Updated April 8th At the CatalystCon opening keynote panel, we were all asked what we do for self-care. I was stumped. I’m sure I said something that probably sounded sane and rational (I don't recall exactly what I managed to get out), but the truth is, self-care is hard. Yes, I worry about burnout, about waking up in the middle of the night with dreams about an assignment I haven’t finished yet (which does happen when I’m in that situation), about the way I bite my nails or can’t keep off my phone to the detriment of my relationship. I am concerned about those things, but what keeps me from taking better care of myself, meaning more time away from both my literal desk and my mental obsessing about work, is money.
I’m more worried about not having enough money to pay the immediate bills, and not having enough money to raise the child I am trying to create inside me, than taking a walk every day or treating my body as more than a vessel for typing and thinking. It’s such a hard balance, one I feel I get worse at juggling, rather than better. I know I used to juggle a lot when I had a full-time job, but working for myself, combined with living with a partner, has upped the ante.
I want to spend more time being a better girlfriend, but lurking in my mind, always, and not at the back of it, is whether I can be a good or even halfway decent financial partner. I have zero job security. My books could all sell zero copies in any given quarter. My two sex columns could end tomorrow (yes, in my experience, that’s how it happens one day you have a column, the next day you don’t). Everything is constantly potentially in flux. That's why it's hard to know where my job ends and I begin, and vice versa, and why I get the desire to be an adult preschooler.
On Monday, I took the day off to go to New York to see a friend I hadn’t seen since October. We chose the date based on her schedule, which turned out to be fortuitous because it was absolutely gorgeous out. My initial plan to get a manicure and pedicure at my favorite First Avenue nail salon that I’ve been loyal to for many years was dropped in favor of walking from Penn Station to Union Square, both saving money on subway fare and letting me get some much-needed exercise. I did a little consulting work on the train in and then decided to give myself permission to be off. Of course, I paused at the library to recharge my phone and my energy, and two assignments I hadn’t even pitched showed up in my inbox, which made me feel I was doing a smart thing.
Then, after a lovely day, I got home and found out one of my steady gigs is ending. It’s not the end of the world, but it does mean being more diligent about pitching and pushing myself. It’s a good reminder to never rest on my laurels and to always be asking myself both what I want to achieve professionally and how to get there. I’ve been doing a lot of that this year, starting with my promise to myself not to write for free, and it’s actually paying off. I’m finding that when I step back and don’t take every single offer without even thinking more than two seconds, when I cut back on going to New York, which I only plan to do in the next few months for a family reunion and Book Expo America (I'm signing Wednesday, May 27th, details TK!), I am choosing to believe in myself and my potential. I’m acknowledging that I do indeed work hard, that I start soon after 7 most days and go until 5, and that I need to use that time to my best advantage.
Often, rather than figuring out how I can advance my career, I look around wistfully at those who have jobs I envy and think, I wish I did that. Maybe I do wish that, but I’ve chosen this path and its rewards far outweigh its negatives. I love that right now, even if it doesn’t last forever, I can afford the $29.50 to go to New York to see my friend, to bask in the sunshine, the $10 I spent on greeting cards. I can afford to do events like my upcoming Portland, Maine gigs (details TK), where, yes, I’ll be teaching one class, and paid for it, but doing one reading to promote my new book, which I won’t be paid for directly except if people buy the book from me. I have a ton to be grateful for, and that’s what I want to model, both for myself and, should the universe smile upon me, my future children. I don’t want to spend my limited time on earth thinking about what ifs or feeling sorry for myself or worrying every minute I’m not working about where my next dollar will come from.
This year, my self-care is about recognizing the things about my career I can’t change, the things I can, and putting into practice strategies and choices to make sure I can continue to do this for as long as possible. It’s also meant recognizing that maybe “as long as possible” will be only a few more weeks, or months, or years. Maybe I’ll move to some new city and find a job I actually want to go to, and pare down my freelancing to an article here and there. Who knows? I need to be prepared for that, and to keep learning and building and growing my business, and my self-esteem, and my stamina and fortitude in handling the highs and lows of a very unpredictable businesses (two, really, if you count freelance writing and book publishing). That took me a bit longer than a minute or two to come up with on a panel, but now I’m prepared if I’m asked again!