BY Tanisha Earwin M.Ed, LPC
Over the course of my academic and professional career, I have felt the brunt of limited knowledge about what options were available to me as a student. As a first-generation, young woman of color, I felt lost in a large academic system with very few faces that reflected not only understanding but empathy toward my experience. Ever determined not to fail, I kept pushing and refused to quit, at times stumbling my way through a system ‘designed’ to educate and prepare me for the real world. As advocates of equity and inclusion for those whose voices are often unheard and struggles go unacknowledged, we take the lead in challenging the status quo.
Systemic racism and institutional barriers are still prevalent in all areas of education; systemic barriers to educational resources, access to information pertinent to student success, and financial support and stability are just a few issues. Yet, we fight and press on until the work is done. But at what cost? Those of us who enjoy working in Higher Education, are very much aware that this work is not financially lucrative. When choosing to pursue a career in education, I knew my charge was to show up for students in spaces where there seemed to be few who could understand the experience of their marginalized identities. I also understood that I now had the responsibility of using my privilege to uplift and inform not only those who looked like me but the leaders, college and university staff, and faculty about the importance of representation.
However, that is a large undertaking, and depending on the space you occupy it can at times be a lonely one. I had a typical 9-5 work week and a 6-hour-a-week class schedule for my Master’s program. Additionally, I maintained a routine workout schedule between 4:30am and 6am to ensure I had time for running miscellaneous errands, dedicate time to raising my 8-year-old, and keep up with my internship requirements. All from inside my apartment! Those are a lot of obligations for one person. The need to juggle simultaneous tasks had become so habitual, that I never stopped to consider how it was affecting my overall well-being. A good friend said to me once, “you know, you should take some time for yourself and relax”. I found the very idea of relaxing comical. “There is too much to do and if I’m not doing it, then the work doesn’t get done”. How did I get to a point where checking in with myself took a backseat to prioritizing my work and care for others? I just kept feeling as if I needed more time to be both fully present and effective for the students I supported and present and effective for the priorities and people outside of work. The work we do to advocate for equity and diversity will always be important. Another important thing to remember is to show up for yourself. Overwhelming myself would not solve the educational equity and attainment crisis nor would it advance college completion rates and improve the overall academic experience for students of color.
With that in mind, as those of us in this work prepare to enter another academic year as empathetic support systems to historically underrepresented students and as advocates for campus changes that will truly “see” and support the success of every student, two words immediately come to mind: Self Care. It is a very popular phrase in this day and age but here is a quick reminder of what self-care is—care for your mental and physical health; actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of, and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing, or wellness. To show up as our best selves, we must hold ourselves in high regard, even more so than our work. Here are four tips to get started on your journey.
Engage in stress-relieving activities
Whether you like art, books, listening to music, or meditation, these are all mediums for taking your mind away from work. Be intentional about it and know that it is okay because the hours you spend caring for yourself would not have solved the world’s problems if you were working!
Utilize Self Affirmations
Affirming one’s self might sound cliché but it serves to allow space for accurate and authentic encouragement. Practice saying and acting in ways that are in direct alignment with your truth.
Find Communities of Practice
Though this can be utilized in the institutional spaces in which we navigate, communities of practice can also be of service in our everyday life. Find (or build) a group of like-minded individuals who also are too focused on work and discuss ways in which you can disengage healthily in order to re-engage as your best self.
Learn to say ‘No’
Understanding the limits of your capacity is pivotal to your self-care practice. Sometimes that means knowing when to draw the line and set important boundaries. Whether it’s saying no to yourself or to a colleague (respectfully), the art of saying ‘no’ is a great tool.
Hasson, Gill. The Self-Care Handbook : Connect with Yourself and Boost Your Wellbeing. 1st edition. West Sussex, England: Capstone, 2020. Print.
Tanisha Earwin is a Project Manager for the Partnership for College Completion.