I have a viscerally negative reaction to the term “self-care”. It evokes the old “Calgon, take me away!” ads with ladies in bubble baths. And — perhaps because I never understood the utility of bubble baths (is it to clean? to relax? how relaxing is it to sit in cold water?) — I’ve always felt like they are for self-indulgent people with a lot of excess time. And that’s how I feel about the notion of “self-care”.
That being said, my view is changing.
Yesterday, I left the company where I was working as the VP of People. My team and I busted our asses, non-stop, to get a lot done in a short timeframe, and to do everything well. I encouraged employees to reach out to me about anything, and committed to getting back to them within a few hours. I spent my weekends and vacations thinking about how to make our workplace even better, often checking into the local coffee shop at 11 AM and not leaving until the barista started turning over chairs and sweeping the floors.
In short, I did a good job taking care of my employees, but did a lousy job taking care of myself. And — as a corollary — in taking care of my personal life and family. I felt crappy all of the time — I was skipping a lot of lunches and eating dinner very late; I completely abandoned any semblance of exercise; I always felt behind on work because there was so much more that I could do; I wasn’t paying attention to my husband and felt constantly guilty about it; I became the unreliable friend who canceled plans last minute.
So I decided that I had to take time off and reset. (Incidentally, in my newfound zeal for exercise, I started taking barre classes. Their motto is to “reset, realign, restart” — which is pretty much what I’m doing!) I’m mid-way through my career, and I want the next half to be more balanced and well-rounded, and I have to learn what that means to me.
Ironically, since I made the decision to go on a hiatus, I’ve come up with better ideas, been more confident in asserting myself, and have been surprisingly productive. Regular exercise has cleared my head; stepping back from the throes of the day-to-day has enabled me to see patterns and trends to address; and reflecting on the accomplishments from the past 15 months has given me perspective on my abilities.
I guess what I’m conceding here is that “self-care” is not something for weaklings and whiners. It’s a critical ingredient to being productive and to building resilience. Going forward, I plan to regard it as part of my job, not as an optional nice-to-have.