Self-care, as we continue to know it, is framed as a mental, physical, and/or spiritual pause that the millennial generation (my generation) is grasping onto more-and-more, in efforts to preserve a sense of self. An act of preservation as a result of times where there is and continues to be a plethora of inconsistencies, injustices, and systems of oppression impeding on folks’ abilities to simply live a life that is right for them. Furthermore, self-care as we continue to know it, can even be framed as radical actions that communicate that is perfectly OK to advocate for self so that we can remain engaged in work, family, friends, and community. Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wayne, why the intentional use of ‘radical’?” Great question. Thus the catalyst to the framework of this post begins to emerge.
Self-Care as Self-Ish
To begin, I think it is important that we spend time dissecting the association with self-care as ‘selfish.’ Self-care, in some personal and professional circles, remains this idea and practice that if one is making / taking time for self, they are being selfish, self-centered, lazy, and, ultimately, do not care about others around them. For me, all of these ideations are capital ‘F’ False. I say this because I think and feel that we continue to live and work in self-sacrificial environments. Environments where if one is not giving 110% of themselves all of the time, they are not good enough, not competent, not professional, should feel ashamed, and the list goes on. What an awful, toxic reality this is that continues to persist in what can be said most environments.
Secondly, I think it is essential to name that taking / making time for self-care is a privilege. There are an insurmountable amount of communities that do not have the time, efforts, energies, and/or luxury to pause and breathe, reflect, and do something that may not directly correlate with serving as a caretaker for a family member, taking care of siblings or children, or working multiple jobs to provide some type of stability for self and/or others; to name a few examples. Access in relation to education, jobs, affordable housing, affordable healthcare, and affordable nourishing foods can all contribute to whether or not folks have the privilege of taking / making intentional time to physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually step away from life’s daily trials and tribulations.
Self-Care as Self-Less
The concept of “self-care as selfless” is something I learned from a fabulous colleague and mentor, Coco Du, who serves as Macalester College’s Director of Residential Life. Therefore, how I have come to understand this concept is that, in order to remain an effective member of society; personally, professionally, both, we need to do the best we can to briefly (a subjective term) disengage with what takes up most of our physical, emotional, and spiritual energy. I say ‘ briefly’ disengage because I do not think it is helpful and appropriate, pending the situation, to completely disengage. Temporarily disengaging may be framed as taking a trip away from home and/or work to enjoy a change of pace, reading a book on the couch with all technological devices living in the ‘Off’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode, or spending time moving one’s body at the gym or in nature. Examples of when it is not appropriate to completely disengage without proper support from colleagues and/or the department is when one works in a high-touch, service-oriented functional area within Student Affairs, such as Residential Life.
Building on this example, being that I serve as a Residence Hall Director, folks in Residential Life work hand-in-hand with students navigating multiple, intersecting challenges, triumphs, and hardships. As a result, these items can, and a lot of times do, have an impact on the professional and paraprofessional (student staff). Consequently, I think it is absolutely imperative that folks are able and empowered to take time to “replenish their cup(s).”
As student affairs professionals, we need to continue to challenge self and others to critically think and act on how we can sustain and remain in a field where it is highly unlikely that the world’s trepidations, which are having significant impacts on the students we are serving, are going to simplify or ‘go away.’ If we do not, I think that we will continue to experience high-burnout and high-turnover rates. Student affairs professionals, in my mind, are not robots that are hired to be all things for all students. Although there is a lot of love and care for the populations we are serving, we cannot remain at full-throttle at all times without having moments of intentional pause.
Self-Care in Action
Self-care, as I have come to know it, has been a practice that took me until I was in my Mid-Twenties to internalize. Like a lot of folks, I lived what I identify as a ‘self-sacrificial’ work and academic lifestyle. A lifestyle where I would work on schoolwork and/or work-work all day, every day because I genuinely cared more about those around me than myself. Now do not get me wrong, I have a lot of love, care, and compassion for people in-and-out of my life. However, giving my whole self 24/7 is / was not healthy. I was reaching moments where I loathed my jobs, school, self, and, at times, would take out all of this loathing on close relationships in my life. This loathing and, essentially, ‘hating’ everything became a huge ‘red flag’ for me and I came to realize that I needed to make some changes in my life.
