How To Be Good To Yourself
Self-care sounds like something coined by an Instagram model. Some of us laugh at the phrase. What a gimmick.
We dismiss the idea of caring for ourselves. Not completely. But we get it wrong all the time.
Self-care makes us imagine spa days and spontaneous trips to the coast. Lounging by the pool with a book we pretend to read, when we’re really just napping behind those sunglasses.
But self-care isn’t that.
It’s actually boring. Difficult. Even mundane. At least at first.
Self-care might start with accepting our bodies regardless of size or shape. But we also realize that these bodies run on real food — not garbage shoved into greasy paper bags. Not some fad diet, either.
It means diet in the long term, permanent sense. As in what you’re going to eat from now on, not for the next two weeks.
We have a president who thinks self-scare means diving headfirst into a trough of fast food every night. A president who judges everyone else’s body but his own. This needs to change.
Self-care goes beyond individuals. Take my students, for example. Some of them experience actual food insecurity. They don’t live anywhere near a store that sells fresh vegetables.
As a culture, we have to realize that some people really can’t afford to eat well. We can’t let this continue.
Self-care means giving other people the resources to care for themselves, so they can go on and care for others. And so on.
It’s not enough to be a healthy person in a sick culture. A healthy person in a sick culture won’t last long.
Self-care can look really dull.
One summer, someone I worked with sat down with me at the campus dining hall for breakfast. His plate spilled over with omelettes, hash browns, bacon, sausage. You know, the works. All smothered in gravy.
He did this every single morning.
And he had the arrogance to laugh at my oatmeal. “You seem like a really sad person,” he said more than once.
It felt like he was making a special trip to my table every sunrise just to f*ck up my day. He couldn’t stand to see someone taking care of herself. So he had to try something to unbalance them.
Of course, this guy spent the rest of his day in the bathroom bellowing horror movie noises. You could hear them from the hallway. Meanwhile, I sailed through my problems. Even though my job was full of tsunami waves and lightning, I thrived.
Self-care means you treat yourself sometimes. Not every night.
You party with friends when you have the time and energy. You get laid when you actually want to be with someone.
Self-care means you enjoy a one-night stand when the mood feels right. You don’t go home with someone just to avoid yourself.
I’ve worked some tough jobs at points in my life. 70 hour weeks. Jobs where daily disasters can destroy your mind. At the end of the worst days, I went straight to the gym, then home for a shower and sleep.
Other people partied all night every night, then tried to teach through their hangovers the next morning.
My 20s was a story of learning how to take care of myself. You start to notice that the people who accomplish their goals spend their weekends buying groceries and doing laundry. They cook a few days’ worth of meals, so their crappy Monday doesn’t turn into a drive-thru lunch and dinner.
They don’t all go on meditation retreats. But they spend time cleaning their house and office areas. They like to organize things. They spend an afternoon alone, going for walks or just listening to music.
Or they go to the park with their families.
Sure, they work hard. They play hard. But they know you can’t just bounce back and forth between work and play.
They leave some space between the extremes. Space where they don’t work or play, but just take care of things.
It’s more space than you’d think. Even a few hours a day.
Successful people don’t punish themselves with 14 hour days for weeks on end. They don’t let a boss’s expectations crush them. They don’t live at some desk. They don’t expect others to, either.
They don’t spend all day in meetings, or pretending to work to please someone else. They’ll spend a few hours on a meaningful hobby in order to get into a good headspace. Then they’ll get to work.
People who take care of themselves are happier and more productive. They don’t lose their tempers at coworkers. Setbacks don’t send them into meltdowns or tweet storms. They might look slower on the surface, but their productivity will blow you away.
Many of us still don’t practice real self-care. Even worse, some of us might run multi-billion dollar corporations that deny their employees the ability to care for themselves. All for profits, and the sake of delivering stuff to people really fast. Because that’s what we seem to value.
We need to make a better world. And we can start with caring for ourselves, and helping other people do the same.
You don’t have to love yourself. But you do need to live in a way that hugs your goals — or whatever you call them. Self care doesn’t mean always living like a nun or a Buddhist monk. But you might spend a few hours a day pretending you’re one.