First, I open this post with a genuinely warm welcome! Second, I take a bow. Not with pride, but humility. It seems that in this well-intentioned challenge I discovered something important. The last eight years, I got it wrong! Let me paint he background for you here...
This is the third and final post for the 30-day self-care challenge. I'm genuinely surprised at what I have to tell you...t's been a rollercoaster! I'll share with you here why I believe you should actually ditch your self-care challenge and try something else instead.
My first two posts ranged from defining self-care to identifying what kind of self-care you need according to your season of life followed by a review on how to keep yourself accountable with sustaining the challenge once you start. Although I have been a social worker for eight years, I'm just as bad at self-care as the rest of us, I'm sorry to say!
So often we professionals admit to each other, and ourselves, that we don't practice what we teach NEARLY as often as we should. That being said, my goal in taking on the 30-day self-care challenge was to connect more with the population I serve, redefine the term itself, and be curious/compassionate when there "just isn't time for taking care of me."
That being said... drum roll please... I've discovered something entirely unexpected. I think we should ditch the concept of self-care entirely.
...Am I hearing crickets...?
Probably. But just go with me on this and I promise it will make sense why a seasoned therapist would even suggest such a ridiculous concept... after spending 30 days on improving self-care. Initiated by myself.
The original goal of the 30-day self-care challenge was not just included getting in touch with my inner child, but getting in touch with my own humanity as well. Connection with the universe. And nature. You might ask if I am a happier person as a result of taking on the challenge of improving my self-care. Perhaps. Some days. But as I often tell my clients when they're frustrated by a lack of happiness that the mere concept of happiness is fleeting and always will be. If your intention in life is to be happy, you will be constantly disappointed, paradoxically. That brings me to my main point. This 30-day self-care challenge has taught me more about intention and self-compassion than happiness, satisfaction, or even self-acceptance. These other qualities are biproducts because they are the result of living a life of true intention with self-compassion. Note that the two must come together for me to paint the full picture. This whole concept of self-care isn't what we are really looking for when we say we need to care for ourselves better.
If I've already lost you, let me back up and explain... When we seek out self-care, do we not automatically think of what our culture tells us that it is? Perhaps news media, or social media? A day spa. Or, time alone, a hot shower, playing sports, or having a night out with friends. I must ask you... do those things make you "happy" (which is fleeting), or do they allow you to take better care of yourself through inner connection and increased sense of purpose? So, we find that the concept of self-care tends to be commercial more than not. If you spend money, relax, try some meditation, take up a hobby, etc. then you'll be happy! Right? Wrong. You'll just be out $50-$500 (thank you inflation). Now, before you get the impression I'm a prude who believes that spas are bad and all commercialism is rotten, I do celebrate holidays with gifts and I don't make all of my own clothes (none, actually. I make none of my own clothes. I shop at TJ Maxx, okay?). The point is, I indulge when I can because it's fun and life is short! BUT, those happy moments will not add to our self-connection and life of intention. We will likely be more frustrated than when we started out. So, we give up, right?
Let me offer an alternative option fresh out of a one-month reflection. Instead, if we shift to the concept of care for the self with the goal of being an intentional, compassionate human? I know, this might sound convoluted or just generally exhausting. Yet, I challenge you because I know it can be done. I have faith in you that if you try the following, you might find a new concept of self-care that actually works:
Focus on the domains of human life:
I'm not talking about attending church services in an organized religion. I'm not even talking about praying more or reading your choice of religious literature. For us, true spirituality has to do with connecting to the inner spirit. The part of us that was born pure and unaffected by life experiences, good or not so good. This is the quiet part of you that is stirred when you hear live music vibrating through your body. A touch of peace when alone in nature. Or the part of you that feels sparked by energy when you get playful and creative. Listen to this part of you. Get in touch with it. Find out how to feed it. Regularly. Don't let it starve, It's one of the quietest domains.
