Self Care: Taking Care of Your Professional Needs

For some, careers come naturally. From an early age, some may know what they would like to do and pursue that interest. Others may take a little longer to find where their passions lie. Maybe they read an article that sparked an interest and a desire to understand more. Others may have admired a role model or someone who exemplified the spirit of who they wanted to become. Others may not have been so lucky.

If you were like me you had no idea what you wanted to be and no one around to tell you how important it is to find fulfilling work. I was talking to a friend recently and she summed up what it was like for both of us growing up. She said she had no problem going to college, but there was a turnoff on the career path that wasn’t clearly marked. Showing her how to convert what is interesting to her and to borrow a sentiment from Marie Condo, what “sparked joy” into a fulfilling career.

This isn’t a new story for sure. That’s why popular phrases such as, “that’s why it’s called work” or something another friend of mine’s wife said to him, “you act as though your the first person to not enjoy their job” are prevalent. These may be true statements and there are aspects of every job that may be less than palatable for those doing them. But what about finding meaning in the work we’re doing. Or at least getting behind the values or moral compass of the company we work for. Shouldn’t that make our work, regardless of how tedious some tasks may be, more fulfilling?

I would argue yes. To use an extreme example to illustrate my point, if I worked for a company that was knowingly destroying the environment I would feel less satisfied than if I worked at a place where all our single use disposables were compostable. Now we all have our own standards by which we judge fulfillment, but there is a common thread. And that is a sense of joy and even pride in our contribution to something larger.

If we’re left in the category of, I don’t know what I want to do and I don’t know how to get there, then there are a few things you can do to help find your path. For starters we can ask ourselves what our values are. There are tests out there that can help with this aspect. Carl Jung’s personality type test is a good place to begin. It starts by breaking down your tendencies and illustrates the patterns you are most likely to fall into by placing you in four of eight categories. If you’re not familiar with them they are, introvert/extrovert, sensing/intuition, feeling/thinking and judgement/perception. There are 16 possible combinations and it’s best to not read them until after you take the test. There are a number of places online where you can take the test and for free as well.

Then there’s the enneagram test. This test shows you which archetype you most resemble. Some examples of archetypes you could be classified as are, lover, thinker, leader, reformer… There are also free resources online for this test as well. I’m not as familiar with this one but it seems to help some people so it’s worth looking into if you’re starting from scratch.

These tests can be helpful to finding your values but they are just aids for self discovery. These test methods have devoted followers and can be somewhat polarizing. Don’t forget that no one test should be able to define who you are or what your values. It’s worth remembering that even though you may fall into a certain type you may very much connect with, in some way you are all aspects of each type.

Now let’s say you have a career you are passionate about and find joy and fulfillment from. Do you know how much you should be compensated for the work you do? Often times people don’t know what they should be asking for when it comes to pay and benefits. Or that this area is even negotiable.

It took me a long time to understand that the experience I have is worth something to my employer. I was always taught that I should just be grateful that I have a job and to work as hard as possible. Sacrificing myself and time for the people I worked for regardless of how they treated me. I was taught that loyalty was most important and self sacrifice was a given.

This type of dedication isn’t inherently bad. There’s a lot to be said for someone’s character who holds these values close. It’s when these values are taken for granted and expected as given while being taken advantage of by either abuse of time or compensation. If you don’t know how you should be compensated there’s a good chance that your employer does and may be willing to take advantage of your ignorance.

That being said there are a lot of fair employers out there. But it’s best to be prepared and not leave something this valuable up to chance. And even with a fair employer, I’ve worked many a place where someone held some resentment for the sacrifices they weren’t asked to make because of the unfair standard they held themselves up against. These situations are all too common and can be avoided by setting healthy work boundaries. Unfortunately this is something that is uncommon and something not everyone is taught to do. There are websites such as Salary.com and PayScale, where you can determine what your rate of pay should be. And hopefully avoid situations like these altogether.

And don’t forget to take some time to yourself. Take a long weekend, go visit a friend or a place you enjoy. Or discover a new city. Take in the sights and enjoying a relaxing dinner. Don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labor and develop your personal likes and interests. No matter how much fulfillment you get from your work, if you don’t balance it with some time to yourself you can become drained and one dimensional.

Hopefully, with the right attitude and drive, you will be doing the work that brings you joy and you will be compensated fairly for your time and experience in setting healthy boundaries for yourself by being honest with how much you are able to give, and when to take time for yourself.

