By Tamara Gal-On

Social Self-Care: the art of ensuring your intentional interactions with the people who are part of your professional world are set up from the outset to build you up, not wear you out.

Social self-care is important for creative people because it is so much harder to focus on creating or getting inspired if we’re having to navigate challenging interpersonal dynamics at every turn. And it’s vital for the portfolio working, freelancing and musician community whose livelihoods depend on managing a lot of different people in our lives at the same time.

There are many helpful ways to approach this (from enforcing clear boundaries, to ensuring that your needs on the introversion – extraversion spectrum are taken into consideration) but here I’m going to make the case for protecting your self from the very first, by approaching all your intentional people interactions from a purposeful place of using your core values. This will work for personal relationships too, but for this article, I’m sticking to professional examples.

If we are purposeful in attending to our social self-care we can reduce the amount of emotional self-care we end up needing to do because we can use social self-care as a preventative measure. In my experience, difficult interactions or relationships with other people are often the biggest reason my clients end up needing to do serious Emotional Self-care in the first place.

The good new is, using your Core Values daily in your communications with the outside world will reduce the number of frustrating people and unsatisfying projects you end up with in your professional life. That has to be a good thing, right?

What Your Core Values are Useful for:

  • Confidently expressing your essential self with other people
  • Creating connections with like-spirits
  • Stopping second guessing whether a person, organisation or project is a good fit for you or you for them
  • Figuring out why an existing relationship, collaboration, partnership or project is draining you when it’s not immediately obvious and how to approach finding a remedy
  • Figuring out why an existing relationship, collaboration, partnership or project is draining you when it’s all too apparent why but you still don’t know what do about it

How Self-Care using Core Values Works

Do the Identify your Values exercise. Once you’re done, come back with your list of 5 Core Values. I’ll wait. ☕

So you now have your 5 Core Values in front of you.

Ensure they are in order

The more clarity you have with your list, the better. If your values are not yet in priority order from 1 to 5 – 1st most important to 5th most important, please do that now.

Ensure they are clear

Doubled up Values like love/family are OK but if you can get them into the form of a single word or at the very least a single concept form – more like love/caring than two distinct ideas like love/family, it will make life easier for you moving forward. Often one word encompasses both ideas anyway, it’s just a question of choosing which is the more you word to say or share, you know it holds both ideas within it when it comes to your Values. I can waffle back and forth between grace and effortlessness. I go for effortlessness generally because the word makes me happier and people seem to get it more but every now and again grace is the better word. It is a whole lot easier to hold all 5 of your Values in your head if you pick one word for each value too.

Your Core Values in Action

Now you are clear on your 5 Core Values, how do you make the most of them from a social self-care standpoint?

Firstly – may I recommend that you write them down – somewhere you can find them whenever needed. If you’re anything like me you’ll only be able to recall 4 off the top of your head, and probably never the same 4.

Speak them – Your Values and Verbal Communication

In any social or professional encounter you have with other people you now have five deeply meaningful words you can effortlessly use in conversation that show people who you are without you having to explain yourself. Honestly, don’t explain. Just use the words in natural conversation and see who responds well when you’re using truth words about yourself. Who do you feel engaged by and who feels engaged by you?

You get to spot like-spirits when other people use your words for themselves. People who reflect your words back to you might not be a kindred spirit level match but they are probably respectful of the values you are expressing and compatible in their own way. It is certainly very obvious when a person who, on paper, should be a good fit for you or for a collaboration or project isn’t, and taking a values perspective means you can stop yourself from wondering why you didn’t gel. The same goes for events or meetings where you don’t feel you fit in even though in theory you should have. It wasn’t you. You didn’t need to be different. You probably weren’t a Values match. Move on. Find someone or somewhere that is.

Write them – Your Core Values and Communications in Writing

You can just as easily use your Core Values words in written communications as you do in verbal ones. You may (or may not) notice the word Joy turns up in this document a few times, as do the words effortless and collaboration. These are some of my top 5 Core Values. Pitches, tenders, proposals, bios, blurbs, CVs, places where you are sharing your expertise – use your words in them. Let people get a feel for the essential you as they read facts about you or your services or engage with your expertise or craft.

