Illustration by Emily Mann
Putting yourself first
Among our million and one things to do, we forget to do something for ourselves.
March 10, 2016. The room is filled with 99 other students who are “just like me.” A cold, blurry, dark auditorium to me was a lively, happy, celebratory gathering for everyone else. Shaking, dizzy, exhausted, and migraine ridden, I sat with as much attention I could muster on Dr. Arnel’s voice describing the other “high achieving,” “academically excellent,” “incredibly charismatic,” and “undeniably impactful” students.
I sat, I listened, but the whole time I was miserable, exhausted, sick, and near my wit’s end. I sat, I wondered how can these people be “just like me” when I don’t even know who “me” is? I had spent so much time trying to be perfect I had forgotten who I was.
I had forgotten who I was because “who I was” was poured into every single pot on the stove: grades, responsibilities, clubs, family, sports, friends – and when I looked in the pot labeled “Self,” it was bone dry. And in that moment I had realized I was slowly ruining myself, throwing away my hard work with every sleepless night. I had neglected myself to the point of deterioration, which, ironically enough, was keeping me further and further from my goals.
I wondered to myself: how I had gotten to this point? I thought surely if I really was so “great” I would have known better. Other people seem to work so seamlessly from sunrise to sunset without taking time to breathe. Surely, I had to do just that if I ever wanted to be good enough; surely this breaking point was just a one-time thing. Except it is not a one-time thing.
Abandoning yourself and your needs and expecting a flourishing ideal future is like planting a seed, giving it no water, and hoping for it to bloom: it is impossible. However, while unrealistic, this idea is all too common among us. Whether this idea was instilled within you in childhood, whether it is something you’ve picked up as of late to keep up with your valedictorian best friend, or whether it is something you can’t remember living without — it is never too late to move past this idea. It is never too late to grow into a better version of yourself. It is never too late to put yourself first.
In fact, putting self care at the end of the to-do list will only leave the preceding tasks in shambles. The key to bettering yourself and the things you produce is understanding you must spend time elsewhere – you must spend time on yourself. It is important to know you can still be great, you can still be achieving and simultaneously put yourself first without being selfish, without letting your grades slip, without being a failure. There is a balance, and without this balance your health and your achievements will remain on either scale, one always toppling over and sinking down, skyrocketing the other and vice versa.
Perfection is not real, so the notion that working relentlessly, stringing yourself out to attain perfection does not make sense. Putting yourself to such high, unattainable standards leaves you with no time for the things that matter: self-care. This is where we are failing ourselves.
Letting the fear of not being good enough and the desire to be the absolute best only leaves you at the end of the your rope if you continue down that route — going 100 mph in a race against everything and everyone to be the “best” and trying super hard all the time isn’t human really, and it is so impractical. By devoting yourself to all of the wrong things you are working so hard to be great and you are forgetting you are a person who is worth more than that; worth more than grades and perfection and this only leaves you feeling miserable. It is imperative to recognize that you deserve time and care, and in the long run that will get you so much further in every aspect than trying to be perfect ever will.
Self-care is not exclusively green face masks and purple bubble baths or homemade granola and yogurt bowls watching your favorite netflix series. It is not solely a passing trend on social media, or a silly joke between you and your friends.
And truthfully, it does not matter which body or form the self-care takes on, what matters is it is there and it is executed correctly. It is one thing to say you are incorporating more self-love and self-care into your life, and it is another to actually put forth effort into getting the most out of the experience. It does not matter if your go-to break is an extra 10 minutes in the shower or a smoothie instead of water – self-care does not have to be elaborate hours of planning and devotion to yourself, it can be any small or big act that brings you happiness.
The important thing to remember, though, is you have to indulge completely into this and remind yourself to breathe and surrender entirely to whatever that act of love may be. If you read a book, wrapped in your favorite blanket, but allow your mind to wander elsewhere, dwelling on everything but the betterment, reward, and relaxation for yourself, then you are defeating the purpose and nothing will improve.
It is vital to one’s success, one’s well-being, one’s happiness to recognize, “I deserve a break every now and again.” That “I am more than a pawn to make all of the perfect moves”. It is detrimental for others to realize they can be both successful and treat themselves with love and respect. It is not weak, it is not selfish, it is not a setback from where you want to be; it is instead the sole thing that will fling you closer to greatness — giving yourself time to grow, to heal, to rest and recharge to come back better than ever.
Self-care is a matter of sickness and wellness, a matter of failure or success, a matter of happiness or sadness, and it is time we start treating it as such.