“Notabli Offices” by brettchalupa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Self-Care: Setting Healthy Boundaries and Finding Balance

Setting healthy boundaries and balance. This is a tough one for a lot of folks including myself. We’re taught from an early age that it is better to give than to receive and that being selfless is a virtue. And in some cases those are noble values. But when the list of people to please and the lists of tasks to do mount, what is a value can become a drain of your energy, vitality, and your willingness to engage with life and others. And depending on the viracity to which you hold to these values, the effects can be dramatic.

I used to have poorly defined boundaries as did those who were closest in to me. If I had a grievance with somebody I would hold it in and resentment would eventually take hold. Leaving me with a silent grudge that was left to fester. But it wasn’t just me. Most of the people I was in contact with day to day acted the same way. Arguments would erupt because of the smallest infraction or mistaken intention. All of which could have been avoided if we had just spoken candidly about how we felt about whatever the issue was. And sometimes even that isn’t enough!

I had a sort of falling out with a loved one recently who won’t talk to me because I asked them a question about a shared experience from our past. The question was benign enough. I asked if they had something from our youth that smelled of jasmine. They responded with, “I love you, but I just need time.” Time from what I’m not sure, but I know this person has a good heart. They just give more than they had to give and the result was, in this case anyway, a loss of a friend who could be a source of support.

We’ve all been in this person’s shoes. Too much to do and too many people and things to keep track of with not enough time to do it all in. The stress mounts until it feels like it’s all just too much to keep in. This is where setting personal boundaries and finding balance by offsetting some of life’s stressors is most important. Ideally we would have some resources to fall back on before we get to this level of stress. But it’s never too late to take a break and give yourself the time and space needed to recover from the constant inflow of life stressors, whatever they may be.

One of the first steps in psychological self care is prevention. If the above scenario feels all too familiar, difficulty saying no to added responsibility, then setting a boundary around saying no to added responsibility will help to prevent some stress. It’s healthy to want to do for others. It’s one of the ways we create tight bonds and close relationships with one another and one of the love languages. But when we take on so much that the tasks we agree to do become a source of distress, then we’re tearing apart the connections we were trying to build when we agreed to take them on in the first place.

Alternately when stress does mount, journalling can be a way to put some distance between yourself and the situation. Giving yourself the time and space needed to gain a new perspective. Coming up with a resource list can be helpful as well. Something I’ve added to my journal for times when you feel as though you’ve run out of ideas or are just too tired to think.

Laughter is another obvious, though sometimes elusive, resource and release from stress. It’s funny because at any given moment if I were asked if I’d like to have a good laugh, I would be happy to. But I’m usually too preoccupied or engaged in what I’m doing to relax enough. If you’re uptight like I am not to worry, humor is something that can be cultivated. By searching for shows or comedians that strike a chord with you or finding an author who speaks to your sense of humor. And don’t forget conversations with friends, family or co-workers that you are able to be comfortable with. Maybe start a conversation around a funny thing that happened to you in the past. Ask about others funny stories. They’re out there and they’re some gems!

Though, stressful times are often when it’s most difficult to focus on cultivating a relaxed state. Being mindful of the times we are stressed can be a powerful tool in helping us to come back to the mindset that can help cultivate a relaxed state of being. And help to aid in developing a sense of humor. By recognizing we are stressed we can then realize that it is a passing emotion and allow it to flow through us. Rather than tighten our focus on how to stop, avoid or get rid of, the stress.

Exploring and cultivating interests and hobbies. Saying no to stressful situations and responsibilities when you know you’ve taken too much on. Journaling or spending time with friends and family communicating and laughing, are all ways to help cultivate a relaxed state of being. They also allow us the time and space necessary to create the boundaries and balance that are so important in caring for our mental health and well being.

So whether it’s asking a co-worker to pick up a task that you know you just won’t have the time to do. Writing about the emotions that come up during the day in your journal. Or finding a new comic or author to immerse yourself in. Taking time to recognize when you’re stressed and how to bring yourself back to a more relaxed version of you is a skill worth practicing. And one that will bring you peace and balance.

“Finding balance” by James Jordan is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Self Care: Do you Know What you Want?

Here’s a question that you may hear when you are out getting coffee or something to eat. “Do you know what you would like?” We’re asked this question often enough but if you’re like me I’m willing to bet that you often go on what you are used to instead of what you actually feel like having. Some of this has to do with the degree of importance of the task at hand.

For instance, we don’t have to search our feelings everytime we get to the counter at our favorite coffee shop to find out what our deepest self wants to drink for a morning beverage. If you like mochas, it’s probably a safe bet to order a mocha. But somethings are worth the time to investigate.

