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Radical Acts of Self-Care

Acts of self-care are radical acts. We hear the term tossed around so much that self-care may very well be the most popular buzz-word of today's world. Despite that ubiquity, we may all have different definitions in mind. To me, self-care is one of the greatest forms of Mindfulness. Listening to ourselves, striving to be as honest as possible, and making time for ourselves are all essential elements of effective self-care. The world we live in, despite the popularity of the phrase, is one filled with challenges that undermine and conflict with self-care.

We are plagued by "notification fatigue" to the point that one of the first steps of making time for ourselves is often silencing all of our devices. We are often expected or expect ourselves to work long hours, skip meals, operate on fewer hours of sleep than is probably healthy, and over-caffeinate ourselves just to make it through the day. We use a slew of over-the-counter remedies to mask the symptoms of the common cold so that we can still go to work and be productive when we should maybe be at home resting instead. We are surrounded by media, advertisements, and branding that encourage us to covet what we don't yet have and under-appreciate what we already do. In so many other ways, self-care is the very antithesis of the modern world's most prominent characteristics. In this world, acts of self-care are not only radical, but necessary.

When I think of self-care, I think of the Mindfulness notion of "loving-kindness." Before we can summon empathy and compassion for others, we may need to start with learning to direct those same sentiments toward ourselves. Once we have compassion for ourselves, we can prepare to make the world a better place and care for others. Everyone must forge our own paths that likely differ from one another in order to get that point being ready to direct compassion to the world of compassion, but it likely starts with looking inward.

 For me, meditation is not only the most effective way, but probably the only way, I can prepare to embody loving-kindness. With that said, other ways could certainly be more effective for other people. Whatever way works for us will not only make the world a better place, but also prepare us to better provide the services we do in a professional context.

Acts of self-care are radical because they call upon us to transcend the pressures of our surrounding society by making time for ourselves and others. In some cases, that often involves silencing the noise. I don't just mean silencing our devices, as I already mentioned, but maybe sometimes a bit more radical than that.

A frequent source of controversy that may comprise another popular buzz-word of today's world is the concept of "ghosting." When we ghost others, we effectively cut all ties of communication, at least temporarily, often without notice. I think we can all agree that ghosting employers, prospective and otherwise, is neither compassionate nor effective self-care unless that particular employer is spamming us and not respecting our boundaries. Ghosting in relationships, however, may be needed sometimes to make time for ourselves.

We all probably have or know of people who have experienced toxic relationships. Our connections and partnerships with others become toxic when all forms of communication break down or one of the people involved fundamentally does not appropriately respect the other's boundaries or values. Ghosting in those contexts may very well be needed to cut ties, pick up the pieces, heal, and move on.

In other contexts where relationships are not toxic, I think the act of ghosting is often considered rude and maybe even offensive. I'm going to get even more radical and challenge that assumption. Because of the constant noise that fills our lives, the ways we are often overwhelmed by information or connections with others, and the pressures to over-commit beyond our means or capacity to do so, ghosting is sometimes the most compassionate act, at least to ourselves, we can muster. If the other people in our relationships are feeling similarly to the ways we may when we ghost others, doing so would also be a compassionate act for the people in question.

This isn't really a piece about ghosting, however. The main focus here is on self-care more broadly, but I just wanted to point out that self-care may often look like selfishness. What it is not, almost certainly, is selflessness, but the does not mean that it's cruel or rude. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given, and have probably already shared on this platform, is that we need to care for ourselves before we can really care for others. When our professions involve serving others, like most customer-facing IT interactions do, we are best served when we can convey authentic empathy and compassion to the recipients of that service.

Throughout each day or at least several times a week, I try to encourage my team to take breaks. It's not just a requirement placed upon us as employers to provide breaks, it's also needed in order to center ourselves, decompress a bit, and discover empathy for others. We are likely not providing effective service when our heads are still consumed by our previous interaction. Taking time to re-focus our energies before we serve each person is often how we really go above and beyond to insure all of our support interactions are stellar.

One of my main priorities in the team I lead and my own service interactions would be what I like to call "bedside manner." Just as doctors and nurses need to convey real empathy when caring for others or providing difficult news, any of the rest of us in any kind of service profession need to do the same before we help others. Doing so will often mean the difference between a dissatisfied customer who may appear to be making our lives difficult and a positive interaction that person will remember fondly. Anywhere within the large continuum between those poles, empathy is probably an important part of the services we provide.

If we really want to be remembered for excellent customer service and effective support, we need to be making time to find compassion for ourselves and for others. As leaders of support teams, we need to make sure our team members are comfortable making time for self-care on and off the job. If we make that a regular practice, and our service interactions reflect that level of care, I'm reasonably confident the populations we serve will understand.

Even if not, most people will remember clearly when the support we're providing is compromised. We compromise our capacity to provide exemplary support when we haven't made time for self-care in order to summon the compassion and empathy we're called upon to convey. We really owe it both ourselves and the people we serve to make time when we can let go of all the obligations or pressures around us and truly care for ourselves. Let's start today.