Why Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

The question is inevitable, something used as part of a politeness construct in social situations:

What do you do?

No matter who’s asking the question, most people are uncomfortable with their own answer.

This question could be interpreted so many different ways, but nearly all of us assume it’s specific to the employment situation held in our life. Our answers are usually disappointing (to ourselves) because most of us are doing something we don’t love. We joke about the metaphorical ball-and-chain of a nine-to-five. Punching the clock. Logging our service hours. “Living the dream,” is saved for the days we’re feeling particularly feisty.

Maybe you can’t settle upon one dream job, but cherish a handful of exciting pursuits. Maybe you’re in the very common situation of “Something, and just about anything, is better than what I’m doing now.”

Most people can relate to the mindset of The Temporary Job. (Just six months–I’m already looking for the next one!) Time disappears as it sucks up five, ten, twenty-five years of your life. It was supposed to be a simple 9-5 in exchange for a paycheck, but the paycheck doesn’t make up for the stress, the never-ending meetings, or the fact that some (all?) of your coworkers, on their best behavior, can only be described with an expletive.

Do you remember the moment you realized, with horrifying clarity, that you’d settled? I do, and it’s happened more than once. I kept telling myself, “I don’t have the energy right now. I have a baby and I can’t get enough sleep to keep myself coherent, so I’ll just put the job search on hold.” Then another baby came along and the cycle repeated. Before I knew what had happened, I’d spent years in an industry I could barely tolerate, losing a little piece of my soul with each passing day. More paperwork. More legal jargon. No creativity or encouraging light at the end of the tunnel. Because of that compromise I was tired, under chronic stress, burning the candle at both ends and making myself feel like a failure.

Not many folks are in the position that allows them to walk into HR one day and say “You know what? I’ve had it with this job, with the clients I work with, with my fellow miserable coworkers. You can keep it.”

We all know the daily drudgery steals our time, our focus and our joy. None of us like to admit it, but it’s a matter of awareness. Most of us are simply trying to make it through just one more day, or to the next holiday, to our next vacation. But those moments are so brief and fleeting and we’ve built up so much expectation around them that they cannot possibly fulfill our need for joy and thorough refreshment of the soul.

We’re all familiar with the saying that goes something like: “If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will do it for you.” Think of how true this (likely) is in your life. You’re running in a million directions each day: Care for the pets, feed the kids, do a load of dishes and laundry before everyone’s out the door to school and work. The cycle continues at work: Handle the catastrophe your boss just passed off to you, but while the phone’s jumping off the hook and, crap, weren’t you supposed to be in a meeting five minutes ago?

Long before the end of the day you’re already exhausted. You have no brainpower left to make important decisions, let alone ANY decisions. (Can I just make pizza for dinner, for what is probably the third time this week?) There have been so few truly joyful moments in your day, you have to struggle to remember them. How long, you might find yourself wondering from time to time, can I keep this up?

With the explosion of chronic disease in the developed world, most people are aware of what’s to blame: Uncontrolled stress. Lack of sleep/quality rest. A poor diet. Not nearly enough exercise. But while most people find ways to implement healthier behaviors around those key points, finding joy is often overlooked. You tell yourself you don’t have time to spend with the friends who make you laugh. You haven’t meditated in years. You can’t remember the last time you sat down and read a good book.

Today I encourage you to give yourself ten minutes to daydream. Set your timer if you really can’t afford to spend longer, but give yourself the mental space to spend that time quietly. You’re not there to review what you feel are the failures or where you took the wrong path. You’re taking that time to envision what could be. You’re saying to yourself, “Going forward, I am going to do something that gives my life meaning.” It may not be a complete career revamp, but it should be something that fills you with joy and purpose. What is it that makes you feel unique, accomplished, and noticeably reduces your stress levels?┬áIs it volunteering at a local animal shelter? Painting? Writing? Gardening? Whatever it is (and you can certainly pick more than one thing), give yourself permission to bring it back into your life, even if you can only do it in small increments. Then gift yourself that window of time to do what it is you love, knowing the investment will bring you happiness and calm, making you a more patient, less frazzled, generally happier person. Your soul is a bank from which you make withdrawals, so *make* the time to fill it up!

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You’re Only As Good As Your Drive.

It’s one of those hard truths in life: People with no motivation, content with the “It’s good enough for now,” never seem to get anywhere. Most of us know a few of these people, or we are one of those people, and some are more than happy to blame others for their perceived failures or shortcomings.

