The Truth About Hard Work

I’m currently writing this in the Florida sun, a glorious 80 degrees that feels like a miracle after Ohio’s too-long frost. I feel so blessed to bask in this weather for a week. A couple of my best friends and I decided to road trip out here somewhat spontaneously and I’m so glad we did. After a grueling few weeks of preparing for (and stressing out about) midterm exams, this trip has been a much-needed escape from my responsibilities and the mounting stress that was surrounding them. There are seasons in life. There are times when you have to accept that the day to day grind of waking up, working hard, and falling asleep knowing you’ll do the same thing again tomorrow is your priority. That might be exam season, the busy season at work, the crucial phase of starting a business, etc. It’s different for everybody, but the point is that in the real world there are times when hard work takes over. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to make time for ourselves in those seasons. We still strive to prioritize the face mask, the night with friends, the hour of Netflix, the walk outside. But sometimes it falls through. Sometimes we sacrifice that time for ourselves to invest more deeply in our work because we feel we have to to keep our heads above water. This is something that is not talked about often. If you are struggling academically or financially, if you are swamped with work that must get done, taking time for yourself doesn’t even feel good anymore. It feels like self-sabotage. So what then? How do we reconcile the need to work hard to be successful with the need to rest and take care of ourselves holistically?

Something this year has taught me is that “the grind” is crucial, but not sustainable. What I mean is that in some cases, the best thing you can do for yourself is be honest. Be honest about the work you must get done. Be honest about the tangible improvements you must make in your work ethic, your study habits, your budgeting. Be honest about the exam that will make or break your break. Be honest about the bills that have to get paid. Self-care does not mean ignoring the things that don’t feel good. Self-care, in these hard seasons, means realizing that the work you put in is an investment in a life that serves you. I wanted to share this sentiment because I think some of the dialogue about self-care could be more inclusive. For some, taking a break means losing the income that feeds their children or buys their medication. For some, a face mask is too expensive and yoga is physically not an option. Showing up for yourself does not and cannot always look trendy.

You might be wondering why my Spring Break road trip to Florida inspired me to write about inclusive self-care, real self-care. I didn’t realize it until I was finally in a swimsuit on the beach instead of a parka in the library, until I was finally unplugged from my e-mail instead of buried in flashcards. I was in a season of my life where hard work was what served me. I still tried to make time for me. I still tried to prioritize rest and fun. But at the end of the day, diligent preparation for my exams was the best investment I could make into a life that serves me. But seasons are temporary. Seasons change.

Being conscious of this fact is key because it means that we can be intentional about the seasons in our lives. We can be intentional about prioritizing the not-so-cute elements of self-care in certain seasons, but committing to setting aside a season to recharge. That season can look however you need it to look, in whatever way is realistic for you. For me, my recharge season is right here on the beach, eating ice cream and finally reading something that isn’t a textbook. I know that I will have to work hard again in preparation for finals. I know that I will still take tiny moments to recharge back on campus, breaks in between studying, date nights, visits with my family. But when the hard work piles up and I know I have to show up for my success, I can have peace knowing that the season is temporary.

I wrote a whole post about soaking up the sun, about recharging on the beach and making memories, about finding the “vacation bliss” wherever you are. But I deleted it and started over because I realized that this is the message I need to share—There will be times in your life that you feel you “just can’t afford to make time for yourself”. Even when you’re far along in your self-love journey. Even when you’re committed to self-care every single day in small ways. There will be seasons in your life where you feel that paying the bills, getting the promotion, passing your classes, graduating, whatever it is must be the priority so you and the people you love can be secure. We should still strive to find balance together. We should still show up for ourselves in every single way we can. But with that knowledge, we should be kind to ourselves when the work is hard. We should be kind to ourselves when life is overwhelming. Instead of beating ourselves up when we can’t live a trendy and #goals life every single day, let’s work to be intentional about recharging.

So what kind of season are you in? Can you set aside a season of rest? Even if it’s just one day at home. The ironic thing is that when you get intentional about the seasons in your life, you’ll end up being more present and productive in your seasons of hard work. When we aren’t constantly burnt out and exhausted, we have the energy and clarity to show up for all aspects of our lives.

I hope that no matter what season of life you’re in today, you’re being patient with yourself. It’s okay to have a real life with responsibilities and obligations that you cannot forfeit. Balance is hard. You are worth it.

Choose radiance. Choose fearlessness. Choose you.

With light and love (from beautiful Florida),