In the iconic words of the fabulous Spice Girls:
“So tell me what you want, what you really, really want.”
There are days when I get home after a 10-hour work day of teaching yoga and seeing physiotherapy patients during which I often don’t even stop to take a sip of water, let alone eat (how’s that for a stellar example of self-care?…), and I’m honestly not sure whether my body craves a glass of wine and some mindless TV or a kickass workout. As a healthcare professional, of course I know which one is better for me, and some days the workout wins. But there are often times when I just really want that glass of wine. And I have learned that occasionally, my body actually needs that wine more than the workout.
The most basic, yet astonishingly difficult, first step in establishing a healthy self-care routine is to uncover your true desires. This entails taking a giant step back and scrutinizing your current existence to truly and unapologetically determine what you want, what you really, really want, out of life.
Are you happy? I am aware that is a loaded question – so much so that it will be explored in great detail in an article entirely of its own at a later date. Perhaps content is a more appropriate word. Are there areas of your life that make you smile like an outright fool? Smiling like a fool is brilliant by the way, because you simply cannot fake that kind of bliss. Are there parts of your current reality that you find cringe-worthy at best? Are you even aware of which aspects of your life you love and which ones you love less (or if we’re being really honest here, which ones you might even loathe)?
Self-care involves much more than spa dates and bubble baths – although these can be important components of your practice. But if you do not first uncover what you really crave out of life, it will be nearly impossible to establish a self-care routine that nourishes your soul.
And this is not easy work. Often we think we know exactly what we want – goals, milestones, people, experiences – but upon further investigation, we might uncover the uncomfortable truth that what we really want isn’t even close to what we initially believed it was. Perhaps we were striving toward things other people value or suggested should be important to us. Maybe we just outgrew our original values and now want something completely different. That’s perfectly ok. Change is good. But it isn’t easy.
Earlier this year I set out to explore where I was on the happiness scale and what I truly longed for on my current human journey. What I anticipated to be a single episode of manic journaling morphed into a month-long process involving some deep diving into my core values and desires and enlisting the help of a professional, and utterly fabulous, therapist. And the results left me gobsmacked.
I learned I was making regular and repeated choices that were in no way whatsoever remotely aligned with who I aspired to be or how I wanted to feel. And then the really daunting work began of identifying what these specific discrepancies were, why I allowed them to exist and persist, and what needed to happen to get my life on the appropriate track.
So, I did something I thought I would never ever do, because I considered them hokey art projects reserved for teeny boppers and millennials: I made a vision board. And even as I was making it, I couldn’t shake the This is a phenomenal waste of time track playing on an endless loop in my head.
I began by breaking the board down into several categories: health and wellness, career, intimate relationships, family, finances, possessions, and lifestyle.
The results knocked my socks off. Sure, there were things I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. For example, travel is my one true love, so it figured prominently in several aspects of the vision board. I love dogs (probably more than people if I’m being honest), so I realized I needed to rearrange my life to allow a pet to be a part of it sooner rather than later. This was not unexpected since “I live vicariously through other people’s puppies” is a line I have been reciting for decades to anyone I meet with a dog.
Less anticipated were the discoveries I unearthed while scrutinizing what I wanted in the areas of health and wellness, intimate relationships, finances, and most shockingly, career.
No word of a lie, when I started jotting items down for my vision board (and I’m totally embarrassed to admit this as a healthcare professional), under Health and Wellness I initially wrote, and I quote, “yoga bum and great abs – but not the man abs I usually get – sexy, feminine abs.” Thankfully, the second phase of my vision board planning involved asking myself some tough questions (often with the help of my brutally honest but wonderful therapist) about the stuff I wanted to include on it.
So I started asking Why? A lot. Why do I want to have a nice butt and a flat stomach? The answer was pretty much a no-brainer (both literally and figuratively as you will see in a moment). I wanted to be as attractive as possible. But why? To attract a partner? That brought me to a series of even more bizarre revelations.
Since the last couple of years have been pretty much Hell on Earth for me as far as relationships go, I had written “I want to be left alone” under that particular heading (with a hefty expletive I intentionally left out of this post). OK, on the surface, I already knew the why for that one. 2 years ago, I went through a devastating break-up, that, if I am being totally honest, I am still not 100% over. I’m over the guy, but the break-up itself was brutal and left me shattered for a very long time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m still picking up the pieces. After that, I rebounded with someone even more damaged than I was, and despite our better judgment, we decided to forge ahead. Then, a month in, he left on a soul-searching trip and what he found was that I was definitely not what his soul wanted. He dropped me like a hot potato the second he got back. Fair enough, that one was probably for the best. Our collective baggage was colossal, and was really the only thing we shared in common. But the added effect of being ditched twice in such a short period was catastrophic. I don’t date very often to begin with, so I hadn’t had to contend with very many previous break-ups. I swore then and there I would never get involved with anyone again. And I stuck with it for almost a year.
