Is Self-Care Really Selfish?

I have to give my sister credit for inspiring this week’s article. She just wrote a book on successful working women, the challenges they face in making marriage work, and how to overcome them. As we talked about common themes that we see in our respective worlds working with high performing women, we talked about the difficulty women have with the concept of self-care.

We discussed that women often confuse self-care with selfishness. As a woman you might think, “How could I possibly take time for ME right now when there’s so much to do and others rely on me?” In this view of the world, self-care is a luxury, a “nice-to-have.” A man, on the other hand, knows that self-care allows him to keep going so he CAN provide the support others need from him. In this view of the world, self-care is a “must have” that provides energy. That doesn’t mean a man will put himself first no matter what. However, he is much less likely to confuse self-care with selfishness.

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At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is energy management. Resist the temptation to keep giving and giving without taking enough time to renew your own energy. As you may know from firsthand experience, it can lead to burnout or resentment pretty quickly.

So, I want you to think about what you will do for yourself this week, to give yourself that essential energy you need to stay productive and avoid burnout. Here are some ideas that came from a group of executive women at the Greater Houston Partnership and a group I facilitate at Shell.

1. Say no to something you really don’t want to do.

Whether it’s a personal or professional request, resist the temptation to say yes to something you do not want to do – and know you shouldn’t be doing. If you feel guilty about saying no, you can always help the person find another resource to help. Remember that this task could be a good developmental opportunity or exposure for someone else.

2. Get exercise without putting any judgment around it.

You might just have 15 minutes to exercise so adopt the mindset that 15 minutes is better than nothing. If exercise gives you energy, make the most of whatever time you have by taking a quick walk, going for a short run, grabbing some dumbbells, or doing a few pushups and sit-ups.

3. Give yourself time to decompress before you walk into the house.

Take time to transition out of work mode, so you can leave work stress at the office. Do something to deliberately make that shift, whether you sit in the car for a few minutes to get the solitude you need before you immerse yourself into a house full of children, or just don’t take that conference call on the drive home.

If you are someone who regularly put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, identify one step you will take this week to take care of yourself – so you CAN be there for others. Remember that self-care isn’t selfish.