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Hilary Hodge: Self-care is not being selfish

Self-care is not selfishness. This is something I repeat often, because it is something I am still learning.

I’m still learning to take care of myself and learning to set clear and fair boundaries.

There is a meme that regularly makes its way around the internet and says something like, “You cannot fill another’s cup with an empty bowl.” I think this is really true.



Last year, I went to a leadership conference for working professionals and, through an exercise about saying no, I learned that I have trouble telling others no. The exercise was fairly simple. We were paired with another person for a mock interaction. One person was designated to offer a question and the other to respond. I was the person who had to respond. The responders were instructed that the only response we were allowed to give was a simple “no”. As my partner approached me with simple questions, asking simple favors, or offering suggestions for fun activities, I felt myself growing more and more uncomfortable each time I said no.

When I put myself first, however, I notice that my attitude is better and that my ability to give of myself greatly improves. If I am happy and healthy, my efforts tend to be equally happy and healthy.

This came as a surprise to me because I had really thought of myself as assertive. After the conference, I started to make a note of situations where I had said yes to something when I should have said no — unnecessary volunteer shifts, over-the-top favors for friends or family, tedious projects, unpaid professional work, etc. I found myself all too often in situations where I was feeling resentful towards others for a task that I had taken on through my own free will.




A few months ago, I made up my mind to do less for others and to start taking better care of my health, wealth, and happiness. I made up my mind to choose myself over others more often and to make myself a priority. I decided to care less about what others might think of me and really pay attention to whether or not I was internalizing another person’s bad day. I decided to take the time to take a walk each day and to get more sleep. I decided to stop spending money on tasks, events, and things I didn’t want or need. I decided to start treating myself to the things I wanted for myself and to the events I wanted to attend. In short, I decided to “do me.”

I started to regularly decline volunteer opportunities and set boundaries. I stopped cleaning up after others at work. I asked my wife to help me out when I felt overwhelmed with chores or errands. I set clear rates for my work and asked to be paid at a rate I deserved.

I had expected there to be some sort of backlash for saying no and for being clear about my needs. But truthfully, no one seemed to think it was anything out of the ordinary. In fact, people were really respectful when I respected myself.

When I started to put myself first I started to feel happier. At first, I noticed that I started to read books more and that I was singing more often. Then I noticed that I was able to save money at a much faster rate than before. I started to cook meals more regularly and would sit and eat them thoughtfully. My health improved and I was remembering to take my multi-vitamin every day and to drink water. It has been really nice putting myself first.

I have a long way to go and I know that old habits die hard. I still find myself taking on more than I should and I still find myself saying yes when I should be offering a clear and firm no.

When I put myself first, however, I notice that my attitude is better and that my ability to give of myself greatly improves. If I am happy and healthy, my efforts tend to be equally happy and healthy. If I feel clear and taken care of, it is easier for me to be fully present when I say yes to volunteer shifts, or to doing something nice for others, or even hanging out with the people I love.

As we head into fall, and then into the hustle of the holiday season, I am going to make an effort to take better care of myself and to stay home more often. I am going to check in with myself and make sure that I’m feeling like my best self before I take on anything unnecessary.

Self-care is not selfishness.

Hilary Hodge lives in Grass Valley. Her column is published by The Union on Tuesdays. Contact her at hhodgewriter@gmail.com.


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