Your health is the most important thing in bringing about the world you are seeking.
We need you to slow down. We the people.
This feels like an impossible task, as you struggle to balance multiple responsibilities and expectations. The plates in the air can only keep spinning with your professional hands. When people are counting on you: people whose lives are often at stake.
Change makers in all our titles, often put our own self-care as an after-thought. Many of us only think about our health when our body shuts-down: forced to because we ignored her painful whispers.
Can you relate?
The world does not need more martyrs
The work, the people, the justice, all comes before our own health. This is preventing us from living out our best lives.
Often our identity and value as human-beings becomes wrapped up in how good we are at our job. The people at home are certainly not interested in you being a Mother Teresa; they want a friend, a daughter, a father, someone to share present moments with. This is not possible when our heads remain in our work, twenty-four hours a day. In the end we get sick and a lot of folks get sick of us.
The world needs you to be healthy in this work because we can’t fight the good fight without you. We do not need martyrs on planet earth, we need you alive. And I mean fully alive: with joy, energy, multiple interests and personalities. To be your beautifully, imperfectly-perfect you. Self-care is key to all of this.
Self-care is not easy
This is all easier said than done.
I am writing as someone who has worked the sixty hour weeks, skipped breakfast and proudly wore the badge that said “no weekends for the past two months”. This unstable work ethic was wrapped up in lots of things. My ego: the work will not last without me. My lack of time for everything else: work was all I had. This was just not true. While my contributions are meaningful and wanted, I am not that important. Recognising that and being disciplined in taking time out to switch off, was hard and necessary for me to thrive as a full human.
Before I started putting my health first, I was the most over-performing unwell and unhappy change maker. Now I look back on that young woman now with loving eyes previously all I felt was shame. I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her to close the lap-top and look up at the sky. That the world is so much bigger and exciting then she could ever imagine.
Lack of representation makes me sick
Managers and directors we need you to listen.
My identity, and the lack of people from backgrounds similar to mine at work, contributed to me shunning self-care. Believing, because I was not of the same class and stature to most of my colleagues, I had something to prove.
Assumptions are made about people with stories like mine; assumptions are made about all of us. Imagine how it feels for those without my privileges in these spaces? I had to work harder, at a cost to my own health: that is what expected when you are born with rough shoulders. To say out loud “I am struggling” felt like weakness. Managerial advice like “all you need is better time management” does not cut it. When society has set the bar higher and the rewards much more difficult to grasp for so many of us, these words do the opposite of support: it makes us sick.
Diary management is not the answer
Self-care delivers us the strength we need to call out racist, sexist and all other prejudice structures working against us.
Taking care of ourselves goes beyond taking control of the diary. It can help, but the reasons for why we burn out are much bigger and deeper than that. Our mental and physical health effects us all in different ways; stressors like racism, socio-economic disparities and discrimination mean that so many of us just “do positive thinking”. At the same time, those discriminations are why so many of us know that we must work harder and longer hours than our white male straight peers. Self-care reminds us that it should not be this way, we become awake to the system around us and we act to profoundly change those systems.
Self-care is a revolutionary act
I stay in justice work because it is full of joy, courage, learning and hope: it is a privilege. I know I am blessed to do what I do and be paid for it. Through a focused effort on self-care, we can continue to thrive and stay in this work.
I want to end sharing a powerful TED-talk by two inspirational women, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison: when black woman walk, things change. These organisers know a lot more than I do about the power of self-care. I hope they can help you find the time for your own.