexpected. But I always had this inspiration to want to contribute, I have a natural curiosity about people. And so I was very much externalized I think in my focus. You know, I thought I was gonna go out there and change the world and make a big difference and save people and you know I was always sort of hunting for my evidence in the world around me. And I had a couple little dances with burnout early on. And then I really hit a wall. After I had some you know some of my own personal experiences going on. Where I really recognized that I had gotten so far away from my calling that I was just trying to get through the day, pretty much. And it had been going on for a while.
0:02:45 Elizabeth Bishop
So for me that was a turning point and I needed to get connected back to what had meaning for me and it was kind of a commitment that I made then. That whatever I did would have to have meaning, you know? And I mean it was a journey, it didn't happen overnight that suddenly everything was meaningful. [chuckles] But it was sort of a mantra and a place that I kept coming back to. And that was when I really started to look at you know spiritual growth, personal development, and how it impacted the work that I was doing. And saw the integration and then the thoughts around writing a book started at that point.
0:03:17 William Moyers
But most of us don't consider that integration. We wanna do something or maybe we do wanna save the world, but we don't see the integration between those things. Talk more about that. [smiles]
0:03:29 Elizabeth Bishop
That was the key to me. I think—and I think this is probably true for a lot of people who are wanting to be of service in the world. That we have this idea that, you know, it's not about us. And we're encouraged to compartmentalize ourselves, you know, leave home at home, leave work at work, don't get too emotionally involved, don't be too invested. Those kinds of things. You know, think about other people, don't—you know, don't think so much about yourself. Because we see it as being conceited or self-absorbed. But what I found was that when I got clear on what mattered to me, and what had meaning for me, and where my joy was and what lit me up, and I let that be my compass, then that informed how I showed up in service. So I began to realize that who I was and knowing who I was had everything to do with how I was showing up in the world. [nods]
0:04:16 William Moyers
The book came out in April of '22, I'm talking to you in the summer of '22. And I know the genesis of this book pre-dated the pandemic—
0:04:26 Elizabeth Bishop
Yes. [smiles, nods]
0:04:26 William Moyers
—But I'm fascinated to hear you talk more about how the pandemic has made this book relevant and how the pandemic has affected the relevancy of this book.
0:04:44 Elizabeth Bishop
Yeah. Yeah. For me as soon as the pandemic hit, and you know, I mean this work has been bubbling for me for years and years and years. And a key piece of it has been having to live it in my own life. It would kinda shut off in terms of, you know, wisdom trickling in or information trickling in, if I wasn't living it myself. But when the pandemic hit, and I started to see how there was a growing awareness about you know how this was impacting like just even people who worked in the hospitals. I mean service providers are a huge group. But just the awareness I thought this is an opportunity that people will start to recognize how important the well-being of people who wanna be of service, you know, is and then being able to continue this. And we always talk about burnout in the field and we've been talking about it since I started 40 years ago. You know, so I thought this is really bringing it to the forefront. Plus, I also saw that there was a lot of people who are not, you know, identified as traditional service providers. They don't wanna make a vocation out of it. Who want to make a difference and contribute. And so it really to me has huge relevance for just how we want to—to contribute, to make difference, to serve in the world. And the other key piece that I'm noticing right now too is that there's a big emphasis on the importance of soft skills in the workplace and how we create relational space with each other. And overcome conflict in the workplace and this is what conscious service is all about.
0:06:16 William Moyers
Do you think it's tougher to provide conscious service in this post-pandemic world, or is the impetus for it stronger than ever?
0:06:30 Elizabeth Bishop
I think, I'm hoping, that the impetus for it is stronger than ever. That we'll notice that geez, there's a lot of things that were unexpected and out of our control. And conscious service really is about not so much about oh let's find more money and funding and more people and new techniques or new theories or philosophies, but more about how do I bring myself into the moment if I've only got five minutes to spend with somebody, how am I gonna spend that five minutes. And how am I gonna be aware of what's happening for me and that time that I'm spending with this person. And whether that's, you know, a profession, or even as a family caregiver, or, you know, a stranger on the street.
0:07:11 William Moyers
Do you think this book has more relevancy to the CEO of a not-for-profit, or frontline healthcare worker? Does it have more relevance to a drug and alcohol counselor, or a professional athlete?
