Julie Thorson

Self-care in leadership is an overused, under practiced phrase. There is no such thing as work-life “balance.”

There are times when we all dedicate an unequal amount of time to our profession. In long-term care, the last two (almost three) years are proof. Even when we are not physically at work, our residents, team members and families are on our minds. 

We think about them relentlessly; we dream about them; on Sunday mornings our thoughts are with them. We think strategically about things in the off hours, and we think about the dynamics of work constantly. 

I often chuckle when people say, “I need to find a better work-life balance.” A balance would signify an equal amount of attention focused on both home at work and teetering back and forth with magical rhythm. If someone out there has found this elusive balance, let me know. I would love to hear your secret. I find it to be a constant challenge. 

The last few months I’ve worked specifically on finding healthier ways to find “balance.” Admittedly, I’m still in the discovery phase. Twenty-plus years in this field and I am still working to find the answer. 

Don’t misunderstand. I absolutely find ways to recharge, laugh and relax. I have also tried to model the way for our team in that when we are on paid time off, we have time off. We let each other disconnect and enjoy vacation and time away. This is a part of our work culture. 

As leaders, however, we are always looking for ways to do better and be better. 

My husband and I are empty-nesters and have been for a few years now. We lost our long-time family dog in early 2021 and have not considered a new member joining our family until the last few months. We debated for weeks and recently welcomed a new puppy to the family. At first, my husband was against it. We are gone during the day and are usually with friends or family when we aren’t at work. 


These droopy eyes won out, and last week we brought home Moon. He is a silver lab with a warm disposition, and we are in love. I’m sure all of you dog lovers out there are thinking, “Just wait — the puppy phase is exhausting.” It has been tiring, but in a good way. The early morning howls and the late night cries are sounds we haven’t heard for a very long time. The new activity in our home and yard has introduced an energy we both realized was missing and are happy to have back.   

Caring for a dog may lose its luster over time, but right now loving on this pup has been a gentle reminder of how putting others’ needs before my own can be completely satisfying and rewarding. Every morning in those moments of darkness and quiet waiting for this ball of cuteness to do his business, I’m reminded to slow down. Pausing to enjoy the simple act of tossing a ball is gratifying beyond measure.

Last month I wrote about the season of invisible scars. It was a blog I wrote not realizing how necessary it was to get out on paper. As COVID continues to linger, and changes to our requirements continue to stall, more attention (for me at least) must be to focus on simple joys. Moon has most definitely given us that. 

A new puppy may not be the answer to work-life balance, but for us it has been the best distraction, and at the right time. We must find ways in leadership to rediscover our best selves, even at times when we are at our lowest. 

Whether that is a new puppy, an impromptu trip, an afternoon of napping, or simply an extravagant meal, finding that something to keep your bucket full is so important so we can continue to be our best selves for the residents and teams we serve. 

Like you, I am over talking about COVID. Can’t we just move on already? Unfortunately, the unwelcome guest (COVID) just will not leave. The challenges presented with the antiquated regulations continue to make it difficult for us to move forward. 

Today, however, I am over the Moon with the thought of knowing he is waiting for me when I get home: tail wagging, droopy eyes, ready to play with no agenda other than … joy.   

Julie Thorson was the 2018 recipient of the LeadingAge Dr. Herbert Shore Outstanding Mentor of the Year award. She currently co-facilitates LeadingAge Iowa’s Leadership Academy. She is a Leading Age Academy fellow and former coach. The Head Coach (president and CEO) of Friendship Haven, a life plan community in Fort Dodge, IA, Thorson is a coach’s daughter at heart. A former part-time nursing home social worker, she is a licensed nursing home administrator and completed Leading Age’s Leadership Educator Program in 2019.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.