Self-care always seems to get a bad rap, either downplayed as superfluous fluff or dismissed as straight-up selfish. But for me, self-care has nothing to do with the physical relief that comes from indulgent massages and pretty pedicures. It’s all about the mental relief that comes from meaningful lessons derived through self-help books, meditation sessions and even therapy.
In other words, the self-care I subscribe to feels more like soul care. And I can’t get enough of it.
Perhaps you’re convinced that you don’t have time to learn more about your own feelings, emotions, and mental health because you’re so busy taking care of everyone else’s needs. I mean, who has time to focus on themselves when the dishes need washing, boo boos need healing, fights need resolving, and belated birthday cards need to be sent? Am I right?
But what if I could convince you otherwise?
What if a recent story of a soccer trip with my son Alex (that almost ended in disaster) could prove to you that self-care isn’t selfish? What if I could convince you that taking better care of yourself benefits those around you?
Let’s give it a try.
A few Fridays ago, Alex and I drove six hours from Virginia to North Carolina so he could compete in a highly anticipated series of soccer games in his highly stressful position as goalie on an elite travel team. While Alex isn’t new to his position as goalkeeper, he is very new to this team and the heightened level of talent and competition that comes with it. And since he’s the only goalie with no second-string players waiting in the wings, it’s imperative that he shows up in tip-top shape to every game.
No pressure or anything.
I felt like a responsible parent getting Alex to the hotel on Friday night in time for a solid night’s sleep before his first game the next day. I even patted myself on the back while putting the finishing touch on my hotel cocktail at the ice machine in the lobby. However, my positive, responsible parenting vibe quickly disappeared the next morning when I woke to the sound of Alex’s blood-curdling scream, “I forgot my soccer bag at home!!!!!!!!!”
I may not know a lot about soccer (I’m learning as I go), but I sure know that this situation was bad with a capital B. In that moment, my entire body went from dead asleep to heart-pounding, mind-racing, nausea-inducing dread as I pictured all the humans, we were about to disappoint including coaches, teammates and even my husband.
However, thanks to years of self-help and therapy that taught me the power of loving myself through painful situations, I was able to shift my mood and perspective without any self-flagellation while doing so. And the ultimate benefit? Teaching my son these three valuable lessons in self-compassion along the way.
1. Separate Yourself from Your Mistakes. The catalyst that shifted my outlook from “this is horrible” to “we can handle this” was hearing Alex call himself an “idiot” for leaving the soccer bag at home. Oh, hell no, I thought. No dragon of self-doubt is going to attack my son on my watch.
“Nope. No sir,” I corrected him. “You are not an idiot. You are a bright, driven, talented young boy and we (not you) made a mistake. We will do everything in our power to get out of this predicament, but we will not beat ourselves up while doing it.”
I looked deep into Alex’s disappointed eyes and explained that this was an opportunity to learn how to separate who he is as a human from the mistakes humans make. To be sure his self-esteem stayed intact, I did not shame or blame him (“How could you….”) for the accidental error. Afterall, I was equally responsible, and he felt enough disappointment for the both of us, so piling on more pain was pointless.
Plus, we had less than an hour to find cleats, shin guards, goalie gloves, and Alex’s self-confidence — all of which he needed to beat the best team in the league.
2. Accept, then Act. Another way I was able to hit pause on the horror film playing in both of our minds was by taking a second to teach Alex about the powerful principle of “accept, then act” that I talk about in Slay Like a Mother.
While we were throwing on clothes and shoving breakfast down our throats, I explained to him that it’s pointless to spend our limited time and energy wishing we were not in this situation or that we had done something differently. “No amount of shoulda, coulda, woulda, second guessing or finger pointing is going to make your soccer bag show up,” I told him. We must accept that it’s not here. And it’s from this position of acceptance that we will act.
So, with all our energy focused on moving forward, we decided to find a Dick’s Sporting Goods that was open and buy enough gear to get him through the game.
3. Seek the Silver Lining. As we sped out of the hotel parking lot and toward Dick’s, with only 45 minutes to save the day, I asked Alex to think of three things that did not suck about the situation we found ourselves in.
Even in the darkest moments and most difficult situations, if you force your mind to go to a positive place, I promise there will be joy waiting for you on the other side. Why? Because you can’t be optimistic and frustrated at the same time. It’s a beautiful thing.
Alex was swift with his response: (1) I remembered my uniform which would have been impossible to buy at a store. (2) There is a Dick’s really close to our hotel (3) The store opens at 9am so we can still make it to the game on time.
Boom! Nailed it.
Alex took a deep breath for the first time that morning, and I watched the fear fade from his face as he realized he had the power to focus on good, even in a bad situation. Sure enough, Dick’s had all the equipment my son needed in stock and in his size. In addition, Alex made it to the game on time. His team even won their match on Saturday and again on Sunday.
But winning a soccer game isn’t the point of this story. The ripple effect of self-care is.
You see, the only reason I was able to help my son stay calm and keep his self-image from imploding was because I’ve spent years teaching myself to do the same.
When faced with a mistake of great magnitude, I was able to dig deep and find peace, kindness, and self-compassion inside my soul (rather than self-doubt, shame, and blame), which allowed me to pass on those positive coping mechanisms to my child when he needed them most.
The bottom line? You cannot give away what you do not have inside. So, keep helping yourself to self-help books, blogs, talks, classes, and other soul-nurturing experiences because your evolution and progress has the ability to lift up everyone around you.
See. Not selfish in the slightest.