We all long and need to be seen, to be understood by others. If we express ourselves this way – authentically from our truth – in writing or verbally, the people who respond well to us are far more likely to be highly us-compatible than people who meet us and only see our best behaviour professional face.

This works out well for referrals and onward introductions too. If someone offers me an introduction when I know they know me and my values, the introducee is always far more likely to be good fit with me in whatever capacity because I will have been pitched to them as my authentic self. If your work runs on referrals for new clients or opportunities, speaking or writing your core values with everyone should become your second nature. Everything gets that little bit more effortless when the world interacts with you as the real you.

You can also show your core values as well as tell them in writing. I wrote a pitch for a piece of strategy work for a charitable Music Organisation. As my favourite way to work is in collaboration with other people who I admire and trust, it was a joint pitch where I invited someone else to pitch with me. I used my values words in my sections of the pitch and especially in my bio and encouraged my collaborative partner to do the same. Her bio has a rather delightful humorous moment in it. She worried about it being wrong for the client we were pitching to as she read the organisation as being quite serious. But as one of her core values is Fun, I pointed out that if they disliked it so much they decided against working with us, clearly we would have been a poor fit. She left the humour in. We got the work. The board we ended up working with were a rather jocular bunch. All good.

Protect Yourself – Your Core Values and Avoiding Problematic People and Projects

Your values can be both a sword and shield from getting involved with people, projects (what is a project if not a collection of people who happen to be working on one outcome together?) and organisations that are not the right fit for you. We all know how it feels to be working or networking with people who we are not a fit with. It’s draining. We don’t feel we can be or are welcome to be our authentic selves in that environment. A decision to stop tolerating such places is life changing and career lengthening. A strategic exit and a promise to yourself never to return is no failure. It’s protection. It’s ultimate self-care.

When I use my values words with the right people, I get positive responses. I can be fully myself. When I use my values words and I don’t get great or enthusiastic engagement, I pass. This greatly reduces the instances I have of exhausting myself on projects or people that are wrong for me.

Get StrategicYour Core Values and Creating your Career

On the flip side of using values to work out where you don’t want to be, you can actively use your values to navigate yourself strategically through your career to be where you do want to go.

If someone offers me a piece of work, like everyone I look at the details and sort for whether it’s a skills match and the locations work, the money is right etc – all the usual things. But then I interrogate how the proposal matches with my values. After 15 years of doing this – it looks more like an intuition scanning 10 second reflective moment – but that is what I’m doing.

If I don’t get a sense of joy – my primary value – from thinking about the project, it’s on rocky ground with me. Sometimes I see that a project ticks others of my values boxes but not my primary one – Joy. There are a couple of options available in this situation.

Let’s say it’s a collaboration (a values match for me) and involves creative industries (creativity – also a values match) but somehow it’s not hitting my value of Joy. I am just not feeling it. I can take a critical look at the proposal and see if it’s something missing from or something present in the outline that is causing the problem. If it’s something missing – I can make a request to add something or tweak the proposal to up the Joy factor, if it’s something present that doesn’t work, I can negotiate and make a decision based on the success of that negotiation. I do not do joyless work.

The very first large scale piece of work I did in music was to work with 12 women with leadership potential in the music industry in a programme I was co-creating, in part with the Music Publishers Association. They had ideas of what they thought would work – training ideas, group work, peer networking. My joy-meter said, this project at this scale only works for you if there’s individual coaching in it – because it’s what you know works best to help people achieve the stated aims of this project and, as importantly, you love to coach individually above all things. So it’s a win for everyone. I negotiated for that. I got that. In the end everyone was very positive in their feedback about the one to one coaching component being transformative and the value they had derived from it.

Take care of your Core Values and your Core Values will take care of you.