Then someone from my past re-entered my life. I knew immediately that geography meant it was doomed from the start. Plus, he was honest and told me right at the beginning he wanted kids (I definitely do not, and he is going to need someone far younger than me for that anyway). Oddly enough, I was OK with it. For the first time in my life, I was good with casual. Until I wasn’t. Since I don’t date often, I didn’t know that for me, any kind of intimacy eventually becomes enmeshed with the Feels, which for obvious reasons was problematic. And then, out of nowhere, arose my Knight in Shining Armour. Another face from my past emerged and this time geography wasn’t an issue. He seemed to fall hard and fast and I knew I had to choose between the Knight and Mr. Casual. It wasn’t a tough choice in that I knew things weren’t going anywhere with Mr. Casual. I even had to fight for him to make me a priority when we were physically in the same city, and I knew that I deserved way better than that, casual or not. I just didn’t know if I wanted an actual boyfriend after everything I’d been through. But in the beginning, the Knight treated me better than any man had previously. He was considerate and spontaneous and paid attention to every little detail about me, so I acquiesced. And 2 months later, just as my feelings were catching up to his, he decided he couldn’t be with anyone because he was still going through a messy separation with his ex and “it was all just too complicated”. It was another terrible break-up (this time seemingly for both of us) and I was destroyed all over again. But he swore that when things calmed down it would be me or no one. And then within a week, a mutual friend sent me a real-time picture of him holding hands with someone else on a beach somewhere far away and I never heard from him again. At least that ending made me so angry that all those previous feelings evaporated instantly. Since the dramatic finale of that bogus relationship, I have made it a rigid policy to say no to anyone and everyone who makes any romantic play for my attention whatsoever, and I have stuck to that religiously for almost a full year now.
Those experiences created enormous trust issues – including self-trust because I had clearly made some pretty poor choices – and undeniably explain my preliminary response to the intimate relationship category of my vision board. What they do not elucidate is why on Earth my notes under Health and Wellness were “yoga bum and sexy abs” if the corresponding goal was to be attractive to the opposite sex, since those two goals – to be more attractive AND to be left entirely alone – do not co-exist well. So that led to further investigation of my desire to be by myself. And what I finally uncovered was that what I want is not to be alone at all. My true desire in that aspect of my life is to eventually – because I am VERY clear on the fact that I am still not ready for any kind of intimate relationship at this time, and might not be for a significant while – find a partner to share my journey, who genuinely loves me for me, can accept that I need to move slowly due to past traumas, and is willing to fight for me despite the abundance of obstacles life continuously throws at burgeoning romances. Anyone else need not apply. My answer will still be a hard pass. Thanks anyway.
So in a roundabout way, that led to me unearthing something else unexpected, this time in the realm of my finances. Many (make that most) people want to make more money. I am no different, despite the fact that healthcare workers are notoriously bad at charging what we’re worth. We do not feel comfortable asking people to pay for services that make them feel better. It creates an unpleasant cognitive dissonance. But I initially believed I wanted more money so I could do more things for the people I care about. While this is not untrue, I discovered my real core feelings about money revolve around my paralyzing fear of not being financially independent. This includes avoiding relationships in which I make significantly less money than my partner, as this has been problematic for me in the past. Most of us have dealt with financial stress at some point in our lives, and I am no exception, but I had no idea I had such complex issues surrounding money until I did the work.
And that brings me to my final, and what for me was the most startling epiphany of my vision board process. I tell everyone how much I love my job All. The. Time. Yet for awhile now, something about that statement hasn’t quite felt synchronous with my gut. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was off, but with some deep reflection and discussions with the same above-mentioned awesome therapist, I realized I love fixing people. When a patient gets better, I am truly happy. But I’m no longer in love with the process of being a physiotherapist. And when I can’t fix someone, or additional stressors such as external emotions (be them mine or those of others around me) enter the picture, I don’t actually enjoy my job at all. Figuring that out was the single biggest and most unsettling surprise I encountered during this entire process.
I’m not going to lie. Some of the things I learned about myself while doing this “hokey” activity shook my very foundation. I am still astounded by the amount and extent of misinformation I had ingested about my very own self. It is not a comfortable feeling in any way, shape, or form. But it is work that needed to be done and should be done by every one of us. Because now the profound stuff begins. I know what I want and what I do not want in all aspects of my life (beginning with more rest and better personal boundaries as my new actual aspirations under Health and Wellness). I know where the work is needed. The next step is to get it done. That is self-care at its core.
You can’t take proper care of yourself if you don’t know what you need to do it.
So do the work. It won’t be easy, and you might even need a little help to get it done. Some of you may even uncover hard truths such as realizing you are in the wrong line of work or part of a relationship that has outlived its purpose. But if you listen carefully enough, your soul will let you know what it really craves. Most often it will be the workout, but every once in awhile, we all just need that glass of wine.
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I like the helpful information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I will learn a lot of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!
Thank you so much for your comment! It is much appreciated. New posts are up every Monday 🙂
To read your story Jami, was so heart warming. It has really helped me so much. Since Waynes death I have been working so hard to be brave and be strong for family and friends,because thats what I knew they wanted from me. Reading your story has made me realize that I need to find what I want and desire for me and once and for all be honest and true to myself. I sure have a lot of work ahead of me and it scares me to the bone. Thanks for helping to to think about finding a way to get started ! Big hugs !!
Joyceann, your comment just made my day. Hugs right back at you!