Self-Care is not Selfish

It was early Friday morning and I really wanted to get out for a bike ride. I needed the exercise, I knew the outdoors and sweat would do me good, but I had a long list of projects that needed to be completed. I had a few things already beyond their deadlines and people were needing them.

So I faced a dilemma. Hop on my bicycle and get in a good 60 minute workout or dive straight into the tasks screaming at me? Do something that would be good for me or take care of things that other people needed?

Then it hit me. Self-Care will always feel self-serving. Doing what other people need always feels more heroic, more gallant. Taking care of me feels inherently selfish.

However, the list of things that other people need is never ending. There is always more to do, more attention that could be given to any project, more email or phone calls. If I wait until all of those are addressed I will never get out to do some of what I need for my own health and well-being. I will always put it off, choosing the urgent instead of the important.

Twelve years ago I wrote the first draft of a personal calling statement. It has morphed and focused over the years, but one component that hasn’t changed is the commitment I made to live in such a way that I am accelerating at age 80.  That is, in every area of life — spiritually, relationally, intellectually, and physically — I want to still be gaining speed when I turn 80.  (I will worry about what comes after that then.)

I realize that taking care of my body is one of the most important components of fulfilling that calling.  It is the only vehicle God has given me through which I can engage in everything that matters. Being a steward of this body is non-negotiable if I intend to be accelerating at 80.  However, even though I get it intellectually, on a day by day basis I get seduced into taking care of other people and other things at the expense taking care of myself.

Last Friday was a breakthrough.

The truth is, unless I appropriately care for the only body I have, I will be out of the game and unable to contribute to the world in any significant way. So, while it may seem selfish to put a few people or projects on a temporary hold, at the end of the day it is the only way to steward everything God has put within my reach. Self-care is not only unselfish, it is actually one of the major priorities for any leader. Leaders cannot live at the red-line and hope to stay in the game?

I’ll see you on the bike path.