Caring for Others Requires Self Care

Yesterday I wrote about the best time to exercise, finding myself in the rare position of vehemently disagreeing with something posted on The advice given was to exercise when you want to. I repeat, no. Just…no.

I mentioned this advice to a co-worker, who is also a big fan of livestrong, and before I could even begin to offer my opinion on the advice, he said, “No, if you exercise when you want to, you’ll never exercise.” You see, Chris is like me, a family guy. He has to balance marriage, kids, career, friend and, yes, still find time to exercise.

He also made the observation that if you want to take care of others, you’ve gotta take care of yourself, too. That got me to thinking about family, relationships, responsibilities and above all, love.

Love? Yes, love. But, and there’s always a but (I say that a lot, don’t I?) what is “love?”

The earliest definition of love that really made sense to me, and stuck with me, did not come from the bible, the poets, the Bard of Avalon, or Tina Turner, it came from Robert A. Heinlein. For those of you who don’t know who that name, he was one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction. For those who do, it’s from his Stranger in a Strange Land. Anyway, love:

Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own…

A different take from John (King James version):

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Let us mash them together into Andrew’s working definition of love:

Love is sacrifice.

Lest you think this is going somewhere dark, from, sacrifice:

To surrender or give, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else.

In plain English, love is giving something up for the sake of someone else. It needn’t be so radical as laying down your life, but love is giving up things, big and small, to ensure the happiness of others.

To maintain any sort of healthy relationship, to have a family, requires sacrifice. Let me repeat that, to have a family is sacrifice. When you sign up for a wife and kids, much of what used to be yours; time, money, space, choice, is yours no longer.

The thing is no matter how much you love your family, the sacrifices you make are stressors. Commuting is a stressor, and a bad one. Working a job you hate, or even two, stresses you. Forgoing the things you want for the things your family needs? That causes stress.

And stress is unhealthy. It ages you, it ruins your sleep, it wrecks your body and your health. It makes you snappish and short tempered and it wears you out. Worst of all, it’s a vicious cycle; stress makes you unhappy and tired, and being tired and unhappy stress you out.

Eventually, it can wear on you to the point that the sacrifices (big and small) that you happily make for your family stop being made happily. Worst case, you find your family to be a burden.

I am fortunate in that I never reached the point where I ever felt my family to be a   burden. I got stressed, and angry, and short tempered, and I was nowhere near the father that I wished to be, or that my children deserved. Likewise I was nowhere near the husband my wife deserved, and I wanted to be.

So what to do? You take care of you. Not necessarily first, and not necessarily most, but necessarily. Because if you don’t take care of you, then the sacrifices you shouldered will become a burden, and you never want to get to the point that your family becomes a burden.

So find those holes in your week that can be expanded into workouts. Schedule them in. Show up, and sweat out the stress. Find a hobby, get together with friends. Make time to be with your spouse, one to one, no kids, no distractions. Find time to reflect, to reconnect, and to understand the wonder and beauty of your family.

One of the principles of wealth given in The Wealthy Barber is “Pay yourself first.” Set aside a small portion of your earnings, before anything else is paid, to save for the future. Budget everything else out of what remains.

Similarly, take a small portion of your time and energy to spend on you. To take care of you. There are 168 hours in a week. Set aside 1-1/2 hours, three times a week for self care. 4.5 hours out of 168. 2.6% of your week. Just for you.

The returns will astonish you.