'The Art Of Showing Up' For Yourself, With Rachel Wilkerson Miller : Life Kit You can't fully show up for the people in your life until you know how to do the same for yourself. In this episode, we talk with Rachel Wilkerson Miller, author of The Art of Showing Up, about how to take care of yourself.

An illustrated guide to showing up for yourself

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/856152729/856881722" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


EMMA PAGESE: Hi. My name is Emma Pagese (ph). I'm from New Orleans, La. I have a 2 1/2-year-old and a 5-month-old. And in the mornings, when things are crazy, I have started freezing anything I can find in ice and giving that to my 2 1/2-year-old to give me some time to get the day figured out - little plastic bears, dinosaurs, anything you have. The night before, fill it up in a bowl of water. If it's small, you can put it in individual ice cube trays, add some food coloring, freeze it. And then you have until the ice melts to do whatever you need to do without your toddler that morning. Good luck. You can do it. Bye.


LIFE KIT wants to hear from you. If you've got a random tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at lifekit@npr.org.


MERAJI: This is LIFE KIT. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. And my guest today is Rachel Wilkerson Miller. She's the author of a new book called "The Art Of Showing Up."


MERAJI: It's a guide for people who crave deeper relationships and more connection with friends and loved ones.

Hi, Rachel.


MERAJI: I am good. I am in my closet with a cup of tea. Where are you right now?

WILKERSON MILLER: I am sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee.

MERAJI: Grab a beverage, and join us. In part one of my interview with Rachel, she shares tips on how to show up for yourself. The next episode will focus on showing up for others in times of crisis, which is something so many of us are being called on to do these days. But before you can do your best for those you love, Rachel says you must put your oxygen mask on first.

WILKERSON MILLER: And I believe that. I also think that most people think that is true for everybody who is not them, and they sort of think that they are the exception to the rule. And it's so easy to say, like, well, yeah that's true in theory. But like, here's six different reasons why that couldn't possibly apply to me right now.

MERAJI: On this episode of LIFE KIT, the art of showing up - for yourself.


MERAJI: Rachel Wilkerson Miller firmly believes that you can't fully show up for the people in your life until you know how to do the same for yourself. So where do you start?

WILKERSON MILLER: You can't properly show up for other people if you don't really know who you are and what your needs are and kind of have a sense of what your boundaries are because so much of showing up is about setting boundaries, respecting boundaries and sort of working within a framework of here's who I am and here's what I can offer you in this exact moment. And so I think it's really important to just sit down and think about - OK, who am I? What do I want? What are my needs? How can I meet those? How can I ask other people for help and support? And once you have a sense of doing that, it just becomes so much easier to be generous and kind toward other people.

MERAJI: And right now, so many of us have a lot more time on our hands - solo time on our hands. And you have a ton of exercises in the book to really help people understand who they are better. What is a good get-to-know-yourself exercise that LIFE KIT listeners can start with?

WILKERSON MILLER: Well, I mention this in the book. I'm a big fan of doing some form of a time audit. So I talk a lot in the book about time, money and energy and how you spend those three things because those are ultimately, like, your most valuable resources. So sitting down and thinking about - how do I spend my time, money and energy in a given week? Obviously, that's going to be pretty different right now than it was three months ago. So you can kind of do it for yourself three months ago or you can do it for yourself now.

But going through a week and saying - OK, how did I spend my time? - in really small increments. How did I spend the first 30 minutes I was up in the morning? What did I do for the next 30 minutes? And if you go through a whole day like that, you start to realize how much time and energy you're spending doing things other people want you to do and not really for yourself. Or you start to realize - oh, I have these big goals, but I'm actually only spending, you know, 30 minutes a week actually on those. And the rest of the week I'm just feeling guilty and like I should be doing it.

So it helps you start to figure out - OK, where is my time going, and how do I want to make changes in that? But I really encourage people to not try to make changes right away. Like, just do the audit. Sit with what you're learning about yourself 'cause if you try to jump in and make changes, it's really overwhelming. But I think it's good to just, like, take stock for a few days, ideally a whole week, and figure out - OK, what does my life look like? What is working? What's not? Now what do I want to do?


MERAJI: One that, really, I thought was helpful, too, was you talk about listing your values and what's really important to you. And that's actually something I did. And I realized that what I have as my top values, I actually spend the least amount of time doing.


MERAJI: That was a huge shock to me.

WILKERSON MILLER: Yeah. I think most of us don't really think about our values in those terms. Right? Like, it's sort of easy to think, like, well, obviously I have values and I live according to them. But I don't think - until you sort of sit down and say, here's what those values are; here's what really, ultimately - if I can only do three things today, here's what they sort of filter into. Here's what I'm what I'm working toward - you can start to realize how there's a disconnect in what you believe and what you wish you were doing and then sort of what you're actually doing. And I think having values written out or, you know, somewhere in your mind as sort of a North Star when you're feeling overwhelmed and you're not sure what to do next, it can be really helpful to just return to that and say - OK, what ultimately am I trying to get out of this? What's most important to me? - can be so helpful for difficult situations.