0:07:24 Elizabeth Bishop
I think all of the above. The first three for sure. [chuckles] But sometimes I think some of what I've written about in the book would definitely be things that professional athletes would be thinking about in terms of motivation, inspiration, discipline, responsibility. You know, care for yourself, all of those things, and having a goal in mind. But definitely it's for people who are in direct service with people in the community and people who are at the leadership level in organizations. To me I see it as a simultaneous thing, it's a personal and collective, really interwoven kind of experience. That it's difficult to separate.
0:08:07 William Moyers
Is that one reason why you wanted to publish with Hazelden?
0:08:11 Elizabeth Bishop
You know, yes, publishing with Hazelden was a dream for a long time and that was thanks to my mom who introduced me to Melody Beattie books many, many years ago. [Both chuckle] That I fell in love with, I mean a long time ago. And I had reached out to Hazelden before the book was in its form that it is right now. And there was some discussions many years ago and then it came full circle right around the time that the pandemic hit. So, I feel very grateful for the opportunity. It's been a wonderful experience so far.
0:08:41 William Moyers
We keep coming back to the pandemic and of course one of the—one of the key focuses of your book is compassion fatigue.
0:08:49 Elizabeth Bishop
0:08:50 William Moyers
Can you talk more about that and how in the world it is that we overcome it, particularly we—those of us who work in a helping profession? [chuckles softly]
0:08:58 Elizabeth Bishop
Yeah, it's a terminology that I don't—I agree that the experience is very, very real. No doubt about it. I've been there, I know many people have been there. I don't like the terminology because it sounds as though we're tired because we care. And I think that's been a long-standing misinformed idea. I don't think caring and being compassionate and loving makes us tired. I think what happens is that we often slip into worry and fear and helplessness and hopelessness as a result of caring. And we maybe want to, you know, control outcomes and things like that. And that's what makes us tired, that's one key piece, that resistance to what's happening. And the other piece is the lack of self-compassion. Big time. We don't respond to our own needs, we aren't offering the same love and kindness to ourselves, we're not listening to what is being asked of us within our bodies. We're not responding to our emotions. And the emotional labor involved in the work that we're doing. And that is exhausting.
0:10:07 William Moyers
You talk about ten ways to reclaim your calling. Can you give us your top three? [both laugh]
0:10:15 Elizabeth Bishop
So the book itself is divided into sections. Which are invitations. So there's invitation to purpose, where you're understanding your inspiration. What am I here for and what brings me here. Which changes, right? It's not a static place. An invitation to wholeness, to be able to look at all of the different channels that we are, you know, receive communication through. Spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually, et cetera. An invitation to discovery, which was a really big piece, sort of central where this work started. Which is about developing a self-reflective practice in order to come into a more continual state of self-connection. Those are the first three.
0:10:55 William Moyers
What's your favorite? [chuckles softly]
0:10:57 Elizabeth Bishop
Well, I mean, the discovery piece is a big one for me because that was kind of where everything started. But I think another favorite for me is the invitation to freedom, because that was the connection that I learned about through research and reading other authors as well. Particularly Iyanla Vanzant I'll mention. That responsibility is actually the path to freedom and that as we practice that ability to respond to ourselves, then we recognize the freedom that we have in navigating our lives.
0:11:26 William Moyers
How much of what you propose in here depends on a system to help execute it, or if I read this book and say I'm gonna do all these things, do I get—do I pull it off or do I need my system to help me pull it off?
0:11:45 Elizabeth Bishop
[chuckles] Well, I don't think—the reason why I called it or it's based on what I call the conscious service approach, is that I don't wanna call it a method or a model or a modality. Because I see it as an umbrella. And I see it as a very interwoven kind of enter where you like—and we even say that at the beginning of the book. Like you don't have to start on page one, you know. Jump to whatever is kind of calling for your attention. So it's a journey of listening to ourselves. And then looking at the frameworks, the ideas, the invitations, the alternative perspectives kind of like what I just offered a little bit there around the compassion fatigue. To understand more about what's going on within yourself as the reader or the person who wants to practice this. But it is a never-ending journey I will say. [chuckles] There's not really a destination—
0:12:36 William Moyers
Right. [grins, chuckles]
0:12:36 Elizabeth Bishop
I think a lot of mini-campouts along the way. But no final destination. [both laugh]
0:12:43 William Moyers
Who do you think this book will resonate with—I mean I know you want it to resonate with all the readers, right, and the massive audience—
0:12:48 Elizabeth Bishop
0:12:48 William Moyers
But if you're a graduate of a School of Social Work just coming out into the workforce, or you are a nurse who's been around for 40 years—
0:12:59 Elizabeth Bishop
0:12:59 William Moyers
—Or you're the head of an HR division, who's gonna find this book most relevant? Who is it?
