First thing: The “What’s Your Self-Care Leadership Style?” quiz is ready! Sign up for “Turning Self-Care into Visionary Leadership” free webinar on September 24th from 3-4pm (no worries, if you can’t be live, I’ll email you the link right after) and get the quiz in your inbox! Learn your own unique leadership style as well as how to best care for yourself in your ongoing path toward leadership.
And now, today…
Over the next few weeks, as we get ready for the launch of the Beautiful Life Collective, I’m sharing the self-care untruths that keep so many of us blocked in our self-care efforts. I think it’s important to understand these false pretenses so that we don’t get stuck in them (often over and over and over again).
(If you missed it last week, learn the first untruth: why you are not broken and how you are, right now, completely able to help fix the world.)
This week, I want to debunk the concept that our self-care should always feel good.
Six years ago, I made a real commitment to taking better care of myself. Although I was a yoga teacher and to all appearances looked very healthy, I knew I wasn’t feeling as good as I could. I drank more often than I wanted to, ended most of my days with a couple of hours of TV, and managed to sleep through all of the morning practices I wanted to be doing.
I had considered making self-care changes before, but something about that moment felt different. I knew I needed to take better care of myself for reasons that felt bigger than me. So, I made a change. I began starting my days with smoothies, took my meditation practice seriously, and decided to invest in a year-long training in Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science).
It was just after signing up for that training that my then-partner and I sat down for a difficult conversation. We spoke about loving each other but not feeling in love. By the end of the talk, we knew we weren’t ready to break up, but we weren’t sure if we would stay together. We decided to focus on our relationship for a while and see what happened.
During this time, I became really confused and anxious. I didn’t know what to do - I was literally thinking to myself, should I stay or should I go? - so I just kept focusing on my self-care. I turned down more drinks and began going to bed earlier. I woke up to meditate and practice yoga. I was still confused and anxious, but I knew that I couldn’t give up on self-care in the midst of all these anxieties..
We spent six difficult months living in limbo, deciding if we could make our relationship work. Finally, just as summer was turning to fall, my then-partner broke up with me and moved out of our apartment a couple of weeks later. We had a minor fight over who got to keep the couch (in the end, I did), but other than that it was a fairly harmonious break-up.
Although I knew it was right for both of us, I was terrified of the change. Before, I had always fallen apart during break-ups and often took years to recover from the abandonment feelings.But this time felt different. I had my self-care - my already-practiced routines - to hold me while I weathered this huge transition.
A few months later, just as I was feeling some sense of stability, I found out my father had cancer. A year later, after a lot of invasive medical treatment, he passed away. During this whole time, I kept waking up in the morning, doing my morning practices and going to bed early. I’d arrive at the hospital with enough energy to sit by his bed, hold his hand and be there for him and my family.
As I drove to and from the hospital, I often thought that this wasn’t how it was supposed to work. I wanted to take better care of myself because I wanted to feel good. Instead, I had just gone through the hardest year of my life. I had cried more in the past 12 months than I had in the previous few years.
And yet, this moment of my life was teaching me something else - something deeply important that I would return to again and again in the coming years.
My self-care wasn’t making me feel good, but it was making me feel like myself. Finally, I felt like the woman I had always wanted to be. This woman was able to be present in difficult situations, truly care for her family and be the leader of her own life. Self-care had unlocked a layer of my own integrity that I hadn’t even know I was searching for.
The idea that our self-care should always feel good is one that has been sold to us over and over. We learn, while flipping through a magazine or watching a few commercials, that if we are doing our self-care correctly, we should feel no sadness, pain or remorse. We are taught that as women, if we are beautiful, thin and have a hunky man in our arms, our lives should feel wonderful all of the time.
It’s taken me decades to see through this empty promise. If it was true, every time we gave up dairy or ran a marathon we would stay blissful. But we don’t always stay happy, because human beings aren’t meant to always be happy. Our lives are much richer than that. But rather than question this faulty logic, when we feel sad we assume we have failed and give up on our self-care efforts. Or we think we just need to work harder and become compulsory in our self-care. These self-care attitudes are what fuels multi-billion dollar diet industries and a lot of unnecessary suffering.
I believe taking good care of ourselves will help us feel better on a few different levels, but it’s not meant to make our problems go away. Rather, I think self-care is here to help us go deeper into our problems. Self-care - when practiced authentically - increases our capacity to handle challenging situations. We gain the strength and resilience necessary to make tough decisions, have difficult conversations and stay true to ourselves, even when it means disappointing other people.
If anything, self-care makes us feel our feelings more. When we let go of numbing behavior (goodbye, habitual Netflix!), we re-sensitize ourselves. Reconnecting to our own feelings not only improves our mental health, but it also awakens a sense of shared compassion. You realize that my suffering looks like your suffering. We can’t as easily turn away from other people’s pain. Instead, we begin to think of what we might do to help.
This is why I believe self-care is not only the path to personal integrity, but it’s also the path to visionary leadership. As we care for ourselves, we see the responsibility we have to take care of all people. Self-care then gives us the energy and the courage we need to keep moving forward to create a life that’s in alignment with our deeper values.
Does this feel big? I think it really is. More so, I think that these self-care skills are going to become increasingly important in the future. From my vantage point, I see our collective issues getting more complex before they ever get easier. We now need everyone who cares about our world to step up and take leadership from a truly compassionate place within themselves. I don’t think this will happen without authentic self-care.
The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. I’ll go much further into that idea next week as I debunk the next self-care untruth.
(Are you feeling inspired? Make sure to sign up for the free “Turning Your Self-Care into Visionary Leadership” webinar on September 24th! Your visionary path is clearer than you might think. I can’t wait to share more with you!)
Until then, please keep taking care of yourself. It’s more important than ever!