Everyone I know these days is obsessed with getting “self-care.” We know we should be taking baths, going for nourishing walks in the park, and taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others. I find myself telling my coaching clients all the time that they are no use to the world, or to themselves, if they are not taken care of. And they have to take care of themselves! Get enough sleep, get enough food, and get enough time to daydream.
That’s all well and good.
But what if . . . (dun dun dun) . . . self-care isn’t enough?
I’m not saying that you should be a superhuman who takes care of yourself AND everyone else AND the world, all while being beautiful and perfect and a model.
What I’m saying is: for a lot of us, including myself, taking care of others and the world is our life’s mission. Self-care, on its own, does not enable us to fulfill our purpose.
Self-care as a concept originated as a tool for women activists of color, but it has now been co-opted as its own thing.
I want to tell you today that it is not its own thing. And that if you are an empathetic person with a strong desire to heal the world, self-care may not seem attractive to you, and that’s okay. It is a tool. It is not your life’s mission.
You must take care of your own needs. You cannot ask others to take care of you or “save you,” and you cannot save others to please your ego. (Instead of asking others to save you, just do these things.) However, if you are taking care of yourself, now is the time to take part in what I’d like to call “the human centipede of caring.” (I don’t actually like to call it that, but as I wrote this post, I found this wording hilarious, so I’m keeping it).
If you don’t know what the human centipede is, please don’t google it. Just know that it’s a disgusting horror film that involves people’s bodies being connected to each other. You may think of “the human centipede of caring” as “the circle of caring.” Perhaps that would be more appropriate.
But I digress.
What I mean by “the human centipede of caring” is an interconnected community in which people care for each other’s needs and for the future of the world. Self-care is absolutely essential for this interconnected community not to fall into codependency territory.
No – we don’t want to be codependent. But once you take care of your basic needs – you eat, you sleep, you do creative stuff that makes your heart sing, you may wonder . . . what next?
The answer is: be helpful to others, and enable them to be helpful to you.
To me, loving others and helping them achieve peace and power in their lives is my ultimate life mission. When I take care of myself, I feel good, but I also feel pretty empty. I ask myself “what is the meaning of all of this?”, "what's the point?", and "why I was put on Earth?" When I let myself be helpful to others, and when I let others take care of me, I feel that sense of community, of us being in this together.
Taking care of others and the world is essential to me achieving peace and power in my own life. When I advocate for workers’ rights in my community, for universal healthcare across the US, when I speak up against racism – I am serving my ancestors and my descendants. I am serving my community. And that fuels me beyond food and sleep.
Many of my clients are extremely giving people. They deeply care about making the world a better place. And often, when they think of self-care, they just don’t get excited by it.
Even though it’s not exciting to my clients, self-care is essential. I repeat, self-care is essential.
But my clients are right in noticing that self-care does not a life purpose make. My clients’ life purpose is to end the torture of refugees; to heal sick children; and to end the patriarchy. And that should be celebrated.
Self-care is a tool. But to truly live your purpose, live in the human centipede of caring. Let others care for you, and let yourself care for others.