What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the words ‘Self Care’?  Wait, let me guess – at least one of the following, right?

  • Meditation
  • Scented candles
  • Massages
  • Shopping trips
  • Aromatherapy
  • Pampering

But what if this approach to self care only makes up a tiny percentage of what self care really is? 

What if self care isn’t the heavily marketed, commodified, Buy-Expensive-Luxuries version that advertising tries to sell us? 

Now before anyone pummels me with expensive scented candles (unless they’re lemongrass scented, then pummel away), I’m not arguing that meditation, massage, and yes, pampering yourself, aren’t good things. Spoiling ourselves is a fantastic way to shower ourselves with some love. 

But I would argue that there is a different, much broader, and much more (dare I say) holistic way to think about self care; one that’s focused not on shorter term Feel-Good-Now efforts, but on both short and long term ways to truly care for ourselves at the deepest levels. Self care is a filter for how we interact with the world and ourselves.

Self care is a filter for how we interact with the world and ourselves.  

kelli nottingham

This approach is a more expansive, truer way of caring for ourselves, so that we can be the most vibrant, powerful, and authentic versions of ourselves that we can.  Yes, pampering is a part of caring for ourselves, it’s just definitely NOT the whole package. 

Let’s go out to my garden to explore this idea more.  I love gardening, and one of the perks of moving out of the big city (Houston) into a rural area (way outside of Houston) is that we can have a nice big garden.  I also get giddy when I see the wild rabbits and deer that live on our property.  And suddenly we’re hit with a conundrum:

  • I love growing veggies in my garden.
  • I love the wild bunnies and deer around my home.
  • The wild bunnies and deer also love the veggies in my garden.

Here is where we begin the Big Metaphor for this article:

Self Care is tending the garden of your life.

Young blackberries at the farm

1. We need boundaries to thrive.

Without boundaries (or a fence), my garden would get eaten by all the woodland critters around.  The critters would be thrilled, but I would feel cheated out of all the hard work I put into growing food for my family. 

Our lives work the same way.  When we don’t have boundaries for how we expect others to treat us (and how we also treat ourselves), we feel stepped on, mistreated, and eaten alive. 

Not only do we need to set boundaries, but we also have to give ourselves the authority to enforce those boundaries.  “I’m never letting her treat me that way again!” we say for the 9th time.  Sound familiar?  Setting boundaries only works when the boundaries are actually boundaries, fences that we will not allow to be crossed without repercussions.  I’m not talking about trapping & releasing Grumpy Uncle Phil into another family so they can deal with him.  But knowing that we can stand up for ourselves, that we can push back when our boundaries are crossed – that is self care. 

Knowing that we can stand up for ourselves, that we can push back when our boundaries are crossed – that is self care.

kelli nottingham

2. We need to thin out our plants so the key ones can thrive. 

One of the hardest parts of gardening (emotionally speaking), is pulling out happy baby plants, because they’re growing too close to other happy baby plants.  When we don’t have enough space in our lives for all the things we’re committed to, we have to get rid of something.  Otherwise, everything suffers. 

If you don’t have enough time, space, or energy in your life for everything you’re trying to do, it’s time to put on that Self Care Filter and prioritize.  Yes, it’s hard to delay or get rid of something in your life that you’re excited about, but if your plants are too crowded, nothing can truly grow well, and the soil of your life will have no nutrients left to give. 

3. Sometimes self care is not Instagram-worthy. 

Next spring I will be amending a new plot for our garden that is heavy clay, which means over the next few months, I’m shoveling a whole lot of… manure.  (#nophotosplease)

The most important work we can do for our own well-being is the behind-the-scenes internal work – the work that happens deep down inside while we meditate, journal, or take walks.  When we get caught up in the external trappings of what self care ‘should’ be, we can lose the true foundational work down in the mud of our souls that will enable us to grow the way we desire.

So what can you do to look at life through your Self Care Filter?  

Here are a few ideas:

  • Saying No to overspending on holiday gifts, because that’ll put you in debt
  • Meeting with your boss to discuss reprioritizing your work, instead of just taking on more and more (#nomore80hourworkweeks)
  • Cutting toxic people out of your life, and not wallowing in guilt about it
  • Setting work or home routines to cover your major priorities each week

So light a candle (or don’t – your choice!) and let’s focus on a different, fuller way to care for ourselves – a way that will help us thrive in every area of our lives, including work, home, and relationships. 

Gottfried thinking deep gnome thoughts

To hear more ways you can improve your career and life, check out The Career Speakeasy podcast (or The Belly Dance Alchemy podcast, if you’re a dancer), available on most podcast directories.