A major part of my journey into adulthood was realizing that I don't always have to show up; sometimes I can simply not be everything to everyone. For me, giving my back-breaking effort to every single thing I touched was a lifestyle and a characteristic I found rewarding. However, somewhere into my late 20s, I realized giving all of me — whether it's my time, effort, or love — felt more like a betrayal to myself.
My favorite analogy, "You can't pour from an empty cup," is a true statement no matter what you're referencing. I cannot give of myself if I have nothing to give. I believe in giving from my overflow, meaning I prioritize myself whenever possible, keeping my cup full, and then whatever is left over can be given to those who need it. So whenever I'm faced with the question, "Who is it going to be today, me or them?" I ask myself a variety of these three questions to put my self-care and well-being into perspective.
What Do I Need Today?
Sometimes, self-care means checking in and giving yourself a quick physical, mental, and emotional body scan. I spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to be done for each day, what's on my forever-growing to-do list, and who I need to show up for. I was only focused on my outputs rather than my inputs, which was setting me up for eventually giving from an empty cup.
Asking myself what I need allows me to build myself into my to-do list and prioritizes my ability to function as my best self. And the need could vary depending on the day. At times, it's as simple as a glass of water, a hug, or a phone call to a friend. Other times, it can be a well-balanced meal or a solo date night with zero distractions. Whatever the case, I believe we all intuitively know what we need from each situation we face, it's just a matter of asking the right question and waiting to feel the internal right answer.
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What Can I Handle Today?
On the days when the pressure is high, I try to figure out my bare minimum. In a culture where the "grind until you die" mentality is considered normal, I throw it out the window every chance I get. Consider my empty cup: if I grind away working at full speed, eventually I will be ground to dust and beneficial to no one, including myself.
Internally asking myself what I can handle today gives me a bird's-eye view of my realistic priorities. I used to make everything — from work to my friends' crises — a high-alert situation that needs to be handled today and right now. But we know that's unrealistic, right? Some things, if not most things, don't require all of you all the time. Asking for the basic needs of the present moment allows space for other things to be considered if necessary. I give myself a baseline so I don't accidentally overextend myself. This way, if more of me is needed after the basics, I can choose to give more rather than feeling required or anxious to do so.
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Do I Need Time?
There's a viral TikTok where someone asks, "What's the side of TikTok you're on that you're not supposed to be on?" My answer would have to be gentle-parenting TikTok. The parents have taught me that giving children a moment to themselves when it's needed is crucial to their body-autonomy development. Since the only little human I'm raising is my inner child, I applied some of that logic to myself.
I ask myself how much time I may need to think about or deal with a situation. Too many times in the past, I have forced myself to tackle situations or dilemmas head-on the second they arise, and that's not always necessary. Pro tip: if there's space to take time, take the time. I apply this question to any emotion-heavy situation. Five minutes or even 30 minutes will not make or break most circumstances. If I need time to consult with my inner counsel, then I'm going to take it. When I started practicing radical self-care, the boundaries came naturally and therefore allowed space, time, and energy for the things and people that mattered most, including myself.
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