As snow was falling last week and the roads were getting white and slick, I stepped out of my car and into the gym for a work out.
The gym was practically empty. The rapidly falling snow had kept the masses at home, at least for one day.
I felt amazing.
Not because I had my choice of equipment. Not because I’m anti-social. Not because the grunts and groans of the attention-seeking power lifters on the first floor bother me.
I felt great because I knew that many, many people were skipping their workout yesterday because of the snow, but I was not. It made me feel so much better than so many people.
And that, quite often, is my version of self-care:
Whenever possible, I try to put myself in a position to feel like I am doing better than other people. Accomplishing more. Making the most of my day. Outpacing my fellow human beings.
This is what makes me feel good.
I know this sounds despicable, but bear with me.
So often when I hear people speak about self care, it comes in the form of reduction, simplification, or departure. .
Take a hot shower or a warm bath.
Get a massage.
Cuddle with a pet.
Listen to music.
Play the lute.
All of these are fine ways to feel good, but I can’t imagine a better way to feel good than to boost your confidence and self-esteem by crushing humanity.
For me, this can come in the from something as simple as working out during a snow storm when everyone else is staying home. Playing nine holes of golf at sunrise and stepping off the course while knowing that many people are still in bed. Choosing a book or writing over television. Attending a Patriots game in sub-zero temperatures while so many of my fellow fans choose to stay home. Surprising Elysha in some remarkable, original, make-all-the-other-husbands-look-terrible kind of way.
On Sunday, we took the kids to the Boston Children’s Museum. While Charlie was climbing inside a ceiling-high apparatus, I watched, waving each time his head poked out from an opening and taking lots photos. Sitting on benches behind he were about a dozen parents whose children were also climbing inside the apparatus.
Every single one of them were staring at their phones.
Noticing this, I leaned in, shouting encouragement to Charlie. Telling him I loved him. Urging him to climb higher and higher.
For those ten minutes, I felt like the best parent in the world. And when Charlie finally emerged from the apparatus, he ran to me, jumped in my arms, and said, “Dad, you’re the best.” I don’t think he really noticed the parents on the benches behind me, but it was a perfect moment nonetheless.
Earlier on that same day, I drove to Starbucks to pick up a coffee for Elysha. As I pulled into the parking lot, I counted the number of cars in the drive thru.
ELEVEN. Eleven cars wrapped around the store. So many cars that the eleventh car was partially blocking one of the entrances to the parking lot.
Inside the store, not a single person was standing in line. The place was nearly empty. I picked up Elysha’s coffee, returned to my car, and re-checked the drive thru line. Two cars had left while I was in the store, but three more had joined the line.
For the next hour or more, I felt like a champion. I was honoring the precious commodity of time in a way those drive thru line lunatics were not. When I arrived home, I made a point of tickling Clara and Charlie because I had the time to tickle them.
I hadn’t wasted my time sitting in an endless drive thru line.
I know. This method of self care might still sound slightly despicable. Or deranged. Or rotten.
But here is the truth:
Confidence is powerful. Feeling good about yourself can change your entire day. Feeling like a champion is invigorating and life affirming. We live in a world where people so often focus on their struggles and defeat and fail to celebrate their achievements.
I talk to writers who finish their first novel but are hesitant to celebrate because the book isn’t published yet. They spend a year or two or ten doing something that most people will never do - writing a book - and yet they are unwilling to take a moment to acknowledge this accomplishment.
I talk to storytellers who find the courage to stand in front of an audience at The Moth for the first time and tell their story, but instead of celebrating this momentous first step, they are upset with their sixth place finish. They have just conquered a fear that most people will never conquer, but they refuse to let themselves feel great about it.
The desire to achieve more is wonderful. Striving for excellence is essential. Understanding that your journey is just beginning is fine. But take a moment to celebrate each positive step forward. Take note of the moments when you are doing better than those around you. Take a moment to notice when everyone around you is simply not doing as well as you.
Sometimes those steps are enormous. Finishing novels. Conquering fears. Making hard, bold choices.
More often they can be as simple as exercising in a snowstorm. Engaging with your child while the rest of the parents are not. Getting out of your car to grab a coffee while others are willing to throw away their precious time to stay warm and dry.
It doesn’t mean that you are a better human being than the rest of us. It doesn’t make you an arrogant jerk. It simply means that in a particular moment, on a particular day, you are making better choices or more courageous choices or harder choices than the people around you. If you’re willing to recognize that, acknowledge it, and celebrate it, you’ll feel better about yourself.
Those people kind of suck at this moment, but I don’t. I’m killing it. I’m a champion.
That, in my mind, is the best version of self care.