You Are Not a Self-Improvement Project
Recently I was leading a women’s self-renewal retreat on the east coast for type A go-getters who love to excel at everything they tackle. When I shared about my self-care journey—a recovering perfectionist, oldest of seven, overachieving control freak who didn’t learn to befriend myself until around age 35—a woman in our circle piped up. She lamented that she’s read three books on self-care, but keeps “failing” at getting in shape after going through a tough year as a caregiver to her mother.
Her story got me thinking how so many people I meet have a misguided sense about the concept of self-care.
I often hear a lot of “shoulds,” and many women I meet confess they downright suck at self-care.
As a life balance coach/teacher, I have studied, explored, and taught self-care to men and women for more than 20 years, and I can wholeheartedly share that self-care is NOT about:
• Fixing yourself or turning yourself into a self-improvement project
• Trying to become a better person who “has it all together” or who keeps their New Year’s resolutions
• Being perfect or doing what our parents, friends, or the media say we should do to be our best (for example: going gluten-free or having a flat stomach)
• Striving to be worthy through accomplishing more or adhering to society’s list of “shoulds” around parenting, relationships, or (fill in the blank)
• Spending a bunch of money on services or products that are supposed to make us more fit, beautiful, smart, etc.
Self-care isn’t a goal you strive for. And it’s not about becoming YOU Version 2.0. It’s about meeting yourself where you are with a soft and open heart. It’s believing “my ordinary self is enough.” It’s feeling safe enough to show up in the world 100 percent you and inherently giving others permission to do the same.
Self-care is about attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make a mistake, being compassionate with yourself when you bump up against your faults, and treating yourself with the same love and tenderness you would have for a four-year-old who has had a really hard day. It’s not about adding something to your to-do list or cracking the whip.
The true art of self-renewal is about cultivating a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself and asking for the nurturing and nourishment you need—whether that’s a hug or a kale smoothie.
It’s knowing that YOU have your back. And that no matter what you say, do, or flub, you will not abandon yourself.
Renée Peterson Trudeau taught “Embracing the Wild Unknown” in April of 2018 at 1440 Multiversity.