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What do you need?

By Hannah Massarella, founder, facilitator and coach, Bird.

Over the past eight months, I have been navigating a challenging health issue. It has been scary and has thrown me into a pretty much constant state of fight or flight as I’ve been going through treatment. The impact of said ongoing fight or flight state has been high levels of anxiety, sickness and hourly overheating, all of which have persisted even as my treatment has come to an end.

My nervous system has been tested to its limit, and it feels quite debilitating trying to move forward in work and life with energy. And so, I have been asking myself one question: what do I need? Not what should I do, how should I be behaving at this point in the process, but what do I need?

It’s a powerful question during times of crisis.

As charity CEOs face continued pressure, funding uncertainties, the anxiety of staff and board alike, and ever-growing to-do lists, it can be easy to slip into the same old approach of just keep on keeping on. Keep holding everything together and keep the ship moving forward. But what if we tweaked that approach a little. What if we brought in the question, what do I need?

It might be that you need to take an extra 15 minutes before responding to another email. It might be that you delegate something so you have a little more time to work at a pace that doesn’t flare your nervous system. It might be that you book that annual leave. It might be that you keep your journey home as silent in order to decompress.

Of course, I understand sometimes the answer to ‘what do I need’ might be £5 million in unrestricted funds, for a job role to be filled ASAP, or for a particular colleague to get some therapy. But what I’m writing about here is a nudge to really bring that question closer to home. There are always things in our environments that could change for the better, but often it’s more than what we can change on our own. The space we are ultimately in charge of however, is ourselves, and implementing small actions that help us navigate the world around us a little easier.

So, what do you need?

Stop, don’t read on.


Take a moment to consider that question…

What do you need?

What would help you put that in place? Would it help to tell someone else, or make a booking for something, or set a calendar reminder?

Can you do that now?

For me, I’ve committed to working for three days only a week, and I’ve told colleagues and written it in my email signature. I’ve booked into weekly acupuncture to try and soothe my nervous system, and on the same note I’m committing to less phone use and more self compassion exercises. I know I will not always get the above commitments right, I will sometimes miss or forget, but in that moment as well I can ask myself ‘what do I need?’ and I imagine it might be something along the lines of giving myself a bit of grace, and remembering I am human.

This world we live in encourages us to live in a state of constant doing and constant low-level stress, with rarely an opportunity to check in with what we need or what might help us in each moment. Pausing and asking ourselves ‘what do I need’ is a self care act in itself, that may well lead to further acts of self care too. We deserve to feel ok in our work, to move away from a constant state of fight or flight and towards a less frantic way of being.

ACEVO members: join us and Hannah on 10 April (2-3pm) for a digital meeting on how to maintain resilience as a leader. Book your place now.

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