We are a culture of no. Like toddlers learning autonomy for the first time, we bandy about rejection with reckless zeal. No, I don’t want to go out tonight. No, I won’t help you unless you help me first. No, I won’t eat that donut. No, I won’t make the first move. Self-care gurus and influencers praise the merits of staying in and being selfish, because YOU are the most important. Just say no! You don’t owe anyone anything!
But that’s not true. You owe yourself.
The self-care movement, when reduced to a tweet or a series of memes, tends to miss the big picture in favor of instant gratification. Taking bubble baths and bingeing Netflix might feel great in the moment, but you owe it to yourself to do the dishes, to invest in relationships, to ace that presentation, to learn new things. Sometimes true self-care looks like doing the hard thing and saying yes.
Yes, I’ll clean the house tonight so I don’t have to live in my mess. Yes, I’ll go out to lunch with that person I don’t know very well. Yes, I’ll take on extra work to exercise my mind, strengthen my will, and maybe even advance my career. Yes, I’ll help you. Yes, I’ll go to the gym. Yes, I’ll try.
One of my biggest regrets of my life is also one of the dumbest. Sometime in college I was sitting alone in my dorm room when a cute boy walked by and offered me a donut. I said no. No was my go-to, no was safe. And even though I was hungry and single and not really enjoying my alone time, I turned down the cute boy with the donut because no kept me in control, kept me at the center of my universe. It sounds silly, and I don’t by any means think that saying yes would have changed my life in any significant ways, but hey, who knows, it might have. I learned something that day, though. I learned that life doesn’t often ask you, are you sure? and no is a lot harder to come back from than yes. There may always be different opportunities, but there will rarely be second chances.
Saying yes is hard. It’s exhausting, it’s anxiety-inducing, it’s risky, and it might not pay off. But when you constantly say no, your life sits stagnant. You can’t move forward. Sometimes you need that—rest is not the same as rejection, though they often go hand in hand. But Newton’s law is just as true of people as it is physics. A person at rest tends to stay at rest, while a person in motion tends to stay in motion. Saying yes is a lifestyle, and one that has the potential to contribute to your joy and raise your overall quality of life. Self-care isn’t just saying no to everything you don’t want to do. Self-care is saying yes to things that might be hard, but will also be worth it.
You are important. And like anyone important to you, sometimes you need to give yourself a little tough love. Because what’s good isn’t always easy, and what’s beneficial isn’t always fun.
Weigh the risk against the reward, even if the reward is just proving to yourself that you can, is just giving you one more baby step toward the person you eventually want to be. Progress isn’t always tangible. Sometimes progress can only be seen years in the future when you look back and think, wow, that doesn’t scare me anymore or hey, I’m pretty good at this or even I’m so glad we’re friends. Self-care isn’t about being selfish, it’s about doing what’s best for yourself, even when you don’t want to.
You are in control of your life. That doesn’t just give you the authority to say no, it gives you the ability to say yes.