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For almost all four years of high school, I wanted to go to only one school when I graduated. I won’t say which school it was, but it was a University, it was in New York, and it was the epitome of cool to me. I had these big dreams that I would go there and immediately become a world-class writer who everyone thought was brilliant (and had a punk rock Anna Wintour thing going for her).
I did not get in.
The day after I got the message I had not been accepted, I stayed home from school. I went to Burger King and got one of my comfort foods from my childhood: French toast sticks.
Then I went home and ate them sullenly at the table, feeling hopeless and dejected.
My dad asked why I stayed home from school. “My dreams have been crushed!” I assume I said (I was very dramatic, if you couldn’t tell).
And my dad said, “You can’t just stay home because things didn’t go the way you planned.”
In a lot of ways, he was right. When things don’t go our way, or when things are difficult or stressful, it’s not always helpful to stay home and frown into a tiny plastic cup of maple syrup.
However, I’ve learned a lot of about resilience since then, and I see something different in what I did that day: I instinctively knew I needed some time to take care of myself.
It definitely wasn’t that big of a deal to me, even then. During the time it took my “dream school” to get back to me, another school – the one I would eventually graduate from – had already started to look better to me. I was more mildly disappointed than devastated.
But I knew that I might need some time to myself so that I could bounce back.
Self-care is actually a big piece of Resilience, our ability as leaders to shift from reactivity to a state of resourcefulness in moments of stress or crisis. From a brilliant piece over at Harvard Business Review:
The key to resilience is trying really hard, then stopping, recovering, and then trying again. This conclusion is based on biology. Homeostasis is a fundamental biological concept describing the ability of the brain to continuously restore and sustain well-being. […] When the body is out of alignment from overworking, we waste a vast amount of mental and physical resources trying to return to balance before we can move forward.
Nowadays, I focus my self-care on things that let my mind rest a little: brainless comedies, immersive video games, and the novel I’m writing. I asked a few Rockwood staff members what they do for self-care. Here are their responses:
Eileen, Senior Finance & Program Operations Manager
Deep breaths. Hugs. Pedicure. Chocolate. Conversation with a supportive friend.
Melissa, Executive Assistant
Definitely by taking time-off work to mentally recover. Spending quality time without an agenda also helps.
Julie, Chief Operating officer
This has always been (and continues to be) a challenge for me. I’m slow to recover and I must be extremely intentional about it.
Haley, Senior Resource Manager
My immediate response is often physical–I like to start my rebound by finding space to be alone and doing a scan of my body. Where am I holding this experience? What is the history behind why this experience impacted me in the way it did? How can I use this experience to become stronger?
Virada, Program Manager
When I feel my thoughts go into a place of hopelessness and powerlessness, I stop and get myself to the gym or outside for exercise to blow off steam. If it’s not the right time for that, I can scale to what I can do in that moment: walk around the block, clear off my desk, get a drink of water, small talk with the coworkers. If I can, I try and wait 24 hours before responding. (Sounds great now, but takes a lot of willpower in the moment!)
Ebony, Senior Program Strategist
Tennis, coloring, cooking
Sophie, Enrollment Coordinator
After something that drains me emotionally, I surround myself with good friends and good food.
Tyson, Program Manager
This is my embodied practice of resilience: noticing my breath, breathing low and slow, following that breath through my body, noticing the areas of tension, focusing on relaxing those areas of my body, and then finally, adjusting my posture (whether sitting or standing). If I am triggered and take a minimum 5-10 seconds to cycle through this and adjust myself physically, I can usually determine if I can continue engaging, or if there is a need for more breathing and adjusting of my body.
Periodically throughout the day, I incorporate stretches and/or different poses or moves into this low-and-slow breathing process, so that my body and mind can sync often. In doing so over years, my body and breath are much more responsive, adaptable, and resilient in the moments where they are likely to be most strained (often times unconsciously).
Amie, Program Coordinator
Being more of an introvert, I find comfort in quiet spaces and find it necessary to take myself to a quiet space after I have experienced something that drained me emotionally. I’ll put on light music, clear the area, and slowly bring myself into a more reflective mood (another tool for me to process emotions/triggers/experiences). I find it important to be away from people when I’m drained emotionally.
Liz, Salesforce & Special Projects Manager
I take time to rest and recharge. Sometimes alone, and sometimes with others. Walking, reading, listening to music, and gardening all bring me joy and help me clear my head.
I try to focus on the positive and opportunities for growth.
I let go of the things that are out of my control and consider how to change the things I can.
I reach out to others for comfort, advice, and support.
I remind myself of all the blessings in my life, and how thankful I am.
Lucia, Program manager
protecting space for exercise, which helps to get out of my head and into my body.
going dancing with friends
daily somatics centering practice
visits to my family at least once a month in Sacramento
baby hugs from my godson whenever I can
Amanda, Operations Coordinator
I take my time with hard moments. Often times I find myself breathing, or singing myself through moments that have knocked me down. Breathing, music, and nature all help me float through and around the troubles that I come across.
How do you practice self-care?