A Ten-Step Process to Self Preservation by Theresa Carli
“I don’t know how you do it all!” If you are a professional woman, juggling a thousand different things, you have likely been on the receiving end of those words. When I initially sat down to write this article, my first idea was to provide a list of 10 things a woman can do to improve her work-life balance. But then it hit me — women have a slew of things to do already, and typically, we are doing things for others. Most women are accustomed to putting themselves last. However, we have to ensure that in the process of taking care of everything and everyone, we remain focused on the vital survival tactic of self-preservation.
To prepare for this article, I surveyed the multitude of strong women that I am blessed to know. I asked what they wished they had more of and why they did not have it in their lives. The No. 1 answer: more help. The No. 1 reason they do not have more help: an expectation that they themselves will simply take care of things. But always taking care of things for everyone else results in us putting ourselves on hold. It is only a matter of time before we burn out. If we fail to focus on taking care of ourselves now, we will not be able to take care of the people and things we care about in the future. Our failure to practice self-preservation will preclude us from accomplishing our long-term goals, and ultimately leave us saddened and unfulfilled.
So, I decided to create this journey — this 10-step path to self-preservation. Take the journey at your own pace. The only rule is to stay conscious of the ultimate goal: Preserve the awesomeness that is you.
Step 1: Tell yourself and those around you that you are embarking on this journey. Commit to yourself this very conscious goal of taking care of yourself more. Let those around you know you are going to focus more on taking care of yourself. Make it a reality by saying it out loud! This will solidify your commitment, and the people in your life will help you stay on track.
Step 2: Find someone to embark on this journey with you. Invite another woman to hold you accountable. Someone that you know needs the same thing as you do, but is too busy to realize it. Team up and embark on this path together. Lean on each other for support and be each other’s rock. Each month catch up over lunch, happy hour, or even a quick call, and discuss what you have done for yourself so far. If you have become stagnant, talk about what is holding you back and explore ways to make a change. Interestingly, one of the themes in the responses I received from the women I surveyed was that they felt like they are everyone else’s rock. Oftentimes, we have no one to rely on or go to for help, and we do not want to feel weak by asking. However, this is a weakness in itself. To get beyond that, take step No. 2 and be each other’s rock.
Step 3: Learn how to gracefully say “no.” Having a thousand things to do is partly our own fault. We never say no. There are some false assumptions, or misconceptions, that prevent women from saying “no.” The first misconception: “If I don’t do it, nobody else will.” This is false. If you do not do it, somebody else will have to. And guess what? That is OK! The second misconception: “I can do it better, so I’ll just do it myself.” Also false. If you have that approach, no one else will ever step up and take that burden from you. While saying “no” can make you feel bad, in the long run, you will not regret it. Saying “no” can alleviate undue stress and free you to do things you want to do, rather than things you feel obligated to do. Sometimes, we end up resenting those obligations. Saying “no” will help you create time for things you genuinely want to commit to.
Step 4: Learn something new. Whether it is finding something to sharpen your mind, like a foreign language, Sudoku, or art – or whether it is finding a new physical activity to learn, like tennis, golf, or dancing – finding something new to learn can be exciting, breathe new life into you, and make you feel better about yourself. Hint: This step will be easier to do by following step No. 3.
Step 5: Start focusing on your physical well-being. By physical well-being, I do not mean exercise or diet. We all know we are supposed to do that. Instead, add little things to your routine, like meditating, taking vitamins, or getting an extra 30 minutes of sleep at night. Make a conscious effort to incorporate one change into your life until it becomes a daily practice. Little adjustments made in a purposeful way can make a huge difference to our physical well-being.
Step 6: Give yourself credit. Give yourself credit for committing to this journey and think about the positive effects this path has had on you so far. Give yourself credit for all of the things you tackle on a daily basis. Whether it is being able to buy your child the coolest new computer game, cooking your spouse their favorite meal, or winning a case for a client, stop and reflect on a job well done. No need to go dancing in the streets, but smile and give yourself kudos.
Step 7: Limit sources of negativity. Recognize sources of negativity in your life and eliminate them. If it is a person, distance yourself from them. If it is your job, think about how you can lessen the negativity you experience in the workplace, or make a change professionally. Sometimes, we tolerate negativity because eradicating it is uncomfortable or hard. Negativity is infectious. Being complacent will allow negativity to remain and spread. Instead, we must make an affirmative effort to eliminate it from our lives. Before you know it, you will not even realize that negative person or thing is gone. Your life will be better. You are embarking on a positive path and need positivity around you. Surround yourself with things and people that make you happy.
Step 8: Compliment other women. One of the biggest problems women have — especially strong, type-A women — is that they are in constant competition with one another. We should instead be sharing a common goal of building each other up. A genuine compliment is a humbling gesture that goes deeper than mere flattery. When you make a conscious effort to recognize the good in others and compliment them accordingly, it promotes positivity within yourself and for that person. Since it is satisfying to create happiness and well-being in others, this small act will also create a very good feeling within yourself.
Step 9: Stop beating yourself up. We are our own worst critics. We notice flaws in ourselves that no one else sees. While it is good to hold yourself to a high standard and push yourself to do better, it is also OK to sometimes forego perfection. Beating yourself up inhibits you from growing, creates self-doubt, and discourages you from continuing to push onward. Work on honest self-improvement, not ruthless self-loathing.
Step 10: Be grateful. This path to self-preservation ends with appreciation for the blessings in your life. All too often, we are so preoccupied with obligations and the desire to want more “stuff,” that we forget to reflect on what we have. Don’t focus on what you think you are missing. Take time to be grateful for what you have today and the bright future you are creating for tomorrow. This brings us full circle to the beginning: consciously remember to stay on this path of self-preservation. Throughout this journey, check in on your accountability partner. Offer them help, lend an ear, and do not forget to tell them how amazing they are for having the strength to take this path with you. I truly hope that you engage in this journey. Have the strength and the courage to put yourself on this path, and do not stop after doing it just once, or temporarily. Make it a well-traveled path in your life.
*Special thanks to the amazing women who contributed to the research for this article.