0:13:06 Elizabeth Bishop
I think that's the beauty of the approach is that you can—it really is designed for someone at the beginning of their career all the way through. And that the answers that are unveiled as you read or answer some of the questions that are in there, are gonna be different throughout the lifetime of your career. ‘Cause that's certainly been my experience, you know, like what I—what was motivating for me when I was 15 years old is a very different reality now. After having so many years' experience in the field and working with students. So, I've seen it resonate across the board. I think it's just a matter of you know a person's openness to the material when they come into it. And I'm hoping that it'll resonate with obviously lots and lots of people. [smiles] Yeah.
0:13:48 William Moyers
Of course. And I was struck when I was reviewing it, this whole—your emphasis on creating safe spaces.
0:13:58 Elizabeth Bishop
0:13:58 William Moyers
Can you tell, what does that mean?
0:14:00 Elizabeth Bishop
Well, you know for me, this is just recent too. I mean we talk about safe spaces a lot and we think about well, how is our organizational culture, how is it safe for everybody to have a voice and to contribute and to be recognized for that or supported in their contributions. Or supported when they're not at their best, too, you know? Because I think that there's a high risk for that in our service vocations as well. But I've just started playing with the idea and realizing that, you know, I wanna feel safe somewhere, a lot of that has to do with me understanding what that is for me. And what feels safe to me and how do I respond to myself and create that and maybe this is a day to have a certain conversation and maybe it's not. You know, and really taking again that personal responsibility for safety. And then thinking about well how do I bring these qualities then into this space to encourage others that I'm relating to to feel safe as well.
0:14:55 William Moyers
So on that note, we know that this is a book that you know will help people to stay healthy, we know it's a book being published by Hazelden, and Hazelden of course is always promoting and encouraging healthy living, healthy perspectives. But there are gonna be people who are gonna read this book just like there are who are tuning into this podcast, who are really struggling.
0:15:16 Elizabeth Bishop
0:15:16 William Moyers
They are struggling for whatever reason, but let's just start with the fact that these are tricky times—
0:15:22 Elizabeth Bishop
0:15:21 William Moyers
Post-pandemic, war in Europe, economic insecurity, stock market stuff. What do you tell people who are struggling right now?
0:15:35 Elizabeth Bishop
Well I guess I can just draw from my own experience, you know, in noticing what's happened to me over the years at different times when I felt like I was really struggling too. And I think the key piece has always been to come back home and to be with what's happening, which is probably the hardest thing to do. [chuckles] You know, we'd rather see if we can reorganize something outside of ourselves to fix it. Here we're really focused on fixing it and getting past it. But I've come to realize after being here on this planet for a while that if I can be with it and be kind to myself in the space of whatever's going on inside of me. If it's fear, worry, grief, you know, whatever it might be that's uncomfortable for me, to just talk myself through it as though I loved myself. As though I was speaking to someone I really cared about. And just reminding myself that I can find my way through and what step can I take. Because we—there's a lot of things we can't control. And when we put our energy there, you know again, it becomes exhausting and depleting.
0:16:42 William Moyers
No doubt then that everybody should read this book. [holds up book]
0:16:46 Elizabeth Bishop
0:16:46 William Moyers
Because we can all stand to take care of ourselves, to be better people for ourselves and for those people in our lives. So Elizabeth Bishop, thank you for joining us today, thank you for writing this book. And good luck!
0:16:59 Elizabeth Bishop
Thank you so much, William, it's been a real pleasure. Thank you.
0:17:02 William Moyers
[smiles] We'll see you again. [turns to camera] And thanks to all of you for tuning in today. Remember you can get Elizabeth's book at our publishing site, our Hazelden Betty Ford website. It is Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim Your Calling and Move Beyond Burnout and Make a Difference Without Sacrificing Yourself. Thanks to everyone for joining in today and we'll see you again soon. Take good care.