Whenever we talk about making a difference, we aim the effort toward external entities…. “the world,” “the lives of others,” etc. While I won’t deny that this is noble and often necessary, what I will say is that we aren’t entirely getting the point. Instead, we have a whole separate term for making a difference in your own life: self-care. It still isn’t the same thing, though, especially considering it more often translates into a misconstrued catch-all for any solitary behavior– beneficial of otherwise.
This first hit me when I was thinking about time management… kinda. I was thinking about how I always end up sabotaging myself to some extent by not simply doing what needs to be done in the time I have to do it. Further, how we cling to the idealized versions of certain activities while neglecting important ones and building in an inherent repulsiveness to them that may or may not actually even be present. We decide to do what we think we should be able to do or want to be able to do, and that any distance between that and our current reality is cause for distress. Downfall # 1 of “self-care:” we miscalculate what will bring us benefit and make us happy. Sometimes, even, it’s that we overattribute a specific activity to whatever feeling it’s commonly associated with. That feeling when you’re watching Netflix while procrastinating on a major paper and have finals next week that you’ve yet to study for? That’s not the feeling of relaxation and enjoyment– it’s stress, and it’s only growing with each passing episode.
I had a dance course in university that met twice a week and, at the beginning of every class, each student had to show a new 1-minute solo. Under the guise of an assignment and another task in my agenda I dreaded this. It wasn’t even having to silently move around in the space in front of the entire class for a minute– I mean, all of us were in the same boat. It was the mindset surrounding it that made me completely avoid putting any time into it. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? To be completing some level of a post-secondary degree in dance yet… not want to dance? It wasn’t until we reconvened at the end of class one day and my professor reminded us that this was supposed to feel good and feel freeing that I finally remembered “hey, I get a chance to create and try cool things and move and have people see my creation before I let it go… that’s pretty awesome!”
That is what made me think that maybe we need to reframe a bit.
For the past 6 years or so, I’ve continued to keep a folder of things that I find uplifting: pictures students draw for me, letters from friends, and even things like exam scores. Whenever I feel really down or lost I look through it to recenter myself and try to feel better. This time when I spread out its contents, I wondered if it conceited to keep things like exam scores in this folder. Why do I need to be reminded that I’m smart? or successful? One of the exam scores in the folder was from my first university exam. While it’s not a mark to scoff at, I’ve since managed to maintain consistently higher grades… So why keep it? That’s when I realized that it wasn’t the scores that mattered to me, but the reminder that I am capable, even though I rarely feel that way. That, while I often feel scared and unsure, I maintian the ability to show up in my own life and use what I learn in a way that leads me to be successful. It completes the folder: how I make a difference in the lives of others, and how I make a difference in my own life.
So continue to show up for others but remember to show up for yourself, too. Allow yourself to find joy in the process, and don’t be swayed by the apparent apathy of the masses (trust me, people just like to feel included). Dive deep and find your own expansion… Sometimes, you need to step outside, get some air, and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be.
Be gentle and give yourself grace, always.