I got some great advice recently. I was at a workshop earlier in the summer with about twenty people. It was a nice sized group, one in which you could really find time to talk and connect with other people. On my last day, I had the opportunity to walk to breakfast with a lovely woman I had not spent much time with. We chatted and compared notes about our experience, the normal kind of conversation you have on the way to a meal. In the dining room, we parted company and sat with different groups. I was heading for the airport right after breakfast, so I made my way around the room telling everyone good-bye. As luck would have it, my walking companion was the last person I talked to.
We chatted for a few minutes and then hugged as I told her good-bye. I stepped back to leave and she told me to take care of myself. I thanked her and said I would, not thinking too much about it. After all, that’s one of those pleasantries we all use. I’ve said it to countless people. Most of us use it in the same way – “it was great to see you, hope to see you again,” “have a safe trip,” a short-hand phrase we use when we want to let someone know we do care about their well-being, in that general kind of way. In our fast-paced, short-cut world it’s been further shortened to just “take care”, a catch-all phrase; it’s practically lost any real context.
But this was different. She stopped me before I could offer a similar platitude and looked me directly in the eyes and said.
“No, I mean it. Please take care of yourself.”
She emphasized the word “yourself.”
I stood there for a split second as the gravity of what she said sank in.
She meant it. She wanted ME to take care of MYSELF.
I felt the weight of it settle onto my shoulders and around my head. It was almost too much to take in. How could I possibly do that? I had too many other people and things to think about, to worry about, to take care of.
For emphasis, she said it again . . . “Take care of yourself.” All I could do by this time was just nod. Forget trying to speak, I was afraid I might split open if I even breathed too deeply. I felt the tears slide from my eyes. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew it was profound.
In that simple sentence, she had reminded me that I mattered. That I was worthy of care. That I was in need of self care. And that it was perfectly perfect to take care of myself. I had permission.
That three-minute exchange happened two months ago. The meaning and impact is still unfolding. I’m still unpacking all the nuances. And it’s having a real affect on my life.
It started as I began paying attention to the details of my life. I started noticing the choices I was making, really looking at how I’ve structured my life; then I started asking questions. Am I taking care of myself, or am I doing what needs to be done? And by whose standards am I measuring my care? Do I even know what self-care looks like? How do I take care of myself?
Then I began changing the questions. I began to look more closely into myself. What excites me? What makes me happy? What do I want to spend my time doing? What is it that I really, really want in life and how do I go about getting that?
I wrote a few weeks ago about my obsession with Tiny Houses. It’s gotten worse. As I discovered, its not just the Tiny Houses that enthrall me, its what they represent – FREEDOM. So I’ve started here, with this word. Taking care of myself means finding ways to feel free.
Freedom is beginning to take shape for me. I’m beginning to get the lay of the land and to navigate its boundaries. In many ways, freedom looks like less for me. Less debt, less stuff, less stress, less commitment.
It also looks like more – more time, more energy, more resources, more joy.
I want to add more freedom to my life, so I’m beginning to make conscious choices. I’m looking closely at the things that make up my life, from my job to my relationships to the things that share my space.
I’ve decided to start with the things. I’ve begun selling things; an item here and there on EBay and Craig’s List. I’ve gathered up things for donations. I actually sold some books. That was a huge step. I may sell some more, or give them away. I’m planning a yard sale and then I’ll contact charity groups to come take away the things that have been sitting in my attic. Most of these things are in boxes. They’ve been in boxes since I moved . . . nine years ago. Clearly, these are not things that I really need in my life
The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that just taking these tiny steps, I’ve begun to feel a sense of opening. I can feel a space around my heart clearing out. I can breathe a little deeper. I’m excited to see what happens when I strip away more things, more clutter, more weight.
And I’m making plans. I’m dreaming of one day living in a Tiny House, without a mortgage and with teeny tiny living expenses. Imagine the sense of freedom I’ll have then!
For me, this is what it looks like to begin taking care of myself, in the unique way that works for me. That’s one of my big take-aways from this process. There is no one size fits all. We’re all individuals and one of the great things we get to discover during our journey is what fits us, what works for us. We get to design our own lives.
My advice? Take care of yourself – really, take care of yourself in your own unique, wacky, crazy beautiful way. Just make sure you’re taking care of YOU!