My (ongoing) self-care journey truly began my second year of graduate school with me taking intentional time in the mornings (5:00am) to go to CrossFit classes at gym close to my apartment. Come rain, shine, snow, or anything in between I would trudge myself out of bed and hangout with who would become amazing people in my life. Unbeknownst to me, CrossFit would become not only an integral part of my mornings but an integral part of my life. So much so that I established a chosen family of caring, passionate, hardworking, and diverse group of individuals. These individuals empowered me to utilize my body as a strengthened tool to navigate the uncertainties of life, to eat food to fuel my body as opposed to framing it as a inconvenience and chore, and put on notches of resiliency with life through enduring several tough workouts.
Prior to discovering CrossFit, I was struggling with establishing harmony with work, academics, and life, suffering from debilitating depression, and experiencing a relapse with an Eating Disorder. My mental health was deteriorating and I was not finding fulfillment with every-day life. Everything, for a lack of better words, sucked, and I was giving up.
My commitment to CrossFit is something that I would have never imagined. How can an effeminate gay boy ever workout or connect with, in some instances, a predominantly hyper-masculine group of individuals? I found that through slowly “testing the waters” and coming into a new community more reserved, which is not my “typical” approach to anything, I began to realize that CrossFit is not, from my perspective, a community that needs to subscribe to a “one size fits all” approach. Additionally, since moving to a more Queer-affirming city, I have found that I can (more comfortably) navigate the intersections of being Queer and effeminate while also lifting heavy weights and physically competing with more masculine-presenting individuals.
All of this to be said, I have learned so much about myself as a person, the importance of self-care, and why we should not be framing it is selfish. I have learned about how resilient I have become in tough moments, while also recognizing that there will always be areas for growth and improvement. I have found a new sense of purpose and meaning outside of school and work. Something that allows me to disengage and then re-engage with a revitalized commitment. I have learned that my body is a machine capable of doing so many things that are necessary. to navigate daily life. Things that require adequate and appropriate nutrition and rest. Finally, I have learned that in order for me to be an effective an effective son, brother, friend; an effective student affairs professional; an effective athlete; an effective aspirational change agent, I need to spend time focusing on a piece of life that is completely unrelated to my day-to-day professional endeavors.
Self-care looks differently for everyone. My hope is that we can continue to work to shift the culture of self-care from actions that are selfish to actions that are necessary to live a healthy, meaningful, and harmonized life. How do we do this? Great question. There is not one finite way to shift the culture, but for me, I think sharing lived-experiences where acts of self-care have fundamentally changed one’s life can be powerful for folks to hear; particularly those who are in positions of power. Also, I think that continuing to share the importance of self-care for self-preservation is essential. We cannot continue to survive (and not thrive) in environments where self-sacrificial ideations and practices flourish.
My name is Wayne Glass (He, Him, and His gender pronouns). I currently serve as a Residence Hall Director at Macalester College where I work with and oversee two first-year Residence Halls.
Navigating the realm of social justice and inclusion has, and will forever be, a priority and emphasis of every personal and professional endeavor I embark upon. Thus, my student affairs endeavors have been to continue to advocate, educate, and support the importance of intersectionality and how identity shapes and plays and role in how we live and breathe in society. As an aspiring social justice educator, I strive to encourage and empower myself, students, faculty, and staff to go outside of our “comfort zones” and fight for equity for all humankind.
If folks are interested in getting (or remaining) connected, I can be found on Instagram | @WayneGlass, Twitter | @WayneGlass1, Facebook | https://www.facebook.com/wmglass2, and/or through E-Mail | email@example.com. Feel free to reach out!