There’s a prevalent attitude among my generation that focusing on oneself shouldn’t be a priority. Putting yourself above others, prioritizing your own needs and wants, is selfish. Family should come first. Friends. School, work, volunteering – we’re expected to do everything we can to make everyone else happy and be as productive as possible. If our own desires take a backseat in order to do so, congratulations! You’re doing it right.
I take issue with this for several reasons. As human beings we have basic needs, and health tops the list. In order to be firing on all cylinders, we need regular exercise, a healthy diet, and sufficient sleep – and that’s just the physical side. We also need to be relaxed enough to concentrate and happy enough to want to get up in the morning in the first place. I’ve seen my peers sacrifice these things, sometimes with terrible consequences, to focus on making everyone else happy. For a long time I did so too; I thought that if other people and work weren’t my top priorities, that meant I was lazy and selfish. This is an understandable way of thinking, but it’s not true. The truth is, self-care is the opposite of selfish. Our lives are made up of a million priorities; it’s not as simple as saying if I move one to the top of the list, it will benefit most. In actuality, prioritizing yourself provides the maximum overall benefit.
For example, when I exercise it makes me better in every role I have, whether it’s as a partner, daughter, friend, or designer. If I were to stop working out because I felt being a good designer was a higher priority, then I would be less alert, more anxious, and less productive than before – I would, ironically, end up a worse designer than I was when it was a lower priority.
If my work outs stop, my health goes downhill. With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I don’t go out with friends. My relationships suffer. I lose motivation to do things that make my life happy and successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in fitness promotes excellence in other areas of my life, so in this way, self-care benefits everyone I interact with.
I use exercise as an example because I’ve found it to be the most beneficial type of self care for me. However, self care takes many forms. Meditation, cooking, getting a massage, staying home and binge-watching your favorite show – anything you do for YOU is valid. And there is nothing wrong with putting those things first.