Being all things to all people

Dee Gray, Director, Gray’s Wellbeing

There is a phrase that you may know which is about ‘being all things to all people’, which could mean that all people hold something dear about you in their hearts.

Let’s assume that is true.

It could also mean that by being all things to all people, you forget to be something to your ‘self’.

Let’s assume that is also true.

When both these things are true you will be both energised by feeling you are dear to others, and drained by being all things to others.

Being held dear and being drained, is a place that is often occupied by people who work in the caring/healing professions and is certainly something I have experienced both during my early career in nursing, and now working in the field of wellbeing. Feeling energised by giving to others is part of what is known as eudaimonia and is integral to why many people become and remain nurses, so choosing an occupation that is complex and demanding. Having your eudaimonic cup refilled is a buffer to stress, and keeps you just the right side of distress.

We all have a ‘tipping’ point however, and the sense of doing good in the world can’t sustain you forever, especially when you ignore the signs that you are crossing from eustress (positive stress) into distress, when you are in distress you enter the peripheral spaces of wellbeing. These peripheral spaces have the energy sucking bedfellows of compassion fatigue and burnout as hosts, it can take time to recover from being here, especially if you keep pushing yourself to leave.

So there you are, a kind, compassionate and giving person, your energy is draining out of you, yet you feel compelled to keep giving. If you want to stay the course, if you know that whatever happens you are a nurse through and through, then you have to hold fast and remain true to your ‘self’.

What do I mean by this?

Well, put simply you are more than your giving self. You are also a receiving self. So you have to, and I mean have to, find a way to receive, and one of the most effective ways to do this is to learn how to say ‘No’. This might not be as straightforward as it sounds, first of all there is usually a backlash as others will have adapted to your giving behaviour, and they may also feel rejected and unsure of what is going on. You will also have to cope with an initial vacuum, if all of your time is taken up with giving, and you make a little time for your ‘self’, what are you going to fill it with? Initially you will probably revert back to giving, simply because you have to change not only your own behaviour (which is now routinised), but also quite literally change your brain.

You probably know that when you empathise with others, as you do so often in your nursing role, your body releases oxytocin and this can help you to feel comforted and calm even in really stressful situations. Now you need to rewire your brain to empathise with your ‘self’, and by doing so you are anchoring your wellbeing to your identity.

Having your wellbeing secured in this way is important, it contributes to your ability to endure difficult working conditions, to retain a locus of control. If you do this, you can be all things to all people … some of the time, because some of the time you are all things to your ‘self’.

If you would like to find out more about my wellbeing work take a look at You are also welcome to get in touch, either through [email protected], and/or connect via social media Tweet – @grays100 FB – @grayswell Instagram – @thebestselfcoach


Dr Dee Gray bio

My career began in the NHS, I went on to study law, and worked in the field of medical negligence before taking up academic roles and leading major public sector reforms for the Welsh Government.

As Director of Gray’s Wellbeing, I lead on the design and delivery of blended transformational programmes for people who work in high stress environments. I design and deliver coaching focused wellbeing masterclasses to an international audience, and collaborate with colleagues in Sweden, New Zealand and Malaysia. As a qualified and experienced coach and mentor, my practice focuses on the development of compassionate leadership and the creation of well workplaces. I am a Fellow of the RSA, Councillor for Wales for the RSA and Allied Researcher to Welsh Government. As founding Director of the Young Carers Academy CiC, I direct and co-produce learning and development with young carers.

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