If you’ve read my post, “Self Care: Spiritual, Meditation, Am I Doing This Right?” you’ll know that I was raised in a man’s man family. This included most of the macho cliche standards of what it means to be men. Among them, not having feelings, getting what they want when they want it and being vulnerable was a sign of weakness… the list keeps going. But basically what this meant for me was some things men just didn’t do.

This was tough for me, because one thing men didn’t do in my family was raise children. This was a job done by women. So to my chagrin when my mother told me she didn’t know how to raise a man, that left me pretty much on my own. What this meant for me was I had know idea how to pursue and develop interests or even to find out what I liked. I was so focused on whether or not I fit in that I didn’t stop to think, “am I doing what I like?”

On top of that when I found out what I liked ran counter to my learned ideas of what men “should” like and act like, I was confused. In the world I knew men weren’t supposed to like yoga or the Grateful Dead. Men weren’t supposed to be vegetarian or vegan or like running.

They were supposed to lift weights so they could be strong and in charge and hold their own in a fight if they had to. Men weren’t supposed to be about peace and love but they showed anger freely and often. The world I grew up in, men hunted and grilled, drank beer, swilled scotch while watching football. I’m not trying to say that any of those ways of being or personal interests are inherently bad but when your acceptance hinges on whether or not you fit a specific mold or set of criteria, therein lies the issue.

So now that I’ve explored some of the pitfalls of how I didn’t know what it was that I liked I’m going to take a look at how I found where my interests do lay.

It started with knowing how I felt, truly felt, without the influence of drugs or alcohol or the threat of being cut off from belonging by those who “loved” me. But that took some digging.

First, I had to change the ways I was doing things. I had to slow down which meant not drinking so much coffee to force my way through the day. Second, I slowed down on my alcohol intake which was my way of winding down from drinking all the coffee to avoid being present in my feelings as they happened. Then I had to stop and listen to my feelings as they happened.

It was a mixed bag. As feelings usually are but the more I listened the more I understood what my interests really were and why. For example, I love The Grateful Dead. But the more I explored my love the more I realized that it was the culture I loved. The freely expressed emotions of love and acceptance that I so longed for. I like the blues, don’t get me wrong, but they can be tough to listen to if that’s all you’re listening to. You end up, well, blue.

I liked watching football with my friends. We’d get loaded and scream at the T.V. for a few hours and get into trouble or at least have a good story to tell for the next week. But the violence of the game always made me a bit uncomfortable and reminded me of how I never felt like I quite added up as a man. scally to those that held my belonging in their judgements by expecting me to fit in with what’s expected.

Yoga and running were ways of getting in touch with my body in a way that was soothing. I could take care of my physical needs for exercise while pushing my personal limits and grow in a safe way. They also have a meditative quality to them. You can get lost in the cadence of your heart beating in rhythm with your feet against the pavement. Or get lost in your body as you’re flowing through downward dog to plank, to upward facing dog. All of your body parts moving in succinct language, freely expressing itself. And you won’t get a hangover from a heavy night of yoga.

Getting in touch with our wants isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to pull them apart from others expectations and your own perceived or anticipated expectations of how you will be granted acceptance from others. But it’s worth it to find the things, people and places that bring you peace and a feeling of belonging,.Not at the expense of what you are like but because of what you are like. And to quote someone really famous, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde

Image Credits: “Playing withthe Bombay Mix and asking ‘Why?'” by Supermum1 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

Self-Care: Meditation, Am I Doing this Right?

Full disclosure, I’m a meditator, and I believe in God. That being said, I’m not here to sell you on my idea of what’s right or tell you what’s right for you, I’m only going to tell you what my process was and hopefully it will be helpful to some.

I’ve been meditating for about seven years, and it has helped to change my perspective on just about everything. That doesn’t mean that life is suddenly easier, or the emotional weight is any less than it was when I wasn’t meditating. I still experience the same frustrations and problems as I did before, only now I see things in a different light.

I believe the main benefit I’ve gained from meditation is that I’m more easily able to connect with my emotions and wants and needs than I ever was in the past. And things have slowed down quite a bit.

I used to drink. Coffee during the day, mostly espresso and about seven to nine shots. They were usually in the form of mocha lattes and also lots of energy drinks. Then alcohol at night, six to seven drinks. These were to slow myself down from all the coffee I drank. Sometimes I’d mix the energy drinks with the alcohol. It was tough. A constant cycle and not a healthy one or something that was sustainable by any means. If I went without either for to long I would get panic attacks. When the feelings I was running from would slowly start to bubble to the surface.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. I had some fun times but I was never really aware of the consequences of living without restraint and only living for the fun times. The “difficult” emotions mounted on the doorstep not unlike stacks of unpaid bills waiting for the day that I would open them. Only to be bowled over by the amount owed.

