Between self-development & self-care

Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.

At the age of 18, I had reached a point in my life where I was either seriously going to change something about my life or end it. Insomnia, depression, anxiety, stress and so much fear were driving me insane. It was more than exhausting.

Knowing that only by dealing with what was causing my suffering, I made face your fear my new life motto and started to live by that rule in all that I did. Whenever my stomach clinched, my heart rate increased and my palms got sweaty, I knew that I was on to something and had to continue. Fear had turned into my personal compass and challenging myself into my number one goal.

Ever bigger and bigger challenges I took upon myself, overcoming my stage fever, transforming loneliness into focus, meeting death face to face and leaving the comfort of my culture and country behind. And this year I finally overcame my shame of being in love, something I’ve struggled with my whole life.

My comfort zone and courage have expanded immensely in the course of the last five years and I haven’t yet regretted any of my pushing. However, sometimes I do wonder whether I’m pushing myself too hard. Harder, better, faster, stronger is playing in a loop with no break in between. Self-development is great, but how about self-care? How about slowing down and finding time for rest? How about enjoying myself once in a while? I leave very little room for those things. I’m always pushing, pushing, pushing.

For example, I’m currently working remotely from Tenerife with four other colleagues. They wanted to escape the inevitable lockdown that was closing in on us in Austria back when we booked the tickets and get some sun. Understandable for most. Unnecessary and straining for me. It forces me to slow down, get less done and take time to relax. I don’t know how to handle it. It stresses me out more than it gratifies me. I feel restless.

I fear that one day I will push myself over the edge; that I will exaggerate and break apart. Too often already I’ve been dancing close to my breaking point. I don’t think too much about it, have probably gotten used to it, but the people around me worry. “Slow down, girl” is a piece of advice I’ve heard so many times and always skillfully ignored.

Because the thing is that slowness is not a quality receiving a lot of praise in mainstream culture. Efficiency, exponential growth and a vast pool of experience are the qualities being admired. Harder, better, faster, stronger. On repeat.

Self-care in that situation almost seems like a rebellion to me, like an act of cowardice and like being selfish. Taking time to slow down, tune in and rest. To stop pushing for once. Where does constructive self-care start and where does it turn into destructive inertia? I can’t seem to figure it out, and thus I push on and on and on.

Yet what is the point of expanding one’s comfort zone if one doesn’t find comfort there? What is the point of facing one’s fears if one doesn’t enjoy the consequent freedom? Where is the balance between self-development and self-care?

Complicating (or simplifying?) the matter a bit is the fact that to some extent there is self-care in self-development and self-development in self-care. I threw myself into this self-development subject in order to come to terms with and heal whatever in my past was causing me to suffer — I did (and do) it to take care of myself.

Now, taking care of myself in terms of finding rest and slowing down has turned into a fear I should probably face. It would take an act of courage to say NO to more work, more speed, more opportunities and just have a quiet moment for once. It has become an opportunity for me to grow.

I struggle though. A lot. Mostly because of my worry of seeming selfish, despite my understanding that both self-development and self-care at their core revolve around tuning into oneself in order to have the courage, the capacity and the compassion to contribute. But to me self-care so quickly seems egoistical.

Like with so much, maybe the solution is seeing the bigger picture; seeing how one supports the other; seeing how my needs might not be more important than those of others, but also not less important. And maybe also in not blindly following the values proposed by the mainstream culture, but thinking and feeling for myself. Being as fast and as slow as I need. Slowing down, girl when that feels right. Yet when do I know when a feeling is my own and when it is something I have assumed from the context I grew up in, interact with and inhabit.

I don’t know. There is still a lot to explore for me on this topic. Harder, better, faster, stronger doesn’t seem like the final answer though. That much I know.

Passionate imperfectionist, life artist, human.

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