Balancing Goals and Self-Care

By Dr. Beth Creswell Wilson ’96

There’s an interview with Maggie Baird, mom to musician Billie Eilish, that has stuck with me. In talking about mothering a famous teenager who is recording and touring, one thing really stood out:
“How can we help her achieve the things she says she wants to do and also help her stay sane and healthy? Those are really hard, and do not always go together. It’s very complicated because your mental health is associated with a lot of different things, including how much sleep you get and how much downtime you get. But also, your mental health is associated with your creative impulses and how much you get to fulfill them—so we can’t just take everything away and say, ‘You’re over-scheduled, it’s too much, it’s all going to stop.’”

This sounded like it could have been said by any parent or teacher of a teenage girl today! The question of how to help girls make good choices for themselves–choices that help them achieve their goals, develop a strong character, and build acumen and resilience for navigating their lives as adults–is front of mind for so many of us. As Maggie Baird pointed out, we want to make sure they get the rest and relaxation they need to flourish and that they pursue their passions and lay the groundwork for future opportunities. It’s never quite clear how to do both!

We at school don’t have the answers, unfortunately, but we do have the advantage of working with lots of teenage girls.  Here are two tips to consider when navigating the difficult balance of pursuing passions and goals while honoring the need for self care.

  • Most teenagers take more classes and do more activities than they will in college or beyond. The need to manage many different tasks with different goals is very high, and learning how to do so is a major growth opportunity for these future adults. Make the work of task management “visible” and work on learning those skills just as you’d learn how to play golf or make a pie crust. Finding task management and balance difficult doesn’t mean a girl lacks talent or character; it means there’s room for skill growth, as is expected in a young adult. 
  • Recognize that both “excellent” and “good enough” can have a place in our lives. When balance is getting tough, identify one area where good enough is good enough for today, and another where the goal is excellence. Set boundaries based on priorities. Reach out for advice from teachers or coaches so that energy and time are allocated in ways that will get the most bang for the buck. Trying to be perfect in every area of a busy teen’s life is unrealistic–one day the highest priority may be writing an outstanding essay, and another day it might be a good night’s sleep.

Finally, and perhaps apropos since I began by referring to a world-famous rock star, comparison is the thief of joy. One key to managing the demands and self-care needs of the teen years is to avoid calibrating your own measure of success against other people’s. When it comes down to it, being excellent at every single thing in high school is not an indicator of long-term success. As Maggie Baird knows, today’s goals are important, but caring for the whole girl lays the groundwork for a fulfilling life.