Last year I made an abrupt left turn in my career and at the same time, an abrupt decision – I vowed to give up the news. All of it. The daily paper, the 6:00pm update, even the Letterman notations about the odd comings and goings we all share. I decided that it was best if I kept my energy, and my thoughts, focused on something positive and something for me. While it has worked well and kept my focus off our daily grind, it feels odd, like I am sitting at the rest stop on the side of the road, while everyone is speeding on by.
So, on this sunny, chilly morning, I decided that maybe I was making a mistake and because I wasn’t ‘in the groove’ could become the bumbling middle aged lady on the block with a stale sameness about her. (Admittedly, part of this stems from my huge fear of getting older and living in an apartment with a ceramic Christmas tree, clothes I’ve worn for over 15 years, meals that consist of food from a can and a few cats that talk incessantly.) I picked up the paper and true to form, the news was just awful. ‘One of their own’ kills 13 at Ft. Hood, unemployment now impacts 1 in 10, and there is a vibrant college junior missing with pleas for help from her distraught family. Those three headlines came with just a quick glance.
And those stories are just from my little corner of the world. Bad things happen in all states, countries, continents. But there is another side to this. Turn this over and see what you get. There is beauty and calm in the smallest of events that we don’t read about or experience. Take my quick glance at the paper. While these awful things were happening, at the very same moment, a baby was born, love was made, hands were held, a diagnosis provided fabulous news, a couple became engaged, someone got their dream job and life moved along it’s path.
Looking for the good doesn’t negate the bad, it doesn’t mean you don’t care or you don’t empathize. It does mean that there is another way. And so today, I realized that again, it’s all up to me. I feel better about my decision to put the news away. My personal choice is to lean into the good, to remember that we all get our share of junk to haul and that life indeed, is beautiful. I know this sounds trite and silly but it’s so true and so overlooked. It’s almost like you need a special pair of glasses to find the good and see the beauty. As they say, it takes just as much energy to be in a good mood as a bad one, to be positive as to be negative and to be happy as it does to be sad.
With the energy and focus I have, my choice is to go for the good. Why the hell not? It sure leaves you feeling better than after you’ve swum down into the depths of the awful. Take heart, enjoy the day and find the good. It’s there, I promise.
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Why is it so hard for us to take time for ourselves? For many of us, it's hard to remember that we too, are human, and we seem to apologize for doing anything outside of the norm - anything that involves time for us is considered a huge gift. And yet anything that involves time for us should be considered essential.
The very simple answer is that it all starts with self. Humanity 101 begins with our inner core - it begins with the awareness that we count, that we need to take care of US and that we need to give ourselves the permission to do so. Indeed, if this is so very simple, then why is this so very hard?
My sense is that it's about the permission, the permission to take care of you and be free from any one of the following:
WORK and PRODUCTIVITY - This is a huge challenge for some as many are defined by their work. They pride themselves on productivity and brag about the hours worked during the day or a lack of vacation taken, boasting about how 'they haven't had a week off in years and when they do take time off, they work at the house!'. This is not only out of balance but hardly something to point out. Taking time for you is not a bad thing, it's a necessary thing.
FAMILY ROLES - Permission also comes in the form of letting go of what's been given to us. The family expectations that come from the role we were given, or that we happily took - create the self sacrificing model. The caretakers that do for everyone but themselves are at risk of imploding. It's time to let go of the expectations and lean into what is good for us, not what is necessarily good for everyone else.
THE SOCIETY PUSH - you've heard it before, you aren't going to win any awards by giving to everyone without taking care of you and if you take this a step further, it's really your job to manage all aspects of you - the spiritual, physical, mental, emotional and financial.
The bottom line is that it's not possible to be the loving, productive and centered mate/friend/worker/partner/mom/dad/sis/bro/caretaker/you-fill-in-the-blank for someone else, until you have done this for yourself.
NUTTY EXPECTATIONS - this is my favorite as I suffered from this for years - the demands I put on myself to have everything 'just so' created challenges for me, by me. I think we are the hardest on ourselves with much of this - 'I shouldn't buy this for me because I might not use it', even though we would do this for someone else and we really enjoy it, we try to talk ourselves out of it. Or the 'I am hosting a party and have to have the house perfect and make all of the food by hand so it's super good' even though it stresses me out, takes time from my kids or spouse and adds to my daily burden, even though all of this is evident, WE choose this. How silly and yet how normal. We all try so dam hard to be good, to be the best, and to please. If we are the ones that have these expectations, then we are the ones that can let them go. Ha! Brilliant!
I was discussing this issue of self care with a coworker last night. She was feeling bad about leaving work for a few weeks for some personal time off. Not time off for something that seemed substantial like world travel or play or even time for relatives but time for her and her alone. Why that would be considered selfish or unnecessary is beyond me. There really is no way to be anything to anyone until you take care of you.
Now this taking care of you means a variety of things to a variety of people - it can mean anything from daily runs or yoga three times a week, to reading the New York Times on Sunday to buying the latest clothes to making sure you are with your extended family for every holiday. Taking care of you is as individual as we are. There is no set formula for taking care of 'self', and often when we do walk this path of selfcare, it comes with a ton of self doubt.
I am not sure if this is a cultural issue or not, but I suspect so. Ever hear of women in Europe and how they regularly schedule 'holiday' for spa, facial, etc.? Ever see the ratings on the happy quotient and the noted favorite countries to live? Hint - America is never on the list. Many of us work hard, push ourselves and often value work and money more than love and friendship. It seems that we apologize for the basics of self-care ("I am so sorry I am sick, but no worries, I'll call in today and check on things") which puts us further behind the eight ball in terms of taking care of 'us' and our mental and physical health.
Time for you and subsequently taking care of you, is your gift not only to you but also to those you care about. The airlines have figured this one out, 'in the case of an emergency, please put your oxygen mask on first so you can attend to your child'. So let go of the 'I should do this' or 'not sure about taking care of myself and doing that' rambles - just do it - take time for you. This is, afterall, Humanity 101.
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