As I’ve said above, my emotional debts sometimes came in the form of anxiety attacks. But they usually took the form of a listless floating around without direction and not knowing how to move myself forward in life. In the direction that I didn’t quite have a bearing on. And it wasn’t just myself that I was hurting by avoiding my unfelt emotions. It was everyone around me that relied on me in some way or for some form of support.

For example I was married for eight years. Looking back now I can see what a wonderful and supportive wife I had, but that’s exactly it. The wife I HAD. I neglected her emotions in our relationship in the same ways I was neglecting my own emotions. One day she even came to me and said, “I feel like we’re roommates”. This should have been a clue as to the extent that I had been disconnecting from her and my feelings for her in our relationship.

In the end I ran from her. To avoid the emotional bills that were pounding on my door for the ways I had been living. Unfortunately I ran straight into the arms of a woman who was also on the run from her own emotional debt. As you’ve probably already guessed it did not end well for anyone involved. Accept my ex-wife who is happily remarried and where she wants to be. I’m happy for her and wish her nothing but the best for her and her family.

But it wasn’t until I started meditating that I could even begin to see things from this perspective. Meditation helped me to open the bills one at a time and take stock of my personal resources. And allocate parts of myself, my resources, to myself to help ease the pain of so many neglected emotions.

Ironically one of the areas I had neglected was personal finance. So some of my emotional debt came in the form of monetary debt. In fact, most of what I was doing was reparenting myself around all the neglected areas of my life. Giving myself the care and attention that I had never received from my parents. And it wasn’t all their fault but without the chance to slow down and take a personal inventory, I would have went along in life repeating the same cycles that my parents lived through and theirs before them.

It isn’t always easy. Getting in touch with the parts of ourselves we’ve been avoiding. But for me meditation helped. It helped me to reach out to others for help when I needed it. I was raised by men who were men. Hairy chested, heavy drinking, take what they want and trample whomever is in their way, men. Asking for help was, according to the men (and women) who raised me, “a woman’s trait”. It took a long time for me to unlearn this and many other lessons I was taught.

Later a co-worker of mine at a past job (let’s call him Lance 😉 called this “toxic masculinity”. Something he learned while he was going to a private school. He, much like myself, was soft spoken and sensitive to others’ emotional needs. Something that is not acceptable in a toxically masculine culture. So clearly there was something wrong with us. Which means we were looked down on or just plain abused.

I tried to emulate this toxic masculinity because I thought it would grant me acceptance. But all it did was make me mean. And I burned a lot of bridges during that time period of my life. And again thanks to meditation I couldn’t see any of this until I slowed down enough and the made genuine connections with others like Lance, heard his stories and empathize with his situation. Because it was the same as mine.

I have another friend who, let’s call her laughing princess, when I told her I meditated said to me, “oh, you mean like deep prayer”. What I liked about her comment was instead of fighting over who was right about what to call it, she recognized it as a practice in her life by a different name and we both agreed that it was something that was helpful for each of us.

These are only a few of the areas of my life that have changed and improved because I chose to slow down and take a deeper look into my spiritual experience. Like my friend laughing princess, we can call it whatever we’ve come to understand it as. For some you may be discovering it for the first time. Wherever you are it’s okay. Give it time and space and trust you will find the way. Happy trails :]

Image Credits: “Smokey Temple” by Antonio R Vianello is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Self-Care Emotional: How do You Relate to Your Inner-Critic?

“Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We all have one. The voice that says we’ll never finish that degree, or I’m never gonna land that job that would be just right for me. I’m never going to find the woman/man who’s my true love or I’m just plain not adding up. I know mine well. It took some digging but when I finally realized who was behind the wheel and where he was steering me, I can tell you it was a real eye opener.

My inner critic has taken the form of my abusers past, and I can actually pinpoint it in my body. Of course this took years of work to begin to unlock my frozen tundra of emotion. And this was after decades of not being able to feel my body or to even know what my emotions Were. Also that I was the one in charge not my emotions. My inner critic will often tell me things about myself that just aren’t true. Such as I’m overweight even though I weigh 185 and am 5’10”. I’m unable to find and do meaningful and fulfilling work even though I’ve excelled in all my positions and graduated Cum Laude from college. I need a another to take care of me because I’m incapable of doing so for myself regardless of my well organized and healthfully curated my lifestyle is… The list goes on.

But what’s most important to understand about all our critics is, asides from the content being untrue and damaging to our psyche, how often we get lured into its siren’s song. And allow ourselves to be led astray from what our heart’s true aspirations are. If you’re reading this then you’ve probably come to some of your own healthy conclusions. But in case you haven’t I’m here to tell you you are not the contents of your inner critic. And the only control it has over you is the control you give to it.

