Earning my Maser of Social Work prepared me to do an alarming list of things, including but not limited to:
-working as a resource broker between client and community resources
-managing and applying for grants
-writing mission statements and establishing a board of directors
-skillfully working alongside someone as a therapist
-diagnosing mental health disorders, which can alter the course of a person's life by allowing them disability benefits, or barring them from owning firearms or adopting a child, as just a few examples.
It's a heady time, graduating with your MSW. You feel like you can do it all, but also you have no experience doing any of it. But I would stare at my bookshelf and remind myself that I spent two years learning something, didn't I? I had this.
And I did have it. I had a few things. All of those skills, the student debt to prove it, letters after my name and the promise of more as my career marched forward, and a bookshelf literally bowing under the weight of what I had read. What I didn't have was a self-care practice.
Self-care wasn't really the buzzword it is today when I was in graduate school. Certain professors would tell us we should all have a therapist if we were going to be therapists. They would add perhaps as an afterthought or addendum, “Oh, and you really need to take care of yourselves too.” But there wasn't a class about it, or even a day-long seminar, and for those of us who focused more on the policy, fundraising, or community organizing realm of the profession? Forget it. A lot of graduate school was cheerleading the profession, amping us up for a long and meaningful career. And it worked. I had so many moments of feeling like I had found my people, and my place in the world, and that it was the end of some Cinderella story where the prince was actually a career.
But Walt Disney often leaves us at the wedding scene, the search over, the swell of music leading us to believe it only goes up from here. But just like a marriage, a career takes work to make the long haul. And for those of us in the trenches with others, a little “premarital counseling” would go a long way.
When I started my training and consulting business, I thought my most requested training would be Sex Ed 101. That's my expertise, what I've been doing the longest, and the thing that gets attention at cocktail parties. But my most requested trainings have been around self-care. As little as we know about healthy sexuality in our culture—and the CDC recently felt compelled to release a statement letting people know they should not reuse condoms--it seems we may know even less about functioning healthily in the world each day. That is scary. And yet, here we are. Anti-depressant and anti-anxiety meds are prescribed at an alarming rate, the self-help industry flourishes, people in the helping professions turn to the same self-medicating substances our clients use. When a term like “self-care” comes along, we are so divorced from the concept that we co-opt it to mean anything but. Search #selfcare and you will find a lot of alcohol. Baked goods. Expensive spa days. Grand vacations. Netflix binging. Call off work for repeated "mental health days." And while all of these things have their time and place, we need to have a conversation about self-care versus self-indulgence and, really, self-sabotage.
Starting the Self-Care Conversation
Just like any practice, we need to start with the fundamentals.
-Identify activities that you enjoy and make time for them. Hold that time on your calendar like you would any other important meeting.
-Realize that you are the instrument of your work. I read a book about professional sommeliers once and those folks give up so many other tasty and olfactory experiences in order to keep their pallets pristine for wine tasting. Professional athletes adhere to strict diets and exercise plans so their body can perform. How can you take care of your instrument?
-Practice saying no to demands that don't serve you. And if you're introverted like me, you may have the opposite problem. Our assignment then is to...
-Practice saying yes. To your friend who invites you to yoga, to the free movie in the park, to walking the dog when it is easier to hit snooze.
-If you manage people, make sure your staff knows self-care is a priority, and model that for them. You can say it on a loop but if they get emails from you when you have the flu or hours after giving birth (true story from my professional life!), they won't feel empowered to claim it.
-Self-care is a practice. Like a therapists practice, or a physicians practice, or a religious practice. We show up to it over and over again. Sometimes we fail. But we come back the next day.
-Check out seek&summon's self-care workshop, It Is Hard Being a Person.
Developed as a two hour workshop, it can be expanded to a half day, full day, and coupled with a self-care assessment for your organization. We discuss the differences between self-care, -indulgence, -avoidance, and -sabotage.We develop a plan to help us differentiate, and identify what real care looks like, and how to capitalize on it. Feeling like you really want to go for it? Add a yoga class for your team. And check out this upcoming community event, It Is Hard Being A Person: Self-Care and Journaling.