Self-care for the self-employed: Taking time to read the map

Like all the self-employed people I know and love, I try to grow my business in a variety of ways. Some ways feel natural, as natural as running a hand through my hair. Others push me outside my comfort zone.

The latter, of course, isn’t fatal, and is even good for us to an extent, right? I try to do a little more every day to “get out there” and get better at what I do, slowly moving beyond what I previously thought was possible for me. I like to look at it as a long, exploratory walk on a new-to-me trail through a beautiful forest. I could choose a route that I’m already 100% familiar with, I suppose. But stepping out of my “known,” my habitual ways of interacting with the world, tests my stamina, my courage, and my powers of observation. And that’s all good.

Until it isn’t.

It’s a quiet morning in Colorado. I’m sitting out on the back porch, being scrutinized by an upside-down chickadee on a nearby branch. I’m sipping coffee and staring out into space. I always have a sense that I should be doing something else instead. Some marketing thing. Some new-product development thing. Some big audacious goal. But this morning it’s a nagging voice I can barely hear, like being yelled at by someone who’s behind thick glass.

I pull a metaphorical curtain over it, and go back to sipping and staring.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken on things that have pushed me out of my introvert comfort zone again and again. Publishing a book. Public speaking. Interviews. More networking and collaboration than I think I’ve done in the last five years combined. A lot more of “the M word” (marketing) than I’m comfortable with.

All of this from the person who, at any party, is the girl in the corner having a quiet conversation with a tall potted plant.

I’ve enjoyed it all, in the way you enjoy the new muscles you start to notice in the mirror after committing to a new exercise regimen. It’s like, “Wow, look at that. I’m so glad I’m doing this.”

It feels like I’ve been on a trail, carrying a knapsack full of protein bars, Red Bull, wise books, and a walkie-talkie connection with some very smart mentors. Exploring, experimenting, breaking through to new parts of the wilderness within me. Enjoying the scenery and the healthy feeling of getting stronger and wiser and braver.

But after about 9 months of pushing hard with both hands, widening my comfort zone and filling my mind and heart with new things, I screeched to a stop. My body started to break. My mind would wander in circles. I was weary, overstimulated, insomnia-wracked, unable to turn my brain off. My emails to people had lost their tenderness. My morning writing became more mechanical, and there was no pleasure in it.

So.

Photo by G. Patterson

I’ve stepped off that trail for a while. I’ve put the adventure of moving into new lands on hold. Instead, I’m back at the porch table with my journal and my pen (the equivalent of my map and compass), thinking about where I might want to go next. I’m quietly, carefully mapping it out. There are an infinite number of possible destinations to choose from: Which one(s) will be the most joyful? Which ones will make my time here on Earth matter most?

I’m resting more. I’m breathing more. I turn off the computer for hours, sometimes longer. I say “no” more (a lot more, a fiscally scary amount of “no”).

I stay hydrated. I eat very, very well. I move my body and gently keep it limber and strong. I systematically remove toxic things from my home and my life. I’ve traded the business development books on my nightstand with a copy of Dr. Frank Lipman’s How to Be Well, and am on the second reading of it.

I still take care of clients, answer emails, do coaching sessions and consultations. I’m still here, and doing what I always do. I’m just off the dusty trail and back in my comfort zone for a while. I’m quiet, listening more than speaking, moving slowly and deliberately so I can sense what feels best. I’m planning the next few years of my life on this Earth.

Though I’m not recommending you do the same—we are all in different places in our work—I want to be sure to remind you that this possibility exists for all of us. If it feels as though this is what you need as well, make it so. Say no more. Clear the parts of your day planner that no longer bring you the same joy. Feel your body’s reactions as you move through your “normal” working day, and take note of the rhythms of tension and stress. Set aside some time to do what feels comfortable and easy, and see what kind of inspiration that ease brings. You may find that dialing it all down for a while helps you reshape the things that just aren’t working for you anymore, with no self-judgment and no regrets.

It’s worth it.

Be well.

 

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