You know it's big news when the friend with whom you normally share silly texts instead sends you an email—in my case, with the subject line "oh, sister...."
My friend Olivia, one of the hardest-working people I know, had just given notice at her job. Bad job. Cartoonishly bad. To use her words, giving notice was "an ultimate act of self-care."
Cue "I Am Woman." Or if you're a guy, maybe "Eye of the Tiger."
Cue any song you want—but that's what ultimate self-care does: brings us so much joy and relief that we can't help but crank up the music and practically bear-hug strangers. (Think Tommy Boy, when Chris Farley does just that: throws his arms around a random classmate, laughs maniacally and says, "I wish we'd known each other. This is a little awkward.")
Unlike ordinary self-care—getting a massage, for example, or taking a vacation—ultimate self-care does more than just feel good at the time. It changes us. It changes how we see ourselves, it increases our capacity to handle future stress, and it opens up possibilities we didn't see before.
So. What does ultimate self-care look like—and what do those engaged in it do differently? A few thoughts:
- They let go of no-win situations. They don't shirk their moral, ethical or professional responsibilities. But when nothing they do will ever be enough, they give themselves permission to change course. They invest their energy where it will give them a positive return. This starts with letting go of no-win situations (e.g., waiting for someone else to change).
- They invest in themselves: their health, education, skills, and their own capacity to contribute. They welcome opportunities from their employer, but they don't rely on them. They know that opportunities for self-investment are everywhere, including online and at their local library.
- They ask for help. Especially when it comes to caregiving, they know how to enlist much-needed support. (This is one I've learned the hard way: when one person is doing most of the work, it's sometimes due to an unwillingness to delegate. Not always, but sometimes.)
- They set limits. For example, they know how much volunteer work they can comfortably take on and how many nights they're willing to be away from home. They purposely keep a little energy on reserve.
- They take decisive action. It wasn't easy, for example, for my friend Olivia to walk away from her job/paycheck. Other people had to be considered. Even though it was the right move, it was still sad to leave. But she did it because the old situation just wasn't sustainable or even safe. Talk about the ultimate act of self-care.