Two weeks ago, I decided to take a week away from work – I was on the verge of burnout and I could feel that even one more week of forcing myself to push on was going to set me back further than it moved me forwards. For weeks I’d felt stuck, unsure where to turn and I needed some time for deep self care and reflection.
A week off was welcome respite from what felt like banging my head against a wall.
But, as the week progressed, I found myself feeling uneasy. At first, I couldn’t place it – I was doing all the right things, taking care of myself, allowing myself to rest – I should be feeling less anxious, not more!
Then, I had a conversation with a friend who was also taking some time off from their own work.
“It’s been a much needed week off,” they said, “I’ve come up with so many ideas for the business! I guess it’s true what they say – time away does wonders.”
And just like that, I knew what that uneasy feeling was – it was expectation, mixed with disappointment.
Expectation that, by doing all the ‘right things’ on my week off, not only would I feel better, but I’d also come away having had some kind of epiphany about how to get around that wall I’d been banging my head against.
And it was disappointment that it wasn’t happening that way.
Some part of me had gone into this week off not looking to recover, or allow my body to rest and my mind to calm. It had gone into this week expecting that by doing those things, I’d come out with the answers I’d so been craving. That by taking care of myself, I’d become more productive.
It reminded me of something I’d heard Tamu Thomas say a few weeks ago:
“…when we use our self care for productivity only, what we’re saying to ourselves is, inadvertently, we only deserve to look after ourselves if we’re gonna get a result. We deserve to look after ourselves because we deserve to look after ourselves.”
Now, this is something core to the work I do online – self-care isn’t a productivity tool! But here I was, going into a period of intense self care expecting to get something out of it at the end. Hoping that by doing all the ‘right things’, I’d end up with the epiphany I’d been hoping for.
And I know I’m not alone in this. For sure, sometimes taking time to care for ourselves does lead to some interesting insights. Time away can give your brain space to make connections it wouldn’t make when forced.
But it doesn’t mean you should be using self-care to get to those insights. It isn’t something you do with an end goal in mind at all – other than that you have engaged in some caring for yourself. Even going into it with the expectation of ‘feeling better’ at the end means you are, in some way, prescribing an outcome.
Self care is something you deserve, full stop. You don’t deserve it because you’ve been any particular way (“I’ve worked hard so I deserve a bath”), or because it will bring any particular outcome (“Taking a week off will make me more productive”). You deserve the bath even if you haven’t ‘worked hard’ (and that concept is a whole topic for another time…). You deserve to take care of yourself even if it has no chance of making you ‘more productive’.
When you tie self-care to a pre-requisite or outcome, it just becomes another tool in the capitalism arsenal. It stops being the wonderful, radical act that it is, and becomes another way to extract more and more from yourself.
I’ve talked before about how, when I talk about self-care, I don’t mean bubble baths and spa days. Self-care that you have to buy isn’t the kind of self-care I genuinely believe is a powerful, world-changing force. And the same goes for when you become that product – exchanging self-care for productivity, or epiphany, or insight.
So, how do you combat this idea that our self-care needs to be justified?
By noticing when you’re doing it, offering yourself forgiveness and compassion, and gently beginning the work of untying your worth from your productivity (you know, that super simple action).
When you notice those feelings popping up, whether it be of deserving to care for yourself, or expectation attached to it, offer yourself some compassion. Remind yourself that you deserve to care for yourself purely because you exist, and nothing more.
Practice it, too – actively bring self-care into your day that isn’t tied to anything at all. Take a nap, even when you’ve done nothing else all day. Lie on the sofa watching planning videos, even when your task list isn’t finished. Have a socially-distanced coffee with a friend, even when you didn’t hit that deadline.
The times we take care of ourselves because we deserve care from ourselves are the times that become stepping stones to untying our worth from what we produce. These are the expansive actions that allow us that space to grow.
There is still a part of me that wishes I’d come out of this with some grand epiphany, for sure. But instead of giving in to it, or admonishing it, I’m letting it be. Giving it some kindness and compassion, accepting its existence without worrying too much about it.
And, bit by bit, it’s retreating and the care I am giving myself is becoming less and less tied to it.
Remember that figuring this shit out is a process. You are deserving of giving it your time – regardless of what you did today, or might do tomorrow.
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