James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

that may or may not exist

37: Selfish, More Like Self-Care

Blanket definitions are difficult to maintain. There’s an alternative definition with every word because everyone holds a contrasting experience . Look at the experience with Sheryl Sandburg’s call to ban ‘bossy’ and then the rejection of banning ‘bossy’ and instead embracing it. This is one example, but here we have the same word, but two different ways of interpretation. Hang in there y’all, this is going to be a long one.

When I wrote about being “selfish” last week, I didn’t expect the overwhelming response. My inbox was filled with different definitions of what selfishness means to you. Also, you re-introduced me to a term I found myself forgetting, and that’s “self-care”. According to Wikipedia, “self-care” is:

…any activity of an individual, family or community, with the intention of improving or restoring health, or treating or preventing disease.

To me, that sounds a lot like taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally–basically all corners of your life. I’d like to share with you three of my favorite responses from last week. They are minimally edited because I feel these three people perfectly addressed what self-care means, and introduced ways to bring it more into your daily life.

Nick Lacke was the first to respond and reminded me about “self-care”.

“The term that I use to describe my attempts at moderate concern with myself is “self-care.” As someone who cares excessively about other people’s thoughts and needs, it is quite easy to become stressed out about problems that are not directly my own. Social obligations, the opportunity for freelance work, quality phone/visitation time with the family all add up and might not leave much room for yourself. Especially for someone like me who was raised in the time-honored tradition of Catholic guilt—our real or perceived obligations to others can quickly become overwhelming and the skipping out on them only replaces the stress with guilt. I would certainly say that being selfish is not something that anyone should strive for, but learning how to exercise self-care—taking days off work, skipping out on social plans to have a relaxing night, keeping very reasonable work and freelance schedule—is crucial as our lives become more complicated as we age.”

Matt Soria introduced to me a new way to structure my time, and even consider a floating rate when explaining your free time for self-care to future clients:

“Only recently have I become okay with having to say no, or sometimes, and again, this is one of those situations where saying “no” seems selfish and pompous, but another way I have handled being confronted with opportunities to work on something that I might not have the time do work on, or can afford to work on, I charge a “free time” rate — which is charging for what my free time is worth, which is quite a bit more than the regular amount of “work time” that typically allot. The thought there is that if I am going to take on work during my ‘free time” that I would otherwise be spending with friends and family and hobbies or whatever, then it’s REALLY got to be worth it. So I’ll sometimes just quote projects at a substantially higher rate than usual, and usually it’s higher than the client can afford, and occasionally they just say “…okay! cool!,” and then I take on a job that might cut into my free time, but am compensated appropriately for it, and ideally put that extra scratch towards doing something special like traveling.”

Lastly, Alice Berry is an arts therapist that gave me the most insight, especially from a clinical sense:

“…In my training as a counselor and therapist, one of the things we were constantly reminded was the concept of “Self Care” as being crucial to avoid burnout. When working with people who are asking a lot of your time and energy, as therapists are wont to do, it is important to do things that feed the body and soul, and not to allow people to draw too much from us, either professionally or personally.  I think this can apply to anyone who is trying to make their way professionally, particularly if they are trying to make it in the art world.”

Self-care is a real and important necessity. Especially in the field of knowledge work, we fall to the default of putting all of ourselves into our work 24/7, much to the dismay of our own health. While chatting with so many insightful friends, old and new, at Weapons of Mass Creation over the weekend, mental health and therapy became common subjects. The common ring of our conversations reminded me the stigma of visiting a therapist was just as hushed as admitting to yourself and others that professional help is really needed. The timing for this couldn’t seem any better as we are churning through the death of Robin Williams and trying to process the state of our world in Ferguson, Missouri. While these are two instances that are completely different, they both brush upon the subject of mental wellness–either for victims, journalists, protestors, or onlookers alike. From battling the inner demons of depression or the external demons of oppression, there’s an incredible value in taking time for self-care, and while it may not be the complete answer for all of the world’s problems, dammit it’s a great place to start.

Remember that we can’t make the world better if we are not alive for it.

P.S. Consider checking this resource if you think you are battling depression and need to search for a therapist in your area. Also, if you haven’t already, educate yourself on what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Regardless of your race, they are all our neighbors.

Have a great Tuesday and see you next week,


James T. Green