We talk a good game about self-care: but what does it really mean? And why is it so hard?

It has been 2 years since I became an RA. It has enriched my life, and sometimes, quite wonderfully, consumed it.  I have begun to own the role as part of who I am. I love this job.

But in spite of the fact that I feel confident I can handle any situation involving other people, I still struggle all the time with maintaining balance and self-care. When I say I struggle all the time with self-care, I mean it literally. I am struggling now, today, all the time, with this balance. 


Self care bear, why is this so hard?

At some point fairly early on, I started to need my job. Instead of being a lonely college student depressed from a lack of purpose, I can be the RA, a person who is always looking out for others, a person who does incredible things, a person with confidence and purpose to spare. But as time went on, sometimes I forgot to be a person outside of my job. It became revolutionary to think of scenarios in which I do not have to be that person, the person who always feels responsible to look after others and facilitate community. It became revolutionary to think, “sometimes, I am just me, just a being existing and feeling, and it is not always my responsibility to make things right.”

I had this conversation with a good friend of mine.  My friend is an excellent listener. He had started to have all of these break-through conversations with people, conversations that had that satisfying ‘ahah!’ moment, where everything about that person–why they are the way they are–falls into place. You know you have hit this moment by the face of the person you’re listening to; you can see and feel their overwhelming relief. “If you reflect back to someone just so,” I think, “if you use just the right word, magic happens.” Suddenly, neither you nor the other person is trying to think of things to say, or trying to secure each other’s approval. Suddenly you are saying what you truly believe and feel, often quite to your own surprise. It is pure electricity.

After you have a conversation like that with someone, it’s hard to let go. You want to spend all your time thinking about their lives, the puzzle pieces they are struggling to put together, the pain that has shaped who they are. You want to do is to see into the secret lives of people, and once you see, to connect on a deeper and deeper level. It is a beautiful experience, but sometimes, somewhere in the passion of connection, we lose the patience to worry about our own lives, to do the little tasks pushing our own lives forward. The more entrenched we get in other peoples’ lives, the more we develop an inability to invest in our own. Slowly the world gets smaller and smaller.

I have a very rewarding identity as an RA, an identity which I am proud of. But increasingly, as I become a senior thinking about graduation and as I am getting back in touch with myself, I’m realizing I need certain times where I need to be MORE than just an RA. Maybe there are times when I need not to be an RA at all. This is obvious to some people, some people realize this need right away. For me, it is a need I am having for the first time.

Self care for me at this point means developing a new sense of self to strive towards. Not only do I want to be that community figure, I want to be a writer, a mentor and a student of mentors, a person who isn’t afraid to focus on her own life, a person who is invested in herself. I can be obsessed with being an RA, but I have to force myself to see the power and importance of my larger identity as well. Balance will only come naturally when I have regained that sense of perspective.

For now, my homework is to enjoy the sense of passion and purpose this job gives me, while always asking myself; what gives me passion and purpose outside of this job? Why ELSE am I living? Because ultimately, I am more than any one identity, no matter how important it is.



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