I’ve written a bit lately about self care, taking care of and loving yourself first, and listening to yourself. On a good day I feel grounded, inspired and in alignment with my writings and intentions. On a bad day I feel like a total hypocrite!
Monday a few weeks back was once such bad day. I was in a coach training class on the topic of self care. I was already emotional and exhausted, and as the class unfolded I felt myself getting angrier and angrier. Finally when we got into our small discussion groups, I understood why. I listened to my colleagues, also women and both younger than me, talk about how difficult it is to take of ourselves when all the messages and structures around us don’t support us taking care of ourselves! And yet “self care” is added to our already undoable list of things to do, and any failings are our own fault. Coming slightly out of my grumpy haze, I piped in that the whole oxygen mask metaphor (take care of yourself first so you can then help others) is really starting to piss me off. I’m supposed to take care of myself so that I can take care of others? How about taking care of myself just because it feels good, helps me be healthier and more joyful, or because I deserve it? Can self care be an end in itself?
I also observed that the conversation about self care in our class, like in the world at large, was focused mostly on doing – coming up with lists of things to do to take better care of ourselves. “How about NOT doing?” I exclaimed. “I need help and support to NOT do! That’s more the issue than more (or even different) doing!” My colleagues agreed.
True self care is about saying no (secret #1). David Whyte said “One way to come to yes is to say no to everything that does not nourish and entice our secret inner life out into the world.” Wow. So here’s me trying this on for size: No, I can’t get that done today. No, I’m not available to take your call right now. No, I won’t go above and beyond when it’s not important. No, I won’t work harder than my clients. No, I won’t work with clients who aren’t aligned with my values. No, I won’t work on weekends. No, I’m not going to balance my books when it’s gorgeous outside and I’d rather be face down in a sunny meadow somewhere. No, I’m not going to read every interesting article I come across. No, I won’t always be dressed to the nines with perfect hair. No, I won’t go to that party when I’d really rather watch some silly TV on my comfy couch with my cat. No, I’m not going to share a meal with someone I don’t particularly like just because they might be a good business contact. No, I’m not going to talk to you during this entire flight when I’d rather be writing or watching a movie. No, I’m not going to spend all my weekends shopping for Christmas presents and going to all the holiday events I’m invited to. No, thank you. No.
OK so that wasn’t so hard! And it felt great! Now…how to deal with the guilt and fear that people won’t like me, respect me, or hire me when I say no and stop constantly doing? The answer is that some people won’t like me, respect me, or hire me when I say no. But a bunch of other people will, and those people will delight and enrich my life. Saying no attracts people and situations into your life that are more inspiring, enriching, and joyful (Secret #2).
But saying no is still difficult, especially for women who historically haven’t always been permitted to say no…or yes. It is a truly awe-some thing that we women can do just about everything now, even on our own. I live a life my great grandmother probably never imagined – being happy and single in my forties, driving a car, owning a home, running a business, flying alone on airplanes and staying alone in hotels, choosing not to have children. But I notice that for most of us being able to do everything means we try to do everything. All at once! At home I’m solely responsible for keeping my grass mowed, my trees healthy, my walls patched, my appliances maintained and my property taxes paid. At work I’m solely responsible for marketing, sales, bookkeeping, A/R, A/P, social media, my website and client contracts – in addition to direct service. In my personal life I have friends, family, artistic pursuits, community activities, spiritual practices and daily workouts. That’s a lot.
It’s truly amazing to me that more of us haven’t completely lost our minds by midlife. Sometimes my single lady friends and I joke about needing a butler. Or a wife. Sometimes my friend Jean and I dance with the idea of tearing east across the USA in a huge convertible wreaking havoc like Thelma and Louise, then hopping a boat to Spain to start a flower shop. And most of these friends and I don’t have children. Just how do single moms do it?
They do what they have to do, like most of us. Human beings are tremendously resilient. And yet, do those of us who enjoy middle class or professional status really have to do everything we do? When we mindlessly try to do everything and don’t say no, our yeses carry less meaning. Their heart power is diluted because we’re just doing, and not deciding to give and doing so fully from a place of joy, authentic generosity or aliveness. Saying no make your yeses more meaningful – to everyone involved (secret #3). Make your doing count by choosing your yeses, not doing them mindlessly or out of some unscrutinized sense of obligation.
To know what to say no to and what to say yes to, you must figure out what you need, and also what you want (secret #4) and believe these needs and wants are valid and important. This can be daunting, especially if you’ve spent most of your life figuring out others’ needs and wants and catering to those. Also, our needs and wants change and shift. How can we stay present and flexible to meet our unpredictable needs for sleep, stimulation, quiet, inspiration, reflection, affection, connection and solitude?
I’m still figuring that part out, but I’ve learned spaciousness is required for self care (secret #5). If I have a sudden need for more sleep and there’s no flexibility in my schedule, I can’t take care of myself that way. If I’m suddenly inspired to create, but my day is packed with meetings, I can’t take care of myself that way. If my partner and I haven’t made time to share physical space and heart connection when the need arises, problems and misunderstandings build, and my self care suffers.
Another colleague in that coaching class shared that she recently realized the high value she places on constant learning implies she isn’t good enough the way she is. That stopped me in my tracks. I’m guilty of the same. Valuing growth and constantly evolving to higher levels of excellence, health, prosperity and integrity is simply exhausting. It’s a lot of doing. And it never ends. When is it enough? And how does that constant movement shut others out or give the subtle message they aren’t enough either?
So there it is. Yes. We can take care of ourselves just because we’re worth it, it feels good, and it’s healthy (secret #6). But the cool thing is that when we take care of ourselves – secret #7 – we’re also taking care of others.