Thinking back to when you wanted something–REALLY wanted something–what were you willing to sacrifice to get it? Time, effort, money, sleep? All of these things? And if you reached your goal: switching careers, getting your Master’s, obtaining a difficult certification or professional license, etc., didn’t all that effort seem worthwhile? You’d kept your eye on the prize until, literally or metaphorically speaking, you had the prize in hand. Did your success fuel future endeavors, or were you content to call that success “Enough?” (I’m guessing not.)

Effort is usually rewarded with some form of success and if we use it to our advantage, it can and will fuel our momentum.

But what not to do? Obviously, the best way to “fail” is to never start at all. Don’t register for that class. Don’t commit to studying a foreign language for an hour a day. Put off that bucket list trip until next year. Don’t apply for that job, because, “They’d never call me back anyway.”

To illustrate my point, let me tell you a bit about C. and R. Both are real people, individuals I’ve known for years due only to geography, not by professional practice.

C. is only 45 years old and has lived a miserable, hobbled life for the past 15 years. Her troubles began when her first daughter was quite young and though she and her husband visited numerous doctors trying to pinpoint the cause of her physical ailments (chronic fatigue, IBS, arthritis, etc.), no one could offer a solution. However, she was content to follow doctor’s orders, living with constant pain, gaining considerable weight as her mobility decreased due to arthritis. She exhibited no interest in performing her own research or altering her lifestyle habits in any way. Suggestions from concerned friends, regarding dietary changes or lifestyle interventions, were shrugged off because she’d come to accept her physical ailments as “inevitable.”

Recently C. spent a month at Mayo Clinic, undergoing every test known to western medicine. It was determined she was even sicker than she’d thought. She was sent home with a terrifying list of prescriptions and pumped full of steroids to temporarily control the newly-diagnosed sarcoidosis. (Toss another one on the pile, right?)

C. remains unwilling to make changes to her diet or lifestyle, and in short order her multiple issues will render her completely incapable of making any of those changes should she suddenly experience a change of heart.

By contrast, R. was a lifelong smoker, a lover of junk food and easily 80 pounds overweight. An intense workout for him involved mowing the lawn on his riding tractor.

When the ambulance’s flashing blue-and-red lights woke the neighborhood at 2 a.m., everyone knew who was in trouble.

R. was in the hospital for several weeks and upon his return, endured several more close calls that resulted in additional trips to the hospital. However, he quit smoking immediately and began daily taking his dog for a walk. He wasn’t content with the amount of living he’d done to that point–he wanted more! (I cannot speak to whether he’d altered his diet, but the fact he gave up smoking and has managed to stick to it has blown me away.)

You are your own predictor of success or failure. No one can want something for you worse than you want it for yourself–so go get it!

All work on this site is original and proprietary. Credit to other authors is given in recognition of their cited works. All rights reserved pertaining to copyright laws.

 

The Gifts of Age.

We all know the gift of age is wisdom, right? Experience. Hard-taught and -learned lessons that have challenged us, shaped us, maybe even removed a few of the stars from our eyes. (But to have one’s current wisdom with the body of a 20-year-old… The energy! No aches! Ah, the mind boggles…)

This weekend, 40 finally found me. She’d been looking for me for a while, and I’d been semi-dreading it since turning 25, when the existential crisis hit me hard. What, I wondered then, will 40 be like if I have this many questions at 25?

What I found to be good news is that 40 can be easier than 25 if your head’s in the right place:

Are you grateful for the loves in your life, your professional blessings, your creature comforts?

Isn’t hitting a new decade better than never seeing another birthday?

Honestly, I wouldn’t trade my slightly-wrinkled, tired-but-wiser 40 for a shiny, fresh-faced, innocent 18. Not for anything. I wouldn’t want to have to grow up again; to go through the challenges of young adulthood. (Yes, I’d have made a few different decisions, but life is a journey, right? I don’t know the destination just yet but I have a feeling it will make more sense at the end.)

We can grow wiser without growing painfully old. If we pay attention to things like our stress levels, our sleeping patterns, what we’re putting into our mouths, our daily activity levels, our joints don’t have to ache. We don’t have to look as old as, or older than, our true physical years.

Some things remain eternal, though: Let me be the first to admit that there are days I still want to holler at those damned kids to get off my lawn.

All work on this site is original and proprietary. Credit to other authors is given in recognition of their cited works. All rights reserved pertaining to copyright laws.