On What We Do For Ourselves

But darling–in the end you have to be your own hero, because everyone else is busy trying to save themselves.

c.t.

I have been terribly self indulgent this week. I booked an impromptu massage at my local spa on Sunday, had my hair cut Monday at my salon with my favorite hair stylist, and have a pedicure booked for tomorrow. I also have a color touch up planned for Friday, but I may have to cancel due to a schedule conflict. Just three years ago, I would have been getting a cut at my local Great Clips, and never would have considered a massage. But this week, the only concern I have is “Should I wait to do my color since it still looks good, or push to make it happen Friday?” and not any guilt for spending money and time on myself.

Every one has turning points in their lives, and though changing to a new salon may seem trivial (although we women know it is not!), the move to this particular salon was a critical turning point in my journey. They not only cut and style hair, they take care of the whole person. Every appointment includes an essential oil scalp massage and hand massage. Truly sinful for a girl who before that never considered taking a moment to relax. I happened to mention to a friend how I felt selfish for paying more for not just a great cut, but basically for the pampering I received. He told me, you work so hard, you deserve some pampering and special treatment (Love you, Dean). With those words, I felt like I was given permission to treat myself, with no guilt. It was particularly freeing in a way I did not expect. It was the “a-ha” moment when I realized that doing something for yourself, being kind to yourself, was okay.

It took me several decades on this earth to understand the difference between selfishness and self-care. As a person often described by others as “giving” and “kind,” I am wont to putting the needs and desires of others before my own. As far back as I can remember, my first instinct has always been to give, to share, and to try to make people happy. To me, it felt wrong, selfish, if there was a way I could support the well being or bring joy to another, and I did not. I was frequently teased by other children in school and called a “brown noser,” because I would bring small gifts to my teachers and talk to them. But truly, I was doing it because I appreciated the time and effort of my teachers, who were so influential and kind in my life, and I wanted to let them know that.

We all are a product in some sense of our childhood environment. My mother is the most sacrificing person I know (more on that another day), and she was my role model as she navigated an early marriage, twins, numerous moves as an Air Force wife around the world, divorce, and the poverty most new divorcees experience (my dad is not Jeff Bezos.). Though she had a supportive mother herself (which is how we wound up in a small town in Connecticut post-divorce), that support came at the cost of certain freedoms and was fraught with compromise. My mom was a nurse and worked nights, and would sleep while we were at school, usually in my room because it was quietly tucked away from the rest of the house. I remember when I was 11, when the divorce was still raging, finding a journal under my bed. Out of curiosity, I opened it. And started to read the entry my mother had written the night before. After reading a few pages, I put the journal down. Not because I realized I was a snoop, but because these were some of her most intimate thoughts, and in those few pages I grasped the struggles my mother was enduring, her enormous love for myself and my siblings, and the sacrifices she was making everyday to give us a better life. Her own doubts and insecurities about how she was handling the challenges she was facing. There is that moment when innocence is lost, and this was it. I made a solemn promise to myself to be the good girl, to make sure I did not add to her burdens, and try to help as I could. So during those formative years where perhaps I would have encountered scenarios that would have made me grow by learning to set boundaries based on my own needs, my boundary became a wall where I selectively chose behaviors based on that line I drew, versus perhaps ones that may have helped me grow in areas I did not explore while a child that I sometimes struggle with today.

Now, that’s not to say that this was not self serving as well, as it’s also easy to say “no” when you have a firm boundary set to please someone else. It gave me a clear set of “rules” to adhere to, and gave purpose in what is admittedly the most chaotic and emotional time in a person’s life (and I can be very emotional)–the teen years. Oddly, it helped me to become a stronger and independent person. It’s also helped me to achieve so many things in my life, such as academic excellence, and I am blessed. I have taken down many pieces of the wall, and built windows and doors, over the past decades to be where I am professionally and personally, and I continue to do so today (more on boundaries another day). Life is all about continual self improvement and adaptation to become who we were meant to be. And, there are advantages of assessing the final parts of the wall that need to be modified or bulldozed later in life; for example, as a late bloomer in some areas, I learned to drink on an expense account (although I swear I have never been drunk in my life, my coworker insists I was after that evening at a seedy airport bar in Reading, PA). As one of my oldest and wisest friends told me recently: you’re kind. Now be kind to yourself. At the root of that message is, love yourself. Take care of yourself. Today, I urge you all to do the same. All the rest becomes icing on the cake.