Knowing Your Limits
Several months ago Together Oklahoma invited me to write a blog about the importance of self care for advocates, and at the time I eagerly agreed. We had just finished the 2016 state legislative session and everyone was exhausted, including myself. I knew I had done a terrible job at self care - Let's Fix This began more-or-less on accident and blossomed more quickly than I had ever imagined. In response, I gave it my all without consideration for what it would mean for my physical or mental health. By the time the legislature proclaimed sine die near the end of May, I had a full-blown sinus infection, middle school-grade acne, and a sleep debt that could only be counted on both hands and feet. I was the poster child for "How not to take care of yourself."
Here's the deal: If we're honest with ourselves, we really do know our own limits - we just choose to ignore them and rationalize that whatever it is we're doing is more important, thereby justifying our self neglect for the sake of the greater good. Friends, I'm here to tell you that nobody believes that lie. Not your friends, not your family, not your own flesh. Burning the candle at both ends means you run out of light more quickly, and that doesn't help the cause whatsoever. What we all do believe is that taking care of yourself is not just advisable, it is downright necessary. There are dozens of TED talks that document it and articles that explain how to do it. Heck, the University of Buffalo School of Social Work even has a free, online Self-Care Starter Kit that you can use (and you should).
Some of you may know that my background is actually in mental health, not politics. (Hence the emphasis on the "regular people" theme with LFT.) I've been a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) for nearly 10 years, and during that time I've treated hundreds of people for a wide range of issues, including the ever-popular: "Trying to do too much stuff all at once" phenomenon. It's an increasingly common ailment in today's busier-than-thou world: we try to be everything to everyone, all the time. Our society values busyness and stress; we measure others' worth by how many hats they wear, on how many boards they serve, and on their ability to be seen at all the important events in town. And we fail, miserably, all the time.
We fail because that's not the way it should be. I confess that I'm absolutely guilty of perpetually overextending myself. For example, in addition to running Let's Fix This, I'm a single father, I have a demanding full-time job, and I'm also pursuing my MBA at the OU Price College of Business. I try to rationalize all these things by saying that LFT was an accident, school won't last forever, and someday I'll have an amazing job that allows me the freedom and flexibility to take breaks and vacations whenever I want while also saving the world during the work week. That's a lie, and both you and I know it.
So here's my challenge to you: Do less stuff. I mean it. Say "no" more often. You know your limits, and you need to adhere to them. Choose one night each week to spend with your favorite person, whether that is your spouse, significant other, BFF, child, grandparent, whomever - just make it happen. (On a related note, go visit your grandparents. My grandma lives 10 minutes away and I'm terrible about this, but I'm pledging right now, publicly, that I am committed to improving that.) I promise you, it's much easier to stick to a plan that you've made in advance than it is to try to simply "wing it" each week.
I promise you - once you've said "no" to a few things, you'll start to understand (and appreciate) the value in doing so. Freeing up one or two nights a week means you can spend more time with the person(s) that matter most to you...and that can most certainly include you. There is no shame in unplugging and choosing to be alone for a bit. Whether you want to exercise, sew, take a bath, read a book, watch a movie, play video games, etc., the point is, doing something for yourself that takes your mind off of work (or "work") will invariably make you feel better and make you more productive once you return.