You have a stressful, demanding job. Maybe you’re an academic trying to work the tenure-track, or perhaps you have a high pressure job in finance or advertising. Your colleagues are terrible and do terrible things to you, and every night you come home complaining to your friends or your partner about what ridiculous thing happened at the office today.
“You won’t believe what he said to me today!” you tell your loved ones. They listen and they listen, and they attempt to give you advice. But you don’t need advice or even to vent your feelings.
You need self-care.
A friend of mine — a black female academic in a cultural studies field — works at a prestigious university on the West Coast. She called me the other day complaining about how terrible and insensitive her department was to her, a department composed mostly of women which makes the level of sexism and racism she experiences daily all the more perplexing. Things are so bad in her department that she’s resorted to secretly recording all of her department meetings as evidence.
I told her, with all seriousness, “to sue their asses. Write a tell-all and put they ass on blast.”
The whole time she was talking to me I was angry that this is what it means to be a successful black woman on the tenure-track, but I was even angrier at her for continuing to subject herself to this level of nonsense.
“Why don’t you just quit?” I asked. “You have a Ph.D. from Harvard. Your work is compelling. You’re (intellectually) hot. You’ll find another tenure-track position. And even if you don’t, so what?” I told her.
She heard what I was saying but was more worried about what it would look like on her C.V. to up and quit a high powered job at an elite university. Shouldn’t she just suffer and hope things get better?
Everyone can relate to horror stories of the workplace. A nasty colleague who constantly belittles you. A boss you can never seem to please. Being the youngest person in the firm or in the department and therefore constantly having your credentials or judgement questioned by anyone “more senior” than you.
You should work to live, to enjoy nice things, to enjoy your time off. No one should live to be able to work.
Real happiness comes with a work-life balance when you remember to take care of yourself. Self-care means the obvious: making sure you can actually DO the work that is demanded of you. Learn to say “no.” No, I can’t make it to that meeting. No, I’m not going to sit on that extra committee. No, I can’t have that file in by that time. No, I won’t be able to stay later in the office. No, I won’t handle your mistreatment anymore.
There’s only so much work any single person can reasonably do in one day.
The other part of self-care is learning to care for yourself. Eating good food, not junk food, enjoying yourself, and remembering to do all those little things you love to do. Treat yourself to little luxuries to remind yourself that you’re human. You work to live not live to work.
Self-care means striking a balance between what you have to do to survive and what you need to do to be happy. We forget about how important it is to be happy, and that really you do your best work when you’re happy. No job is worth coming home to cry about every single day, no matter how much it pays or how prestigious it seems.
If you’re doing something that doesn’t make you happy it’s not worth it.