Self-Care is NOT Selfish


One realization I’ve had in recent years is how difficult it can be for people (and educators in particular) to prioritize their self-care.  As caregivers, teachers are hard-wired to put others first.  I’m not going to try to convince you to put yourself first.  What I am going to do is explain why prioritizing your self-care is not about you, but is actually about being of benefit to others.  


We’re all familiar with the popular metaphor of self-care as it relates to what to do if you’re in an airplane emergency.  You are specifically directed to put your oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you.  This protocol illustrates the importance of prioritizing your own needs before seeing to the needs of others.  The simple truth is this:  If you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to do what needs to be done, whether in your role as an educator, partner, friend, or family member. 

Stephen Covey, author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, emphasizes the value of self-care by using the metaphor of “sharpening your saw.”  When we have tasks to accomplish, like chopping down tree after tree, we often keep going in spite of the fact that the metaphorical blade of our saw has been dulled.  Knowing that there is still so much to be done, you might be thinking that you don’t have time to stop and sharpen the saw.  Neglecting to do so, however, leads to taking much more time to hack away at the tree.  If you just stopped to sharpen the saw, you would have more effectively and efficiently cut down the tree. 

You must put your oxygen mask on first.  You must sharpen your saw.  These things take time, but they are worth it.  Prioritizing your self-care will allow you to have more energy, more focus, and more skill in everything you do.    


Here is the truth:  People are depending on you.  Your students, your colleagues, your family and your friends.  If I were a gambling woman (which I am not), I would bet that you are the go-to person when people need help of some sort.  You do the heavy lifting in your work and in your relationships.  You are the rock.  

Now that we’ve established the truth of the situation, I want to remind you that all the people depending on you need you to take care of yourself.  When you get sick, everyone can get by, but it’s not the same.  When you burn out or fall apart, people will try to help, but you’re the one who is usually the helper.  You see where this is going.

While I think there are tons of reasons why you should take care of yourself for your own personal benefit, I’m appealing to your self-LESS-ness right now.  You need to avoid over-committing, get plenty of rest, fuel your body with healthy foods, and ask for help when you need it.  All of this will serve you so you can keep doing the work and supporting the people in your life, because they need you. 


Actions speak louder than words, and every choice you make in life communicates your values loud and clear.   So, when you sacrifice your own wellness and happiness for the sake of others, what are you teaching your students?  Your colleagues?  Your own family?
Instead of showing them that a person can have a meaningful and rewarding career and still be happy, your overwork and self-sacrifice shows them an example of someone choosing to be a martyr.
I understand that teaching is incredibly demanding, physically, intellectually and emotionally.  I know the toll it can take.  The question is what you can do to make time to rest, and find clarity about what you can pare away, stop doing, and ask for help with.  Additionally, think about what “fills your bucket” and rejuvenates you and be sure to make time to prioritize these things. 

Then, you can model for others what a realistic, healthy balance can look like and inspire the people in your life to integrate these same choices and behaviors into their own lives.


Above are the three reasons why self-care isn’t selfish.  It allows you to be more effective, to keep going, and to be an example of healthy work-life balance for others.  In the next post, I will be sharing some specific strategies for how to integrate more self-care into your life. 

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