I’m just returning to work after two weeks of vacation. And what a two weeks! Long, lazy summer days filled with whatever I chose to fill those days with has been healing and rejuvenating. This year, I had been holding out for this sacred time away after a particularly stressful year–the kind of year that left me feeling like I didn’t do a great job at anything—being pulled in too many directions, scattered, and spent. It was a year of survival.
Mere survival is just not okay with me. I want to thrive in this life and in my work. I aim to be present, deliberate, and reflective. I want to have fun! Determined (and desperate) to have a different kind of year, I’ve spent a good amount of time on my vacation contemplating self-care. I find it frustrating that I’m still struggling with how to effectively care for myself since this is an issue about which I’ve long theorized and practiced in order to be present for myself and others. Nevertheless, despite all my best and true intentions here I am—yet again—faced with the challenge of how to do it differently. How do I care for myself better, particularly in the face of immense stress?
I know self-care to be a political act, not solely about caring for myself but about caring for my relationships, my organization, my community. As Audre Lorde so beautifully put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” If I cannot be healthy and well, my attempts at fostering healthy relationships and spaces are severely compromised. Therefore, as a feminist leader in Student Affairs, I know how fundamental self-care is to my work.
Feminist leadership seeks to make power visible in order to create positive change. In order to do this, the practice of feminist leadership must attend to all dimensions in which power operates: the public (where power is visible such as the government, military, corporations), private (within institutions, families, relationships), and the intimate (the powerfulness—or powerlessness we feel within ourselves in the form of self-confidence, power over our bodies). Therefore, feminist leadership calls for self-awareness and self-love as critical to prevent narcissism from driving all actions and to ensure that true otherness can be recognized and respected. In other words, we gotta love ourselves before we can love anyone else.
Practicing feminist leadership and self-care in Student Affairs requires an ability to create and sustain healthy boundaries with relationships and with work/life. Given the value our work places on relationships (with students, collaborating partners) and non-traditional work schedules, the boundaries that help to protect the self are often tested in complicated and messy ways. It can be tough, for a number of reasons, to tend to our own needs in the culture of Student Affairs. And this is precisely what makes self-care so vital to our work as feminists in Student Affairs.
I have no answers to my desperate question of how to practice better self-care this time around. However, I believe that the answer lies in the continuous asking of this important question. After all, the answers inevitably change depending on our evolving selves and circumstances but the question itself both demonstrates and fosters the self-awareness and self-love that we seek.