You’re Worth the Work: Brushing Your Hair, and Other Lessons in Self-care

Posted by Devin Frechette on February 09, 2022

D16AA59D B03E 41CC B2D8 1F6FCD6C7DB9 1 201 aSelf-care has become a buzzword in therapeutic and self-help spaces in recent years. People throw it around as a catch-all remedy for myriad issues. Are you burnt out at work? Self-care! Did you get into an argument with your partner or child? Self-care! Are you experiencing the consistent and pervasive existential dread that is the hallmark of the human experience? Self-care! But what does "self-care" really mean? What does it look like in practice?

Being in the wilderness is a great teacher of this concept because self-care is so essential in the outdoor setting. It is harder to take care of yourself in the wilderness, and the consequences for not attending to your personal needs are much more tangible. Allow me to share a story from my time as a field instructor:

I am extremely tender-headed, and I have impractically long hair that knots furiously at the back of my head. If I don’t brush it daily, I get annoying, nagging headaches like clockwork. Despite the predictability of this, I often chose to avoid brushing my hair when I worked in the wilderness as a field instructor. Avoiding brushing my hair meant I often had annoying, nagging headaches on top of a gnarly rat’s nest I had to brush out eventually anyway.

One day, while I was complaining aloud about my hair and doing nothing constructive in particular about my situation, one of the students looked at me very seriously, almost incredulously, and said, “You know, Devin, you’re worth the work. Just brush it.”

Something clicked in that moment for me regarding the concept of self-care: it’s often work. When I’m exhausted and burnt out, I want self-care to look like watching the newest season of my favorite show and taking a bath for three hours; however, I know that simple relaxation does not ultimately result in me feeling better in an enduring way. Instead, I have to do something that requires effort and energy, which is often counterintuitive when I feel unmotivated, sad, anxious, or depressed. I have used the mantra “you’re worth the work” countless times since this revelatory hair-brushing experience, and I say it often to our students when they struggle with self-care too.

I see our students learning this lesson consistently in the field through the experiences of simple day-to-day living. When the group wakes up and hears the call to pack up their sleeping gear, they wait patiently to see if boots will be passed out instead of camp shoes--a telltale sign that they will be hiking that day. While some students enjoy the hiking, many do not, and there is often a lot of feet-dragging and putting-off of the inevitable. Eventually, the group leaves camp and embarks on the hike and they arrive at their destination with a sense of pride and accomplishment due to their ability to do something hard that they initially didn’t want to do. The movement helps them feel better even though their initial reaction to hearing that they are expected to hike that day is to avoid the work of it and stay stagnant.

Self-care is the work involved in the hike. Not hiking often leads to immediate satisfaction in the moment because it is clearly more relaxing to not move campsites. However, the work involved in moving is what leads to feeling better. This is the work of self-care. This is one of the many things our students learn from the wilderness and one of the many things they’ve taught me over the years.


Well said! Self-care is often work.

Posted by Ian

This is very helpful! I hadn't thought of self-care in this way and it makes so much sense. It's the difference between numbing and feeling energized. Thank you, Devin.

Posted by LK

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