About a month ago, I was a blubbering mess. Everything in my life was seemingly going well, but I felt restless and dissatisfied from within and I couldn’t work out why. I even tweeted a few HELP ME statuses that I deleted, yet not before a friend of mine saw them and reached out to me, asking if I was alright. I tried explaining to her how I was swamped. How really, there was nothing wrong, but I was just feeling swamped and somewhat vulnerable to the world. We had an open conversation and I realised I’ve been doing this self care thing all wrong. In fact, I hadn’t been doing it at all.
Self care; those words that get hashtagged at the end of an seemingly indulgent Instagram photo so we feel we are justified in doing whatever pleasurable experience or activity we photographed. And that is important. Pleasure is important. Having a day off and going to the spa is important. But I was making self-care into another task on my to-do list, without setting aside time for it. I was working harder, not smarter, because society applauds women who are able to work 5 days a week, keep house, husband and still look fabulous. (“NO IT DOESN’T”, I hear you scream. Yes, it does. Read this article).
I had been working harder because I thought ‘working smarter’ was just another one of those trends that sound good but make no sense. I had been working harder because that has been my motto ever since I was a teenager, mapping out exactly the amount of degrees I would do and in what and what jobs they’d lead me to, because I believed that’s what I had to do if I was to ‘make something of myself’. I’ve been seeing fun as instant gratification, and working hard as future gratification that I can cash in later. Except the harder I work, the quicker time goes by and I don’t get much closer to what I want. And I carried on doing this because I didn’t know what ‘self care’ or ‘working smarter’ really meant.
Working hard meant working part-time, not because you would have 4 days to relax, but 4 days to do even more work for other projects. And even then, none of them involved sitting down and writing. Working hard meant not setting aside even 1 day in the week to do nothing because to do so would fill you with too much guilt. Working hard meant delaying that doctor’s appointment for the ear infection or anxiety that keeps coming back. Working hard is staying connected 24/7 to your emails and social media, to constantly be doing something, even if it means being chained to your screen, yet taking an hour to send off a small email because your brain is frozen at the prospect of saying something wrong.
Working harder left me no room to figure out my next steps or to sit back and celebrate what I had achieved already because I was afraid that slowing down meant being left behind. To me, it just meant diving at every opportunity that came along without thinking about whether I had time for it and whether it would actually make a difference.
Working hard to me, was security. It showed my worth, it showed I wasn’t lazy, that I was capable, but I didn’t realise that by working hard, I was living a dot-to-dot life, set out by people who hadn’t learnt to think outside the box. It offered no flexibility. In fact, it actually showed my insecurities and lack of confidence in my own abilities, which always led to seeking approval from others. I was scared to take a step back, take a risk.
- Take breaks. Weekend breaks, nature breaks, breaks from social media, or 15 minute breaks from the screen where I sit and stare at nothing or have a conversation with someone to awaken my brain. Breaks actually lead to more productivity.
- Working smarter doesn’t mean making shortcuts so you can fit more in, or doing a half-arsed job of things. It means doing less and cutting the crap from your life.
- Learn to say no. Your time is precious and it is yours. You own it and only you can choose to give it away.
- Work to your own cycle and don’t apologise for it. Not everyone is awake first thing in the morning despite 8 hours of sleep. Unless you’re in a job that requires you to be, it is okay to work slower in the periods that you know your body is the least productive. Flexible working is actually a hell of a lot more productive and satisfying. We were not manufactured in factories.
- Self care means doing things like going to the doctor when you need to and not just eating healthy food, but learning to cook it too, because, call me old, but processed meals kinda SUCK compared to homemade meals.
- Take care of your relationships. Working hard has resulted in me not seeing my closest friends the past 4 months and I hate myself for it. Makes me wonder if this wasn’t the case then maybe I would have had a more level head.
- Look after your psychological health and listen to it. This is the most important. I’m going through phases where some nights I’ll sleep great, and some nights I’ll be awake the majority of it, overthinking everything. I’ve figured that the more dissatisfied I am, the more I am awake. I’m learning to listen to what my mind is telling me and make changes accordingly.
My nails still aren’t perfect, my eyebrows still need doing, and there’s still a long way to go, but I’m feeling much less swamped and more in control than I did a month ago. This Oprah video summarises better than I ever could about why keeping yourself full as a person is important, how that effects what you have to offer to the world, and explained a lot to me about why I was feeling so vulnerable.
What do you think about this whole working harder/smarter thing? Have you had similar experiences?