It’s time for real talk about self-care.
Self-care has devolved from the radical notion that women can and should be their own source of happiness, fulfillment, and purpose to treating oneself to a pedicure and a massage. Self-care is not splurging $400 on a pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. Self-care is not the same as self-indulgence.
In her moving essay, “Why Self-Care Matters to Me as a Black Woman,” Minaa B, a licensed psychotherapist, author, and mental health advocate said:
“Having deep involvement in societal issues requires deep commitment to practicing restoration, because any work that is revolved around healing, whether it be personal or on a societal level, requires a great amount of self-care, self-awareness, and vulnerability, for this work will constantly expose you to dark feelings and unprocessed truth that needs to be addressed in order to mend and repair…
Self-care matters to me because when I show up for myself, I have the energy and the motivation to show up for others in need. Self-care matters to me because I am aware that broken people hurt people. That is their learned love language. I will continue to show myself compassion so that I can also show it to other beings.”
This is why self-care matters to me too. But what is it? Self-care, in its most radical form, is examining your daily life and choices and designing your life to build and support what you love, including your activism. Activism is not something you squeeze in between playdates, date nights, and staff meetings. It is not something you can schedule and then delete if something more interesting comes up. Activism is a commitment to practicing a way of being.
I’m not asking you to give up what you love and ways you comfort yourself to commit to an ascetic form of activism. As a creative mentor once told me, “there are no divided selves.” What I am asking you to do is incorporate the things and the people you love into your activism, use them to support your activism, and live your life as a practice, rather than a to-do list. The following are suggestions to embrace radical self-care.
Observe Yourself – Buy a notebook and observe yourself for 10 days. At the end of each day, write a simple list of how you spent your day. How much time do you spend commuting to and from work? Picking up the kids from school? How much time are you on social media? Do you eat lunch away from your desk, if you work outside your home? How many times did you say “yes” when you meant “no”? When do you see your friends? How do you spend your weekends? What activities bring you joy?
If writing is difficult for you, make a video blog with your smartphone of your typical day. At the end of each day, talk about how you spent your time, who you spent the day with, for what were you grateful, what irritated you, etc.
The purpose of both the writing and the video exercises is to gain an actual picture of how your life rather than how you think your life is.
Reclaim Your Time – At a congressional hearing in July, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, used a parliamentary procedure, “reclaiming time” to signal that a respondent’s answers would not count against the time she was allotted for questions. The video of Waters turned viral with “reclaiming my time” becoming a catchphrase and power anthem, complete with a gospel remix. The point is when something or someone is trying to divert you from your purpose, you must “reclaim your time.”
Review the observations you made about yourself during the past 10 days. What activities and relationships fuel you and which no longer serve you? If your marriage and job are included in the relationships and activities that no longer serve you, that’s a different conversation. How much time can you realistically devote to your activism? For example, if the focus of your activism is to improve educational opportunities for minority and low-income children, what type of activism does your life support? Running for school board? Lobbying your legislature for educational policy changes? Or volunteering at the lowest-performing school in your district?
If you want to do more, but your current life doesn’t support it, what three actions can you take this week to commit your time to your activism? Review your observations from the past 10 days. Can you reduce the amount of time you watch television or monitor social media so that you can get to bed early? Can your partner pick up your children from school or take them to activities so that you have an extra hour to work on a painting? Is your weekly writers’ group helpful or is working on your book manuscript a better use of your time?
Practice Self-Compassion — I recently realized I have a fear of commitment. I liked starting projects. But when I got to the “messy middle” or an important decision point that would take my work to the next level, I found fault with it, and abandoned it for another, wildly ambitious goal. The result was I was missing out on the lessons I could learn from making something, even a crappy something, and sharing it with the world.
Cradling this realization, I asked my younger self what I needed to overcome my fear of commitment. The answer was “self-compassion.” It wasn’t just that I didn’t feel “good enough” for others. I didn’t feel good enough for myself. I relentlessly pushed and drove myself. The minute failure felt possible, I dropped the project and pursued something else. The self-compassion I needed was to give myself permission to fail, to be messy, not to know the answer, and to play.
Radical self-care, under this definition, meant creating and maintaining space in my life to play. For me, playing means following my natural curiosity and seeing where it leads. This fuels me with energy and joy so that I may serve others. The ultimate form of activism is joy – the kind of joy that doesn’t come from what you take from the world, but what you bring to it.