I know from my own early childhood experiences of trauma that my critic has grown strong from repeated infractions against my sense of self worth. And it may seem as though these experiences are relegated to those who’ve experienced some sort of traumas. But the numbers of those who have experienced trauma are staggering. It’s reported that “nearly 14% of children repeatedly experienced maltreatment by a caregiver, including nearly 4% who experienced physical abuse.” That’s about one in seven! That’s a lot of people.

But even those that haven’t experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, states of being such as peer pressure and people pleasing have real consequences. And not to mention are a real source of frustration for many. This all sounds pretty sad. And it is, but there are ways to identify our inner critic and create a caring cushion around it. To soften the blow when it does strike. This is where the hard work lay. In knowing how your inner critic has infiltrated your day to day routines and the patterns that we’ve cultivated in relating to it.

Do you know the subtle signs of the transition between when you’re behind the wheel and your critic has taken over? Is there a low level of anxiety that is prevalent? Feeling as though you’re not adding up in some way for no reason? Are you believing things about yourself you know just aren’t true? These are just a few examples and they vary from person to person. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to knowing how you and your own personal inner critic relate to one another. Or the ways it has taken control in your life. But there is a commonality in coming to understanding who and what your inner critic is and needs. And it starts with listening.

When are the times you feel down on yourself? Or feel bad about a specific behavior or something you feel like you should be doing? Times that you are measuring yourself to another and feel as though you are coming up short? Those are the times and opportunities to listen inward. To feel where you feel them in your body. The places you are trying to avoid. That’s where you’ll find your critic.

Your critic is trying to tell you something but it’s afraid. Underneath that fear there is a protective quality, one that is trying to keep us safe. For me it is, “I had better conform to certain expectations or else I’ll be rejected and unloved”. Listening to the message of what it’s trying to tell us and deciphering it from the fear will yield great rewards.

Because once you find the message that is behind the fear you can relate directly to the unattended hurt. The source of the wound. Though I should say when dealing with traumatic fear this is something that should definitely be done in the care of a professional. And with the support of trusted family members and friends when possible. Tara Brach explains in one of her talks on relating to traumatic fear called, “Healing Trauma: The Light Shines Through the Broken Places” that it may not be safe to take in all the fear at once. It may end up retraumatize us.

I know from my own work with my therapist that learning the art of just this much, finding your window of tolerance is invaluable. Especially for those of us who have been trying to live up to our own imposed and impossible standards. Go hard or go home. The insatiable voice that keeps telling us we need to do more and accomplish greater deeds. And the critic doesn’t only focus on us. Others as well need to live up to our impossible standards or something terrible will happen. Or so we often times feel.

So how do we begin to recognize our critic? And possibly even more importantly, what do we do when we finally come toe to toe with them? For me, it was about slowing down. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to work myself to death, to live up to the impossible standard I had created, that I realized it was never going to be enough. No matter how hard I worked, how I ignored my needs and those of others. No matter how critical I was of the job I was doing or others were doing, I was never going to meet the impossible standard I had in my mind of how things should be.

This took some doing because I was drinking 5 to 6 lattes a day and going hard to avoid coming home (figuratively). It wasn’t until I started meditating and switched to tea, one caffeinated cup a day, that I was able to create the space necessary to slow down and hear what my body was telling me. Instead of telling my body how to feel. It was a shock though. I won’t go into details but it hit hard. I was feeling all sorts of unattended emotion from my past. I had been ignoring not just the attic of my life but most of the useable square footage!

But that brought me to the second step of reckoning with the unfelt emotions. It was crazy at first. But my feelings began to slow down until they were manageable. Small enough to take in without being overwhelming. I needed a lot of support during that time too. And a lot of kindness. Mostly from and to myself. I had been beating myself up for such a long time that there was some animosity for sure. But the more kindness I showed myself, the easier it became. Not only easier to bear but the inner critic began to lose it’s bite. When he would show up, which he still does sometimes, I could recognize him and treat him with kindness. Knowing that really it’s just the product of the ways I’ve been maltreated by myself and others.

So when you’re relating to your inner critic the key is to be kind. Kind to yourself, kindness to and from others as well. Because it’s that kindness that will then create the cushion around our hurt selves. The places our critics are protecting in order to make space for them to heal. And it’s not easy. People will say and do hurtful things and we will do and say hurtful things too. To ourselves and others. But it’s a practice. And the more we practice the better we become at being kind. And the more tame our critic will become. It’s doable, just don’t give up :]

Image credits: “Bryony” by Trucknroll is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0