In the interest of full disclosure, the title of this post is intentionally “click-bait.” For me, “selfish” relates to your relationship to others (lacking consideration for others). What I’m referring to here is more about “self-care” which relates to your relationship to yourself (providing consideration for yourself).
Sometimes I lament that I didn’t get into running earlier in my life. How much better might I feel (and perform) had I figured out how to take care of myself (nutrition, exercise, empowerment) when I was in my thirties or even my twenties?
But I don’t think I could have done it then, and here is why: Taking care of myself requires a level of self-care that I didn’t possess when I was younger. I didn’t even have a concept for this.
I admire women who possess this trait without abandoning their responsibilities – a very tough tightrope to walk. My sister, for example, has 4 pre-school age children (triplets no less), a full-time job as a teacher, is working on her second masters degree and still manages to run regularly and gets in date-night with her husband every week. I’m not sure what she deals with internally to get everything done, but I’m pretty sure it means making tough choices and putting herself first when necessary.
I’ve always struggled with that, frequently working myself sick trying to take care of everyone but myself. The list used to look something like this:
- My daughter
- My partner (when applicable)
- My family
- My job
- My family
- My family (I have a very big family, so there is always someone needing something)
- My close friends
- My colleagues
- Acquaintances, strangers, random people
Sometimes the order changed. There were weeks where my job leapfrogged to the top of the list or when a close friend edged out a family member. What didn’t change is where I was… way, way down at the bottom. Obviously my daughter always came first, but it went so far beyond that; I needed to make sure I was there for friends, family, partners, employers. Often there was nothing left over for me.
But I’m working on changing that paradigm. At this point in my life I’m willing to put myself first and invest time for myself, but I have to think about it and make a conscious decision to put my needs before others. Of course, even today if I have to choose between something for my daughter and something for me, I will still pick her every time. Luckily I’m at a stage in my life and she is at a stage in her life where I don’t have to pick very often. More than that, I’m learning to say no to family, to bosses, even to my bf, when I have to.
Part of my awareness that I needed to invest in self-care occurred because I got seriously sick. I needed to learn to say “no” just to get through that. It was very freeing, but it may have been short-lived once I got healthy. I actually think the fat-acceptance movement was a very important part of moving me to this awareness long-term. As I started to come around to a mindset that I was worth something – in spite of being fat – I also started thinking I was worth taking care of.
Consider training for the NYC marathon. I regularly spend 12, 15, 20 hours or more a week. It isn’t just the hour or three of actual running: There is the getting ready to run and the post run recovery time. (I’ve been known to lay in bed for a few hours after a long run – don’t judge). There is the time spent posting about my runs, time spent researching running, reading about running… I’ve probably spent 20 hours researching GPS watches and I still haven’t bought one. And most of the time I feel like I’m not doing enough.
This is me, post-run. How long I lay there depends on how tough my run was and how much time I have. I always factor the post-run crash when deciding how far to run.
I’ve gotten to the point where I lie about how much time I spend running. They are small lies: “I’m going for a quick run” means I’ll see you in an hour or so. “Going for a long run” means don’t even look for me for the rest of the day. “A short run” can be up to 6 miles and “We can do it after my run” means I’ll probably be late and most likely useless when I get there. I think my BF is on to me. The last time I said “I just need to get in a run first,” he laughed and rolled his eyes. “I know what that means,” he said.
In spite of everything I’ve written here, sometimes I still feel like I’m selfish – putting my own needs above pleasing others. What I’m slowly learning to recognize is that these feelings aren’t true. It isn’t selfish to take care of myself; it’s actually healthy.