It’s OK to Start with You, by Julia Marie Hogan, is a self-care book. I mean, come on. The back cover copy pretty much nailed me in a corner: “Far too many of us dismiss it as selfish pampering, and the results can be devastating for our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Real self-care is anything but self-indulgent.”
Mmmhmmm. I get it. And, I told myself, it wasn’t that I dismissed it as selfish pampering, it’s that I didn’t have time for it.
So I paint my toenails every so often and make sure I have plenty of time to unwind. Self-care, check. Done. Thanks.
You see where this is going, right? I’m missing. The. Point.
(Kind of hoping I’m not alone in this…and betting that if there’s a whole book about it by a major publisher then, yeah, I’m not.)
Hogan says, on the first page of her introduction, “When we aren’t our best selves, it shows.”
So. Very. Guilty.
And then, as if she could read my mind, she writes, a page later, “It’s far too easy to come up with excuses for not taking care of ourselves. We don’t have time. Other people (our families, our children, our colleagues, our friends) need us, and we want to be there for them. We put a lot of other things ahead of our own well-being, often because we think we have no choice.”
This book is full of wisdom and insight that most of the women I know need.
“Authentic self-care is anything but selfish,” Hogan writes. “It’s a disciplined way of life that lays the groundwork for everything else, from your work to your relationships.”
Her book’s divided into two parts. Part I makes the case for prioritizing self-care, with chapters titled “Being Mean to Ourselves” and “Stressed-Out” and, maybe most useful, “What Self-Care Isn’t.” In Part II, Hogan has put together a series of chapters that walk you through making your own self-care plan, covering physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual self-care.
It’s a good book, one I need to reread every so often. And here’s why: I need this. I’m betting you probably do, too. Especially if you’re breathing and you’re human.
So let’s look at relational self-care, shall we?
Despite what you may think, self-care isn’t just about you.
(I know. I KNOW.)
“Healthy relationships are not only an important ingredient for living an authentic life,” writes Hogan, “but also an important part of self-care. Our relationships and how we interact with others reflects how we think and feel about ourselves.”
So how do we approach this from a self-care perspective? What’s this mean for our self-care?
Hogan proposes two main areas: setting boundaries and making time for the people who matter most. As I considered these two things, it seemed to me that they are intertwining: When you do one well, it naturally leads to the other.
Over the years, my professional life has taken a number of turns, and so has my personal life. I went from a young college graduate, working non-stop, to a married woman and then a mom. Though I never stopped working — speaking both of my duties in my vocation and my bringing-in-a-paycheck work — it has changed quite a bit over the years.
I realized, not so long ago, that I’m officially a “veteran mom.”
News flash: That doesn’t mean I’ve figured anything out, just that I’ve lasted without (a) killing the small humans or (b) letting the small humans kill me.
(Think I’m being dramatic? Well, OK then. I am. BUT STILL.)
I’ve had to learn to do this boundaries thing, but it’s an ongoing challenge. That moment when my husband looked at me, as I headed out the door to join and help with a youth ministry gathering in our early marriage, and said, “You know, at this rate we don’t have to worry about having a family. There’s no time to make one,” was a clarion call.
It helped me set some basic boundaries about time (boundaries that have had to change as the kids we have now have gotten older). It also helped me see that my boundaries weren’t just about me: I had to include my husband — and then each of my kids — as I set them for myself.
“Another important aspect of setting boundaries,” Hogan writes, “is learning to say no. Many of us struggle with this.” (It’s like she wrote this section right to me!)
For some of us, that means sitting down with a piece of paper and setting actual rules or guidelines. For others, it is keeping in mind that just because someone asks doesn’t mean you have to say yes.
But boundaries aren’t limited just to your time. Hogan points out, with wisdom I have to embrace, that we should also consider our emotional and physical boundaries. It’s taken me years to realize this. You can love people and not be best friends with them. You have to recognize if there’s something toxic in a relationship, and you have to be able to deal with it accordingly.
“Setting personal boundaries allows you to invest time and energy into those things that should take priority in your life,” and though Hogan doesn’t mention laundry, dishes, and writing, I feel like the fact that I could see those in invisible ink in my copy of the book is noteworthy.
When I started working from home, many years ago, I had little people underfoot. I was mostly freelance, and setting my own hours. (Read as: I never. Stopped. Working. Every moment, I felt like I had to find an “out” to sneak over and get one.more.thing done.)
In the last year, I’ve been full-time with an actual employer (as in, ONE EMPLOYER). I’m still working from home four days a week, and it would seem, on the surface, that a lot of things are the same. I’m at home, for one thing.
But some major factors have changed: I’m home alone for most of the day. During the work day, my human interaction is through email and Slack and texting. (Sometimes, if I’m lucky, there’s a phone call.)
Combine this with the fact that lunch is my favorite meal. When there were people with me all day, every day, it was a different challenge to get to lunch with a friend. I have one friend whose house remains one of my kids’ favorite places to visit, due to the wonderful hospitality she had in having us over to lunch so many times!
Making time for lunch, at least once every couple of weeks, is almost a mental necessity for me. I need to connect with those people I love. I need to see them.
But there are also not-face-to-face things I do to maintain relationships. There’s the daily text I send to a few dear people most days at a set time. There’s the random message I’ll get from another dear person (I got one as I was writing this, as a matter of fact), reminding me that she loves me. There are the other little moments and actions I take — and receive — that all coalesce into an ongoing and vibrant relationship.
But wait, there’s more.
This week, a group of bloggers are exploring different aspects of Hogan’s book and the different parts of self-care she addresses in It’s OK to Start with You. You can find links to all the posts here. (They are fantabulous and super-helpful, though should come with the warning that yes, you will NEED THIS BOOK after you read them!)
And, incidentally, Julia is doing some fun and important work. I enjoy her biweekly newsletter and reading her blog. Find out more at JuliaMarieHogan.com.