Give Yourself Permission

Allowing yourself time to heal and grow enables you to bring your best to all your endeavors and to those who depend on you.

Lorraine M. Martin
March 19, 2024

It had been an amazing NSC Safety Congress & Expo, a full-scale return to the awesome and inspiring events that had taken place each year for over 100 years, the pandemic and WWII being two interruptions. I was exhilarated by the long days and the hustle – moving quickly between speaking engagements, partner meetings, award presentations, visits to the Expo Floor and evening galas.

I was exhilarated, but I was also struggling. A few weeks prior my doctor had informed me I needed surgery on my foot. That was the bad news. The worse news came next: No flying or traveling for a minimum of six weeks after the procedure. 

My immediate response? No way. Not possible.

Of course, I knew how fortunate I was. I would get the care I needed and eventually heal. I would also be able to transition to fully remote work without missing a beat. Many people don’t have the option to stop working for an injury or illness, and every day many others receive far worse prognoses. 

My mobility has always been a central facet of my career. I’ve traveled all around the world and lived all over the country. Four years in the Air Force and 30 in the aerospace industry taught me to go where I was needed and keep my sights on the horizon.

It’s a mentality I brought with me to the National Safety Council and one I know many people possess. I want to go where I can have positive impact, spreading our organization’s message and helping make people safer at work, on our roads and in our communities. 

The idea of stepping back, even for a few weeks, seemed to me like putting myself before the Council in a way I thought did not align with my leadership principles.

After Congress, however, the need for surgery was undeniable. I listened to my body and my doctors and had my surgery in mid-December. My calendar was marked with a “no travel” warning until late January.

I won’t pretend those six weeks were easy. Never mind getting around the country – getting around my home became a challenge. I was under orders not to put any weight on my leg, which was encased in a large, awkward boot. There were certainly moments of restlessness, familiar to many of us during the pandemic lockdowns, when all I wanted was to be able to join an in-person meeting or spend a few hours at the office with our team. 

But I also found a lot of value in staying put and slowing down.

Staying home allowed me time to open up as I connected virtually with the NSC team and those we serve. I became a better listener, focusing on the task or conversation at hand rather than worrying about making it to the next meeting or flight. The NSC team offered their support and expertise as we celebrated the end of one impactful year and the beginning of another. 

In December the Bureau of Labor Statistics released annual data on workplace deaths for the year 2022. The numbers revealed alarming increases in workplace fatalities across all demographics and sectors – including deaths caused by overdoses, roadway incidents, extreme weather, violence and more. Slowing down gave me greater time to ponder what those numbers really mean, how many lives they represent, and how desperately we need to stop these preventable deaths. 

Stepping back is not easy. But sometimes it is needed. Doing so gave me a better perspective not only on myself and my role but on the strength of the NSC team and the impact of our mission.  

Taking care of oneself is not a selfish act. Giving yourself the space to heal and grow is part of being an effective leader. Being your best self enables you to do your best work and be there for those who depend on you.

While it is, at times, important to prioritize your work, it is just as important at other times to prioritize yourself. Go on vacation, really disconnect on your days off and immerse yourself in your friends and family – whatever you need to recharge. Give yourself permission to be the fullest version of yourself. 

I encourage all of us to live by not one but two golden rules. First, to treat others as you would want to be treated. Second, to treat yourself with the same kindness and grace you afford others.

As I resume traveling and representing NSC around the nation, I’m taking these lessons with me. I’ll turn my eyes back to the horizon while also keeping my feet firmly on the ground. I’ll think about what’s next while also taking time to reflect on what’s happening right now. 

Because at NSC we’re working to save lives today, tomorrow, five years from now and one hundred years from now, until no one ever loses their life at work or on our roads again. Accomplishing this will require us all to be healthy, energized and ready to tackle whatever challenges come next. 

Lorraine M. Martin

Lorraine M. Martin is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

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