When I was young, a million years ago, I was fortunate to have an employer who thought it would be a good idea to ask all the women who were by and large in administrative roles whether they’d like to go on a 6 week Women’s Development Programme. A brave move back then. Time off work to have a think about where you are, where you’d like to be and how to get there. And not just the work stuff, this was about the whole person – as if you actually had another life outside work.
That was 20 years ago and after I’d done the course myself I then became a trainer and saw first-hand how it changed women’s lives in a positive and holistic way. I’m not here to promote the name of the company (who are still going strong and now work internationally and with men as well as women) but I would like to share some of the mantras I have tried to live my life by during the intervening years and pass on some of the self-care techniques which have worked for me:
The ‘good luck’ theory
No one knows where the saying came from, some think Eleanor Roosevelt but it goes like this
‘there’s no such thing as luck; there’s only opportunity meeting preparation’. Dwell on that for a minute, think about whether it makes sense to you and then consider what it means. In essence, you can sit around waiting for things to happen – and they might – or you can prepare yourself (get some experience, some qualifications, make some contacts) then start looking for the opportunities. The best example I can give you is my own experience of doing lots of qualifications because basically I couldn’t decide what I really wanted to do so tried a range of courses. But when my brother sent me a job advert (the opportunity) and it was asking for all the things I had (the preparation) the rest, as they say is history.
I love this mantra because it means you’re very much in control of your future which gives you more confidence to handle the set-backs as well as trying something new.
I have a close friend who tells me ‘there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women’. I can’t put it any plainer than that really. Wrapped up in this theory is also the idea around making sure you’re surrounded by the ‘right’ people and I’ll cover that later. But for now, I think we can all recall women/men who take and never give, who ask for help but when you ask back they don’t respond, the ones who only contact you when they want something. They’re typically the ones with few close contacts but lots of ‘friends’, the ones who only share their good news stories but not the ones when they’re a bit down, in between jobs, having a bad day – I think you get the picture. The notion of sisterhood is to be supportive, encouraging, non-judgemental, be a critical friend, be loyal and trustworthy and share your ideas, thoughts, resources – unconditionally and unselfishly because at the heart of being a good sister is the absolute knowledge that it’s done from the heart, no pay-back expected.
Seems like a obvious one but it’s surprisingly difficult to get started. After all, if you don’t know yourself then how can you expect anyone else to? Knowing what stage you are at in your life and using the experience and knowledge you’ve gained will help you to focus on the ‘what next’. Understanding your own values, what you care most about, what moves you, angers you, truly inspires you, what moves you to take action – all these things make you who you are – and over time they can change. That’s the beauty of moving forward (or getting older, if you must use that phrase). It’s also important to take stock of all the things in your favour. During my time as a trainer I was never surprised that in the session called ‘what you’ve got going for you’ I would get blank looks to begin with. I think our natural tendency in the UK is to underestimate our abilities – and so unpicking this question is so important because all of us come with so many positive attributes; they just need to be pointed out to us sometimes. I’d encourage you to have a go now; achievements, qualities, strengths, skills, qualifications. We all have them. I suppose this is a kind of inventory about you. It’s what you’ve got going for you in terms of your personality, goals, achievements, strengths. Not just your qualifications but the ‘whole’ you – what do you have to offer the world? You might want to ask some of those close to you because I’ll guarantee they’ll tell you something you hadn’t considered. That’s why you’re friends after all!
The People in Your Life
No woman is an island right? And so, throughout life we are in contact with other people who are all different and thereby have different effects on us. It’s important to be able to categorise (that sounds awful I know) the various people, understand their impact on you and identify if there is anyone missing. Put simply, you might think someone is ‘nice’ but what effect do they have on you? Do they bring your mood down, make you feel insecure, give you lots of support, always make you laugh. List them now and decide whether they are a positive or negative impact on your life. I’m not suggesting you suddenly get rid of the ones who don’t crack good jokes or pass down their copies of Grazia or Woman and Home but just make yourself aware of the people around you.
Like all of us I’ve been through difficult times and in 2010 I faced bereavement, divorce and dementia – I used lots of the things I’d learnt on the programme and when times were tough I dipped into my virtual toolbox of resources. I’ve used these resources over and over again and try to live my life by the mantras I’ve outlined which have stuck with me all this time. It’s about living my life with the knowledge and support I’ve gained from all sorts of people, reading, experiences and sharing this with others which I hope I’ve managed to do here.
Sarah Parry: A career in the public sector and professional qualifications in HR and community regeneration means my life has been full of people. All sorts of people. All sorts of backgrounds. All sorts of issues. And some of my own things to deal with too; bereavement, marriage, divorce, alcoholism, emotional health, dementia, cancer (not in any particular order) – no different from anyone else.
Now ready to enter the next chapter and really excited about all the possibilities.
‘Success happens when opportunity meets preparation’ (Eleanor Roosevelt we think) has been my mantra and I’ve watched this unfold many times over the years. Seems to me this is the essence of SelfCare.