As I write this, I’m actually celebrating my 43rd birthday. By the time you read it, it’ll be the month of love – a wonderful coincidence, as I’m about to share what I learnt about self-love.
It’s no generalisation that Covid-19 has affected almost everyone, even if you weren’t physically afflicted. Besides being quarantined on account of colleagues and family, I was undoubtedly stressed beyond what I thought I could bear.
Perhaps it was mislabelled as professionalism, but I’m from the generation of doctors that pride themselves on hardly taking an MC, scheduling administrative meetings on our days off, or staying up late into the night to prepare for students’ tutorials. We never complain, and we wear our exhaustion proudly.
As a woman doctor, with three little children and three older stepchildren, I always felt I had to work six times harder than my male colleagues to prove myself. Now, I know these worries aren’t limited to my generation or to doctors – many professional women feel the same. When things go well, we feel encouraged to give more, but when things aren’t great, we push ourselves even harder.
So when the pandemic rolled around, many people ended up in a vicious circle of giving their all to maintain professional success and upkeep their households, leaving little for themselves. Two years on, many found themselves burnt out. I was almost on the verge of it myself. Though I take care of other people’s well-being, I discovered I could do better caring for my own. As a professional life coach, I help others with their emotional problems and unlocking their potential, but I ignored my own mental wellness and remained stuck in a dark well.
Fortunately, I have the best weapon any front-line warrior could hope for: a great community to support me. My teammates stepped up so I didn’t have to micromanage details. Peer coaches opened up various perspectives with me, so I could figure out strategies to cope with stress better, such as journaling, communicating better with my family, and taking time for myself without feeling guilty.
So on my 43rd birthday, let me share my best strategy for self-love:
1) Don’t confuse professional pride with the inability to set boundaries. Setting boundaries for yourself isn’t the same as slacking off and, in fact, requires discipline.
2) Be kind to yourself. It’s your responsibility to look after yourself as much as it is to look after your clients/patients/customers/family.
3) Live in the present. Don’t be caught in a time trap where you plan so much for the future that life escapes you.
This story first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Her World.