Now, more than ever, I am realizing just how important it is to balance the things that are important to you. For me, it’s about balancing self care and service. Wanting to help people is in my nature, and it’s part of what I’m meant to do. But over the years, I noticed that whenever I take on too much work or too much energy from others, I get drained very easily. I get burned out and can’t function at 100%. And that’s when I need self care more than ever.
It’s still a practice for me, and will be until it becomes a habit. I was conditioned, much like many other racialized women my age, that taking time away from others to do something for yourself is selfish and wrong – especially if that something is superficial, like getting your nails done or shopping. But these superficial things build our self-esteem and contribute to our well-being, and there’s nothing wrong with letting these little things chip away the brittle, hardened layers. The little things often end up being the big things, after all.
And the big things are important, too. Paying your bills on time, cutting out that project that you just can’t bring yourself to work on, letting toxic relationship go… these are just as if not more important that the little things we do for self care. And these things can be so difficult to do.
Why is that? Why is self-compassion so hard? Why do we over-complicate self care?
I think it’s part socialization and part bad habits. In a fast-paced world where overwork and being too busy to sleep or eat are glorified and signal success, of course taking time off for a vacation or shirking responsibilities for personal time would be considered strange and/or selfish. But self care is the best way to be selfish. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup. You give your best when you’re at your best, after all.
Or can this be different?
Iroh from the Avatar series said, “Sometimes the best way to solve your own problems is to help someone else.”
This may seem counter-intuitive, draining even. I know that you cannot pour from an empty cup, but perhaps my cup is filled whenever I interact with someone who needs my help. Perhaps my cup is filled when I know that I can be of service to others. And I think that for me, when I can’t direct my love and compassion to the things or people I want to direct them to, I need to direct them elsewhere. And it does help. If I can’t put my all into a project because I’m exhausted, or if I can’t fully show someone how much I care, or if there are barriers between me and the very thing I want, I have to make myself turn in another direction.
It works. When I felt heartbreak, I wrote a letter to a good friend and let her know how much she meant to me. When I felt lost, I gave advice to another person. When I was emotionally exhausted, I gave my attention to someone who needed help. And something amazing always happens: I feel better. I feel lighter. I feel like myself again.
Perhaps it’s because I was born to serve others. This journey of service can be a very difficult, draining, and lonely one, but it doesn’t have to be. Those who serve can always find comfort, light, and compassion in others. You receive what you give, after all. But this life of service must be balanced with self care and self compassion. We all deserve the very best, because we give others our best. It’s something I continually strive to believe, that if I can think the world of someone, then I deserve to be thought of in the same way. I deserve the world and all of the goodness it has to offer.