I deliberately add Joy and Collaboration and Creativity into my own work. I work for myself – so I am 100% responsible for the projects I create myself including ensuring there are joy points built in. That said, I have on several occasions asked organisations I have been approached by to create a proposal whether I am able to bring in a collaborator because it super-boosts my values connection with the work. I’ve never been told no which I attribute in no small part to me writing a kickass proposal because I know I’m going to love doing the work, exactly as I enjoy it most.

What simple strategy can you use to respect your primary value when creating projects, or negotiating your role in other peoples’?

Ensuring your primary value is built into your own projects.

What brings you the greatest connection to your primary value?

I love to fly. I love planes, airports, departure lounges the lot. I deliberately build international travel opportunities into my work. I look for clients who are based internationally. And conferences.

I love being abroad. I deliberately take extra time after I have completed work I travelled for to enjoy the destination I am in.

I love being in and around water. It is emotional and mental self-care for me. So I add it in whenever I can. This is one of my greatest joys and I will always look for a hotel with a pool. I will ask incredibly nicely when accommodation is being provided for me whether a hotel with a pool is a possibility and explain why. A swim in the morning entirely sets me up for the day ahead. On multiple occasions clients have been very happy to oblige.

I love to explore local water experiences – spas in Budapest, Ice swimming in Finland, local (non-touristy) thermal pools in Iceland. I have experienced all three of these things because I take a stand for building joy into my work. And all three of these examples came about because other people invited me to do them, knowing that water meant to so much to me.

Speak your truth, it engages with people at a deeper level. And simply speaking your values is the best most effortless starting point to begin these conversations.

Core Values for Fixing Situations that aren’t Working

Last but by no means least – when things aren’t working – an ongoing project has lost its appeal, a collaboration is starting to be draining rather than uplifting, and you either aren’t sure what the problem is or you do know but don’t know how to fix it, try looking at the situation using your values as a solution finding lens.

Starting with your primary value – is it still being met by the project or the collaboration? If yes, move on to the next value. Is the project or collaboration respecting your second value too? Keep scanning the situation using each value in turn. Which one is missing? I assure you before you get to five, you’ll find a misalignment or an absence. Maybe with more than one value.

Once you know which value or values are out of synch, you can determine how you can try to rebuild it or them into the situation. Gain some clarity by considering ways in which those aspects were represented in projects or collaborations that worked really well in the past. Think of your favourite ever past project – how were your values represented in that? Can you think of a simple way to improve the values alignment for you. If you can’t see a way to do this with the people in the project, can you do it unilaterally? (For example if a hotel with a pool is not something my client can swing, can I find another way to get to the water?)

If after giving your situation careful consideration, you realise it simply isn’t possible to build the necessary values back into the project or collaboration to make it work better, or you are past the point of being willing to invest your time and effort in doing so, it is probably time to work out your best exit strategy. If that is easier said than done – or not immediately possible, up your self-love and emotional self-care activities to get yourself through and ensure that future projects are built to support your sustained and contented participation in them, by building in your values from the outset.

And no – it isn’t selfish or self-centred to create projects that are perfect for you. I often find that it’s immensely permission giving to others to do the same and when I’ve negotiated with someone to build my values into a project and explained why I want certain things (whilst inviting them to do the same for themselves) we make really solid working relationships. Where once a project is done we’re actively looking for ways to work together again. Why would you want to build anything else?

Tl;dr Expressing your core values out loud in your professional life can feel a bit funny to start with if it’s not something you have been doing naturally until now, but you can soon settle into it with a little practice. The results – finding and connecting easily with like spirits, not wasting time second guessing why you weren’t a fit with someone or somewhere, being able to easily build projects that work for you at a deep level are entirely worth it. It makes our work life easier and effortlessly lengthens our careers. We want more of that.

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Tamara Gal-On has been coaching artists, managers and wider music industry folk since 2007. Since then she has worked on numerous projects serving women in the music business and created many opportunities to take them to work near, on or in the water. This is not just because water brings (her) joy but because it’s proven to improve mental flexibility, enhance the ability to get into true flow, connects us to intuition and embodies on a physical level what it feels like to be truly supported. All of which is to say – if you get coached from that place, most excellent things start to happen. If that sounds like something you’d like to explore. Check it out –