This post was written by 2020 Young Explorer Baylee Ritter.
I call myself an environmental people person. I’m literally just a person waking up and trying to do what must be done to make sure my future kids and their kids have a healthy, abundant, and safe place to live. My work today centers on getting kids from rural, landlocked communities like mine — which often don’t have the privilege of being able to see or touch the ocean — involved in the leadership of this collective fight for a healthy blue planet. The future of our ocean is the future of humanity.
As my environmental work has evolved, self-care has gone through seasons of what it means to me, but at this point in my life, self-care means pausing. As a young person in the constantly moving wheel of change-making, there’s never going to be a point where you can say, “The earth is all good! Sit back and watch a movie, your work is done.” But just because you need to take a break doesn’t mean you won’t get opportunities to further your work or the world will crumble. I think of Atlas holding up the sky — self-care means understanding and knowing there are a lot of other cool young people who are going to continue to hold up the sky while you sit down and take a break. The world is still going to be there when you come back.
A lot of people don’t realize how much energy we have to give of ourselves in our changemaking work. This work is very fulfilling but extremely emotional; we’re dealing with life, death, and the future of humanity. It’s a lot to sit with and a lot to give of yourself to remain positive. As a mentor for a lot of younger leaders, I feel pressure to smile and say, “It’s all good! This is scary but we’ve got it!” — even when I might not be feeling that way. For me, I need to 100% disconnect so I can reduce this pressure and take a breath. It’s not running away but it’s pulling the plug, being with my own thoughts, and pausing. You can only be as good of a leader to others as you are to yourself. If you’re not rebuilding and cultivating the energy you give, what will you give to others?
Here are my self-care tips this holiday season for other #GenGeo members building movements:
- Turn off WiFi. It can be scary, but try to work while disconnected from the Internet and social media. While it can be a really beautiful and connective tool, it can also be a breeding ground for negativity and comparisons to others. It can be scary for me to think, “What if I don’t check Instagram today and miss this cool opportunity?” But there are always going to be opportunities. They will still be there when you come back. When discussing self-care, we often think of bubble baths and binging TV shows, but it’s removing the things that are bringing so much noise into our lives that is truly a hard but necessary thing in self-care.
- Do activities that are truly filling. Every morning as I’m getting dressed, I put on a song and I have to dance to that one song while I get ready. It’s the first song that comes to mind and I don’t judge it — lately, it’s been Miley Cyrus, the Bee Gees, or Mariah Carey. I’ve never done this before in my life; I don’t know why I thought dancing would be the fix during the pandemic, but it has brought me more joy starting my mornings.
- Get outside. The first weeks of the pandemic were really uncertain and scary. I remember the first time my partner suggested going on a hike after the local trails opened back up. We got out of our car and started on the trail and I had this moment I hadn’t felt since I was a kid: I reflected on how much I love this planet and my gratitude toward the physical earth for being there for me when I was scared. Nature was there in a way I hadn’t given gratitude for in a long time. It is fortunate to be able to go into these pristine, protected, safe spaces in nature, and that hike gave me the answer I had forgotten. It gave me that why again. Why I wake up every day and ask myself if I am doing what I can, with the energy, means, and time that I have to ensure this planet is abundant and safe for all. Even though it’s getting cold where I live, I’m still getting outside — I’m now trying to embrace the briskness and the changing of the seasons, and it gives me so much joy.
- Don’t get caught up in what society tells you is self-care. We are constantly being sold these different self-care and wellness opportunities. A spa. A fancy bath. But with what time, money, and access? For me, self-care looks like turning on a 2.5-minute song and dancing my butt off. Self-care literally looks like what makes sense to you. Taking the time to figure that out isn’t easy, but if it’s authentic to you, you’ll make time for it.
- You’re not going to be 100% every day. Something I’ve had to reconcile is the misconception that the moment in which you are taking care of yourself is the moment you feel 100%. But that’s an unachievable, lofty thing that puts pressure on you. Sometimes you might feel 85% but that doesn’t mean your self-care is failing. Given the realities of today, sometimes you can do all these self-care things and still feel 85%. That’s what you can give today and that’s okay.
- Self-care is a spectrum — there is no right way to do it. It is what it is for you and it ebbs and flows. At the beginning of 2020, I wrote a manifesto of the things I wanted to implement in my life. One of those things was to read 25 books this year, and guess what? I didn’t do it. Looking at my list now at the end of 2020, I immediately felt this twinge of disappointment. But guess what wasn’t on that list? Dancing every morning.
A big element of my self-care is listening to the purest original voice that’s inside my soul. I have been taking more moments to pause and listen to this voice inside me, and I’ve uncovered so many things that I value, care about, and want to do that I had long forgotten. It has brought me so much of that creative childhood energy I used to have. As a kid, I woke up every morning and said, “Today I’m going outside to find something cool and I’ll start again tomorrow.” That was me being an explorer. It was me running toward the horizon, trying to figure out new things, and spending time discovering what it’s like to live on planet Earth. I’ve found that again with self-care.
How do you take time for self-care while changemaking? Join the #GenGeo conversation to discuss ideas with your fellow young people and drive toward solutions together. You also can sign up to join our #GenGeo community here. Can’t wait to see you there!
Feature image and gallery image by Baylee Ritter