Ali Martin Scoufield, Title IX Investigator, Case Western Reserve University
August 19, 2018
Throughout my career, I have regarded wellness in different ways. As a new live-in professional, wellness was finding time to eat and sleep. When I supervised live-in professionals as a live-on mid-level manager, wellness meant modeling some sort of work / life blend. Now as a Title IX professional entering my thirteenth year working in higher education, I finally realize how much harm I have done to myself and others by under-prioritizing wellness. This post is my attempt to offer suggestions on preparing for a year with wellness in mind as well as tips to prioritize wellness without feeling guilty or adding stress. My hope is this post will help us either start or continue conversations as we find our own ways to wellness.
Wellness has only recently become a priority to me. Formerly, it was something I tried to make time for only to reschedule or cancel when a more important meeting arose. Now I understand wellness to be my health, my emotional and mental centeredness. It’s my time to remind myself I am more than job.
I recently participated in a yearlong leadership development institute for women. During this institute, I was introduced to a term “selfness” as a corrective option to using selfish when talking about wellness and self-care. This idea of selfness resonated with me. For too long, I have equated wellness and self-care as being selfish, even if I did not consciously recognize that is what I was doing. I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to participate in the institute and for the women who helped me recognize how much I was devaluing my needs. This leads me to my first and suggestions for all of us as busy working women.
First, recognize you matter. Remind yourself of your worth. Reinforce that you have to care for yourself if you hope to care for others. It’s the old adage we have learned from airlines: put on your air mask first before trying to assist others. Second, find people who can support you in your wellness goals. Whatever your wellness goals are, find others who know you are worth prioritizing and who can help to remind you. This is not selfish; it’s necessary for self-preservation. It is selfness.
Another suggestion for preparing for the year with wellness in mind is to discover / rediscover the things you love and make time for them. This suggestion may have just elicited an eye roll from readers, but give me a moment to explain. Many of us have heard that we should make time to do what we love but we also know that is easier said than done. My slightly adjusted suggestion is to make time to do the things you love but to also do so with a guilt-free attitude.
Using myself as an example, I love reading. Escaping into a book is something I did not even realize I was missing. But because my degrees are finished and my children are older, last year I joined two book clubs through work. These book clubs selected amazing, engaging, challenging, genre-crossing books...and I forced my way through them. I enjoyed the camaraderie, but when I was honest with myself, I did not want to spend my spare time like this. I love sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, post-apocalyptic, and speculative fiction. Are these types of books considered high literature? Usually not. But it is what I wanted to read, even if I was a bit embarrassed to say that in my book clubs.
I also struggled with the notion that I should be stretching myself intellectually. I talk to students about that all the time; take a class outside of your major, stretch your interests, lean in or out, broaden your horizons. But I am not a student. I am a grown person with a difficult job and if I want to read a young adult series about zombie fairies, then that is what I get to do. I am finally giving myself permission to enjoy my passions, guilt- free. So this year, I read what I want. I no longer have a reading goal on Goodreads that gives me anxiety. And I do not feel pressure to spend my limited spare time engaging in things that are really not for me. This is my third suggestion: Find what you like and do it. Even as adults, so many choices are taken away from us, but how you spend your spare time can be up to you. If you want to try out a million hobbies, love to run, bake, or do crafts, find joy in collecting crystal koala bears, rejuvenate binging on Netflix, or if catching up on sleep is your thing- do it! Guilt free, without expectation. You're a grown woman with a difficult job and you deserve it.
Beyond finding your passion and doing it, another fairly common piece of advice I have seen around wellness is to not only prioritize it but also to schedule it. I have read several articles that recommend putting wellness time on your calendar and working around it. I love this suggestion and it never worked for me. I have blocked off a lunch break on my calendar every Monday through Friday. It’s there, color- coded in yellow, which means personal time. And it never fails that my lunch break is one of the first things I will schedule over if I need to fit a meeting in. The yellow blocks on my calendar get fewer and fewer – but they are there, pre-scheduled and without accountability. As I am still struggling to commit to the value of selfness, it does not matter how much wellness time I put on my calendar if I do not hold myself accountable to needing and deserving that time. Here comes the suggestion: find a way to make yourself accountable. This will be specific to you and your wellness goals.
For example, if your wellness goal is to get up from your desk more often, find ways to make that happen. Schedule your wellness time with a buddy who is going to be annoyed if you continuously cancel on them. If scheduling with a buddy does not work, use timers or fitness trackers that alert you when you have been stationary for longer than you realized. There are even timers to remind us to drink more water or stretch. Whatever your wellness goal might be, until you have committed to your own wellness, setting up accountability check points might be helpful.
We spend so much time planning for the start of the academic year: updating documents, budgeting, strategic planning, hiring, reorganizing, event management. But how often do we take even a moment to declare that we deserve attention, too? We’re in a profession of martyrs, professional givers, and other-centered people working to make the experiences of others better, safer, more productive. I suggest we pause, remind ourselves that we too are important, find others who recognize our worth, do what we love without judgement, and hold ourselves accountable for our own wellness. Whatever your wellness looks like, you deserve it. This is a great time of year to support ourselves and my guess is it’s long overdue for most of us.
Ali works in Title IX at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. She is an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy, huge Philadelphia sports fan (Fly Eagles Fly), and an active volunteer with Girl Scouts and Crossroads Hospice. Ali lives outside Cleveland with her husband, three daughters, and pet Flemish Giant Rabbit, Carson Wentz Bunny. You can find her on Instagram at SpongeMomSquarePants and Twitter at PeaceAliMS.
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