If the holidays are already on your mind and you're already busy in your head with where you're traveling to see who and what awkward topic might get brought up when you do arrive, let's zoom out. Family is not the people you are biologically related to. I challenge that these are the people who you love unconditionally and who are able to offer you the same type of love in return. Might they be blood relatives? Sure. It's okay if they aren't. Connect with your family as you define the word. Feel their love and acceptance. Know that they value you, because there will come dark days where you will need to remember that feeling to nurture yourself when they are not available. House that love and acceptance within your body. Note the sensations and thoughts you experience when you are around them next. Do it without judgment. I believe you might be surprised at what you find.
I'm sorry that I may be showing my age here, but as I write this, sweet Dolly Parton's "9-5" wrings in my head. I digress... This, again, is not necessarily what you do for the majority of your waking hours to pay for the things you need in life. Instead, redefine work with the concept of "What I do to be productive." If you are on a leave of absence from your employ, a stay at home parent, or a student, this may seem like an easy domain to dismiss. My dear reader, do not dismiss it. Your efforts to produce are valid. My hope for you, and hopefully soon what you gain for yourself, is the sense of satisfaction with what you produce/ achieve every day. If you are raising tiny humans, that is work. I will be the LAST to argue with you. You are productive. you are valuable in what you do. That is, if you are making a difference to yourself and those around you by what you do and even more importantly, HOW you do it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “The purpose of life is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
It seems old Ralph knew something about working a job you hate. Most people do hate their job. With a passion and without reservation. Again, my dear reader, if you are in this category, challenge you to bring in compassion and intention to your concept of what work really is, and see (with radical acceptance of course) what options really, truly, exist for you in this life.
Holistically speaking, the concept of health includes mental, physical, and emotional health. They are unified and separate all at once. If you take your physical body wherever you go in this world, your mind and emotions are affected by what happens to it. And the cycle continues for each part of yourself. However, who you are is NOT your body, thoughts, or emotions. You can behave rash in a moment of frustration, but this does not make you a reckless, uncaring person. You may be physically ill but be very accepting of your body's limitations and not let that define you. I've seen this done successfully. Not without significant effort, but seven years in hospice care of multiple positions have taught me that we are without a doubt able to care for each part of our health separately and holistically. Neither are simple without a teacher. However, if you aim to be "healthy" with compassion and a clear road of intention, defining what that means to you, you will not be one to focus on having the body you should have by losing weight, or having healthier emotions by letting go of anger, etc. You will find that your balance among the three parts of your health will become more balanced. No more calorie counting. No more beating yourself up. The intention of health is to be balanced, is it not?
Need I begin with social anxiety that seems to plague nearly everyone I come in contact with, or skip the obvious?
The word "community" is defined as follows: noun: "A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common." Near or far, similar or not alike, you get to choose who your community is. However, I ask you... do you like the community you've built around you? If you do, that's awesome. But whether you do or don't, could you enrich your community? What would that look like? I'm talking personal ownership here; not what other people would need to do. Think about it for a moment and see what you come up with. What is lacking?
In this world of screens, scrolling, and distance-EVERYTHING, we humans seldom engage in a meaningful way with new or familiar people. We are suffering in the worst way for lack of a sense of community. When is the last time you volunteered for a community event because there was a need? How about participating in a team sport? When have you last asked someone to teach you something? In my humble opinion, I believe family and community are among the biggest supporters of developing compassion and intention. Trying new experiences requires both. Requires it, even. Otherwise, community turns into a bunch of bickering people who just don't like each other. Ring a bell?
My new challenge to you is to develop within the domains listed here. But don't just "do it." Do it with intention and compassion. This means listening to what each domain in your life has to say to you. Curiosity is the seed of compassion. So, let's be curious together and see what comes up.
As I close, I leave you with one of my favorite Mahatma Gandhi quotes: "A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes." What are your thoughts? Are they kind, compassionate, and true to yourself? If even a little shift occurs in your life's intent now, I encourage you to carry it from now into your next action. Be the center of the ripple for the life you want to lead, and I believe you will live a life that mattered.
Thank you for reading. Know that the light in me sees and honors the light in you.