What self-care is NOT


Keeping this picture of baby Renee (4) taped to my bathroom mirror reminds me to be gentle with my 49 year-old self.

I was lying in bed Sunday morning reading from author Anne Lamott’s beautiful little book Small Victories. In one of her stories about parenting, she shares with a little self-deprecation, but mostly tenderness, how she doesn’t bake for PTA fund raisers, is often disorganized and sometimes forgets to follow-through on updates from her son’s school. Her ability to accept who she is is both endearing and freeing.

Her story got me thinking how so many people I meet have a misguided sense about the concept of self-care. I often hear a lot of “shoulds,” and many confess they downright suck at self-care.

A a life balance coach, I have studied, researched, explored and taught self-care to men/women for more than 15 years and I can wholeheartedly share that self-care–a practice that has changed my life more than any other–is NOT about:
-fixing yourself or turning yourself into a self-improvement project
-trying to become a better person who “has it all together” or who keeps their New Year’s resolutions
-being perfect or doing what our parents, friends or the media say we should do to be our best (take up yoga, go gluten free, keep a clean house or grow our own vegetables, etc.)
-striving to be more worthy through accomplishing more or adhering to society’s list of “shoulds” around parenting, relationships or (fill in the blank)
-spending a bunch of money on services or products that are supposed to make us better: more fit, beautiful, smart, etc.

Self-care isn’t a goal you strive for. And it’s not about becoming YOU Version 2.0. It’s about meeting yourself where you are with a soft and open heart. It’s believing “my ordinary self is enough,” (thank you Carol).  It’s feeling safe enough to show up in the world 100% you and inherently giving others permission to do the same. Self-care is about attuning and responding to your needs and desires moment to moment. It’s about forgiving yourself when you make a mistake, being compassionate with yourself when you bump up against your faults and treating yourself with the same love and tenderness you would have for a four year-old who’s had a really hard day. It’s not about adding something to your to-do list, cracking the whip, or finally getting in shape. The true art of self-renewal is about cultivating a kinder, gentler relationship with yourself and asking for the nurturing and nourishment you truly need-whether that’s a hug or a kale smoothie.  It’s knowing that YOU have your back. And that no matter what you say, do or flub-you will not abandon yourself.

TAKE ACTION: This week notice how you treat and talk to yourself? How would you describe the relationship? Do you sound like a drill sergeant or a wise and trusted mentor (read about connecting with your Wise Self)? Read more about the life-transformation that can come from practicing self-care here and join me for an upcoming self-renewal event where you’ll learn the art and science of self-care: April 24th New Way of Being One-Day Self-Renewal Retreat, April 3-May 8th Embracing the Wild Unknown Women’s Group or our spring Permission Granted: The Art of Self-Renewal telecourse. View all events here.

Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance teacher and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining Personal Renewal Groups based on her award-winning curriculum.  She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 12 year-old son. More on her background here.