Graduate school has taught me about tired. Emotionally tired. Physically tired. Intellectually tired. Spiritually tired. Mentally spent.
The good news is that there are resources out there to help disrupt the exhaustion and lead us on a journey towards being in more sustainable service to others.
When I worked in the corporate world we talked about “work-life balance” often. In 2008 I left my corporate job to respond to the call I felt to work in higher education. I walked away from a lot in making that decision. I distinctly remember a coworker saying to me that she thought I was lucky to get out before I was making so much money that I could not walk away. (In my mind, that was already the case! Leaving so much on the table felt crazy).
When I walked away from that world, I thought I was walking towards something just as much as I was walking away. I was saying yes to caring for myself and others in a way that felt more aligned with my values and my gifts. I was trying my best to honor who I thought I was meant to be. I still believe in that promise, but I would not say I have figured out the “caring for myself” piece yet.
In higher education we don’t talk about balance much. I liken it to more of a nonprofit culture. We choose to be here because we are committed to our work as educators and we give every ounce of ourselves to our students. In a lot of ways this is the expectation. I work harder, with more heart, and for less money.
Let me be clear here. I have no regrets. I will just say that I am still trying to figure out what wellness looks like for me. Fortunately, working in higher education we have models we use to help students build these skills and we can apply them in our own lives as well.
Using the Wellness Wheel as a guide
During my internship at the University of Washington I came across their version of a “wellness wheel” which I offer below:
“Attending” to wellness
Like so many women in helping professions, and others, I know I need to attend to my wellness. I get that it starts with attending to self-care. What does it even mean to “attend to one’s wellness” anyway? Let’s go to the dictionary:
attending present participle of at·tend (Verb)
- Be present at (an event, meeting, or function).
- Go regularly to: “all children are required to attend school”.
– Definition from dictionary.com
Attending to my wellness? Being “present” to my wellness? I’m haphazard at best. I certainly do not “go regularly to” my wellness. My problem is that I do not realize I need to attend to my self-care until I am past my breaking point.
Attending in all dimensions
Little by little I am working towards honoring all seven wellness dimensions in my life:
There are other forms of wellness I might add if I were feeling ambitious: generational wellness, or community wellness come to mind and I hope to write on these more through this blog.
TIME FOR ACTION: What to do?
After trying and failing to get the wellness piece figured out, I have realized two things so far:
- First, I must accept incremental change and believe it has the power to create waves of change over time.
- Second, I need a plan.
Now I will admit, I have drafted a wellness plan and then failed to follow my plan. It is more the norm for me. But even the act of making a plan helps me to open my eyes to what wellness could look like in my life. It helps guide me in knowing what is right action – for me, for my cause, for my future ability to support others through my calling.
Creating a self-care plan
If you are like me, and you struggle to even know what “wellness” might look like, I invite you to check out the Self-Care Starter Kit offered by the University of Buffalo School of Social Work. This helped me assess my own situation and build skills in understanding how to apply the various dimensions of self-care in my own life.
As I mentioned, I have not yet arrived with my wellness. However, I talk openly with others about how I am trying to attend to my wellness, even when it is hard. I have the awareness now to realize when I am out of alignment and giving too much of myself to my work, home life, and personal relationships. I am working hard to un-learn the socialization I received around what it means to be a woman who wants to help others in this country. I am beginning to see a middle way where I do not have to give up my whole self in order to be of service to others.
Nothing is harder for me than taking care of myself… which is why having a plan makes so much sense! Just like being tired perpetuates itself, I am learning that making good self-care choices builds momentum over time. This is what it means to “attend” to oneself. It is about being present to my wellness and going regularly to my wellness. It is checking in with myself frequently to assess how I am doing. It is fighting the way I am socialized to ignore my own voice calling out for time, for space, for exercise, for fresh air and sunshine and whole foods and idleness.
Attending is a practice
It is in the act of attending to wellness that the magic happens. Writing up a plan is important. But change happens through small, painful stumbles that begin with good intentions. It happens slowly. It happens each time I choose to hear that small voice inside me instead of silencing her.
Without a plan it is much easier to succumb to the status quo. So while I may feel like a phony for having to revisit the process of creating wellness plans and then watching myself fail miserably at them, this process is actually a way for me to practice attending to myself. Like with any change, it hurts… even when when it is change our very bones are calling out for!
- What might I need to give up in order to invite in more wellness in my life? What would that look like for me?
- What might I lose in the process?
- What signals does my body give me when I am approaching my limit? In what ways have I ignored them in the past?
- What is one thing I can do today to start attending to my wellness?
Audre Lorde quote and image from http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/audre+lord