Written by Jenae Thompson
It was approaching the end of 2014, and I had just gotten hired to basically be a glorified secretary at a super fancy office space in Pasadena, CA.
The months leading up to the joyous occasion were torture. I didn’t want to sit at a desk and take down notations and phone calls, but my dreams of pursuing Broadway as a performer and of being a writer weren’t a guaranteed bi-weekly paycheck and didn’t exactly hold the same alluring promise of the chance to move out of my parents’ house, so… I took the job and convinced myself it was a step in the right direction toward full-fledged “adulting”, and that I was happy about it.
“Oatmeal is better than no meal”, my father said to me one day, as I was reluctantly getting ready for work at the crack of dawn.
…He said that a lot.
And the most annoying thing about him saying that wasn’t that he said it so often—it was the fact that it just seemed to be more and more CORRECT every time he said it! The idea is that it’s better to do what you have to do so that one day, you can do what you want to do. Eat the oatmeal and be sustained until you can buy steak without going into debt, so-to-speak.
“Love you, daughter…Handle your business. Have a great day at work!”
Yeahhhh, yeahhhh love you too! —BYE!
About a year later, I was excelling at work (there was talk of a promotion), had gotten a raise of a full dollar (…that’s sarcasm), had been in my new house for a few months, was fulfilling my artistic side by performing in shows on the weekends and doing some freelance writing, and I was babysitting on occasion because I love children and it paid me…. and I was still broke as hell. Between rent, the general cost of living, the amount of money I was making on the jobs and the gas to get to and from venues pursuing my actual passion, I was struggling.
One day, I’d gotten up (again, reluctantly), gotten ready for work, went downstairs to the kitchen; not one roommate to be seen, due to the early hour,–opened the fridge and saw that my shelf was empty. I knew I hadn’t had the time or the funds, really, to go grocery shopping; but I opened the fridge hoping for a miracle.
I went to the pantry with the same hope, and guess what I found on my shelf; behind a half-eaten box of pasta, some packets of microwave popcorn, and a jar of peanut butter?
Ya’ll…. the noise that came out of me was not human!
Was I laughing? Was I crying? Was I angrily snorting? All of the above?
My father’s words came rushing back to me, and I ate the only semblance of a meal I could get for like a week.
And I didn’t starve, but neither the literal or figurative “oatmeal” totally fed me, either. I wasn’t getting all the nutrients I needed in order to truly thrive, spiritually, artistically or otherwise; and so I found myself dealing in extremes; hustling two, three, or four times harder because the desire and the need to splurge and invest in making my rare downtime completely memorable and worth it, became greater and greater. An hour or two of quiet time and HBO stopped being enough. I wanted sushi and my favorite wine and a facemask and a pedicure because my feet hurt from dancing and wearing office-appropriate footwear, and everywhere I looked on television and social media and in movies/entertainment; that was what self-care was. It was luxury. It was posting pics of yourself on a weekend getaway with a “TREAT YO’SELF” gif from “Parks and Recreation” playing on a loop in the upper right-hand corner of the screen.
It was juggling extremes. But after a while, self-care became about as exhausting as the hustle, and it felt like it wasn’t productive at all and was keeping me about as broke as my job and career pursuits were.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground nowadays, and it causes me to wonder what “self-care” actually means and whether or not we’re thriving when we partake in it. Between the need to hustle to pay bills and survive, and doing what we want to do to fulfill our souls, are we pushing ourselves toward a rapid decline? Do the two go hand-in- hand as fuel for a race toward to the bottom?
It’s been about four years since I left that office job, and almost three since I took a leap of faith and made my side hustles my main hustle. I am now a full-time nanny, writer, producer, social media manager, and a performer; and it’s WORKING. Of course, your girl is exhausted from time-to- time; but the hustle is way different and more exciting now than it’s ever been. I found that for me, the most productive form of self-care had less to do with tangible, purchasable things, and everything to do shifting my mentality. So, I came up with my own Three-Step Guide to Self- Care, which I implement often; especially when I feel myself approaching a burnout.
- Daily Affirmation and Gratitude.
–When you wake up (maybe as you fuel yourself with coffee/breakfast), write down three things you’re grateful for, and three non-physical things that you love about yourself. It helps you start your day on a positive note, and gets you to focus on how far you’ve come as opposed to the struggle of where you’ve been and the negative things in your life. I got this from my trainer and friend, Kathryn Maisano, who made this practice a part of her fitness program. For me, it was a total lifesaver!
2. Examine your “Why”.
— Before taking on any more (or any less) projects, try to really explore what’s motivating your endeavors, what you WANT out of it all, and what you NEED, and where the particular endeavor you’re tackling fits into all of the above. For me after a while, and if I’m not focused; accepting tons of projects becomes less about the need to sustain myself or make a name for myself in any given field; and becomes about feeding my ego and proving to myself that I can handle multiple things at once. But, if it doesn’t contribute positively to your life; if it doesn’t excite you, fill your heart and change the world; boo boo, what is you DOIN’?
- Sugar and Spice.
–“Oatmeal” isn’t always a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be boring or draining. Find little ways to flavor your main hustle; to make your “have to”, reflect your personality and your passions; and aid you on your path toward your “want to”. For example, I sang and wrote a TON during my time at my office job. Literally, AT my office job, I sang to my co-workers, I sang to our clients, I sang when I answered the phone! I became known as the Musical Secretary, and people loved it! I loved it! I pitched an idea for a weekly corporate newsletter that I offered to write for free. I offered to manage the company’s social media accounts. I was constantly looking to spice up and improve my mentality about my situation and keep my eyes on the actual prize, and it got me through!
The pros and cons of the concepts of “self-care” and “hustling” are different for everyone, but it’s undeniable that in this day in age and with our specific demographic, there are some commonalities to which we can all relate. I know for me, being more willing to listen and HEAR my instincts and my heart helped me immensely, as did hearing other people out and seeing what worked for them.
I truly believe as a community, we can help each other thrive and not just survive. Drop your thoughts and self-care methods in the comments below!