People say that distance makes the heart grow fonder. I have found that to be absolutely true, but there is certainly more to it. Distance can also make the heart grow better, stronger, lighter, and healthier. I had the amazing opportunity to spend the last two months away from home working an incredible summer internship. During the rest of the year, I am a PhD student and I have a doctoral internship in student affairs. For those of you who don’t know what “student affairs” is, it’s basically the departments within colleges and universities that handle things like housing, leadership groups, student government, and plenty of other areas.
At my school, I work in the housing department and I serve as the doctoral intern for sustainability. It’s basically the best job ever with the best co-workers and the best benefits. Plus, I get to work with the best students ever. In short, my job rocks. What doesn’t rock is that I work a million hours a week. Between reading academic journals, taking classes, administering surveys and coding data for my research, working on sustainability initiatives, attending seminars and conferences, and serving on a duty rotation for residence hall emergencies, I run myself ragged every week. And so does everyone else in my department. We all have a 30-item to-do list every day. And another list for every other day that week. And you know what? We’re all fucking rock stars at getting shit done. But, across the board, we consistently leave one thing off our to-do lists: self care.
Two simple words that could make everyone’s lives more whole and healthy. Two words that we often forget about that mean the difference between surviving and thriving. I learned a great deal about self care this summer and my biggest goal for this upcoming school year is to incorporate the self care habits I picked up during my summer away.
My experience this summer gave me all the tools I need to be a healthier and happier human. You like that alliteration? So now I just need to continue to feel this way by strategically incorporating values and habits into my everyday life.
If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you know that I’m big on lists. Bullet points. Bolded subheads. Numbered lists. I can’t help myself. So, here’s a Classic Me List of the values and habits and goals (oh my!) that I would like to incorporate into my life.
Set realistic and simple goals
This one is so straightforward and it is what most often stopped me from reaching goals I set. Now I understand what realistic goals look like. Instead of setting a goal to “run a 9:30 mile by the end of the summer,” I set a goal to “run everyday” this summer. I don’t know why I set such unrealistic goals for myself in the past. And they were also dumb. I had a goal to lose 20 pounds. I had a goal to go down to a size 8. I had a goal to run a marathon. I was always looking ahead and never focusing on the present. All my lofty goals were admirable and I tried hard to not be vain when setting them, but thoughts of the future always blocked me from seeing everything I could change about right now.
How I’m going to implement this in my day-to-day life: When I’m coming up with new goals, I’m going to rely on the unmatched wisdom of Ice Cube. My mantra will be “Check yo self before you wreck yo self.” If my goal is to clean my apartment this Tuesday, I can check myself and realize I’m certainly not going to clean the kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedroom, and do all my laundry and folding. I can pick a couple areas and clean them on Tuesday and then a couple more areas and get to them the next day I have some free time. If my goal is to get fit, I’m going to set more reasonable goals than to “lose 20 pounds.” Instead my goal can be to feel good. Anything that doesn’t make me feel good is then out of the picture. And yea, Drunk Me, this includes late night feta fries and pizza. Now that I have the self control to monitor such a goal, I feel confident that I can stick with it.
Think of yourself AND others, sometimes in that order
Student affairs professionals are often times guilty of putting themselves last… like, dead last. This quality is admirable, selfless, and incredibly detrimental to personal health and well-being. We can’t always think of others’ needs before ours. Up until now, I would overextend myself socially and professionally, but for what? To prove myself? To show others I can do it all? Though I don’t have time to complete an analysis of the decisions I made and why I made them, I know for sure that no reason is ever good enough to forget about my needs—within reason, of course. I don’t need to have something on my (perfectly organized and beautiful) planner for every night of the week. Some nights I can just call up a friend to meet for drinks… or have a night in to clean my apartment and paint my freaking nails… or whatever else I damn please. At the end of the (over-planned) day, I just need to remember that my time doesn’t belong to anyone else. I have the last say in what I do with my precious and wonderful time and my decisions from this point forward will reflect how highly I value self-care.
How I’m going to implement this in my day-to-day life: I will need to remind myself of this one, likely more than any other goal I ever set. I have already practiced a few times and I have noticed something that works without fail: honesty. I can be transparent with people and say things like “I need a night for self-care” or “I’m a little run down from this week, let’s grab coffee tomorrow instead of hanging out tonight so I can actually have fun with you.” With simple, honest statements like those, I get to express myself to a friend or co-worker and they completely understand why I’m not able to hang out or help out.
Plan to be spontaneous
You didn’t think I could just be spontaneous, did you? Even if you don’t know me personally, you can tell I’m as Type A and planned as they come. I overanalyze and overthink and make decisions as rationally as possible. The thing is, I have more fun when I don’t know what I’m going to do with my day and I just decide as I go along. Crazy, right? I know. Spontaneity has lead to some of the most glorious and adventure-filled days of my life.
How I’m going to implement this in my day-to-day life: It’s not realistic to be spontaneous every day, or even every week for that matter. I just need to be able to SAY YES. I wasn’t trying to make any reference to that Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man,” but it happened so let’s go with it—he kind of had the right idea in that movie anyway. I’m just going to make sure I look at my calendar as a week and not as separate days so that I can plan ahead to have a day or a few hours where I’m not doing anything. I can use that time go on a hike, drink wine with a friend, try a yoga class, or go on a freaking date.
These are just a few lessons I learned this summer and I have plenty more where that came from. I can’t wait to share more in my next post. Until then, does anyone else have any perspective to share on how to live well and focus on self-care?