MERAJI: You're ultimately trying to help your readers figure out what makes them feel good, what makes them feel bad, what their values are so, ultimately, they can start doing less of what makes them feel bad. You're a huge proponent in this book of doing less. You say do less.

WILKERSON MILLER: Do less. Just do so much less.

MERAJI: And you mentioned the time audit. But is there, like, another way that you can, without, you know, tracking every 30 minutes in your day, where you can pinpoint, here's what I can do less of?

WILKERSON MILLER: Yeah. I think you can probably, if you sit down and think about it, name a few things off the top of your head that make you feel really drained afterwards. I think just sort of taking stock, however you record your life. We have phones with the camera roll. We have texts. We have emails. We have, you know, our phone call log. However you're keeping in touch with people, look back through that and just do a little thinking about what actually made me feel really good. Or do it to the end of the day - like, what are three things today that I felt really good about? When did I feel drained today? The patterns emerge, I think, fairly quickly. And it's stuff you probably already knew on some level - oh, this friendship always feels kind of bad. But once you kind of just focus on this question of - what leaves me feeling energized? What leaves me feeling drained? - these things kind of have a way of emerging and being really clear.

MERAJI: Another thing that you say that you can do less of and we can all do less of is hurting our own feelings.


MERAJI: Can you give us just a few more examples of how we hurt our own feelings every day and then how we can stop doing this?

WILKERSON MILLER: Yeah. I think so much of hurting your own feelings happens online. A really classic example is, like, following somebody just to feel angry about what they're posting. And like, that can be a guilty pleasure. That can be fine in small doses. But I think we all know when it becomes toxic. And like, it's also fine to just not do that. Like, it's also fine to say - you know what? - I can do this a little bit, but I can also not do it at all and maybe I will feel better.

I think we know sort of when we are seeking an answer in that way that, like, it hurts so good. So it's sort of like if looking at pictures of your ex or their new partner or their new partner's family wedding, like, just going deep in these Instagram or Facebook rabbit holes where you sort of have no business being. And like, you're not going to find anything that makes you feel good, and you're likely to find things that make you feel bad.

So figuring out, you know - what are the things that I do that I could - that I just don't feel good about and I won't stop doing anyway and I'm getting sort of this weird guilty pleasure out of it? Those are really, like, kind of the first thing that can do if you're kind of trying to reclaim some of your time or just feel better more often. We - I say this in the book. But like, there are so many things in the world that are going to hurt our feelings. Like, we don't need to do it ourselves. Like, why, like, give the help to the universe when we can just not and feel better immediately?

MERAJI: I definitely do the thing where I go on Twitter and I fixate on every negative comment about a podcast episode that I did or a story that I did. And so when you said stop hurting your own feelings, it's like, yeah, I need to stop doing that. Stop reading the negative comments because it's not just the time I spend reading the comments. It's the, you know, hour after that I'm brooding about it.

WILKERSON MILLER: It's the way it ruins your afternoon. Totally - it feels bad. And also it can be, like - you know, it can be shopping for things you can't afford. It can be sort of chasing things at work. Like, it's asking to be invited to a meeting that you know you're not going to be invited to. It's sort of setting yourself up to be upset and then angry about the answer when you kind of knew what it already was.

MERAJI: That's good advice that I'm going to practice.



MERAJI: So in the first half, you have a chapter called Showing up for Yourself When [Expletive] Gets Hard. And you have advice on sort of the best ways to reach out to people when you need help and you need support. And one way sounds really easy, but it is not easy. It's to be honest when a friend or a loved one calls you and asks you how you're doing. Don't lie and say, oh, I'm fine. What should you do instead?

WILKERSON MILLER: Yeah, mmm hmm. Well, I think, you know, it's dependent to some degree on the relationship. If it's, you know, a stranger on the street or, you know, the driver of your taxi asking you how you're doing, you don't necessarily need to pour your whole life story out to them, same if it's your co-worker.

But if it's somebody who's asking sort of because they care about you, you should just be honest, like - hey, you know, I'm having a rough day. Like, I'm really struggling. I'm feeling pretty lonely or whatever the case may be. Just be honest with that person. And it's like just something to sort of relieve that burden of having to keep a secret, which makes a tough time so much worse if you're feeling like, not only do I feel bad but I can't tell anybody that I feel bad. And like, people are typically relieved by that honesty. It forms. It helps you form bonds. It's intimate. It's a relief.

I think we're all struggling in different ways. And so when somebody finally admits it, everyone goes - oh, God - you too? Like, it's really nice to hear you say that because now I know that I can say that to you or I can say that to somebody later today because it just sort of reminds people - yeah, you have permission to just be truthful and be a little bit vulnerable with people.


MERAJI: You also caution your readers not to take advantage of the friends and loved ones who show up for them, they're trying to support them through a hard time. So how...


MERAJI: ...Do we unload or vent in a responsible way?

WILKERSON MILLER: Well, I think it starts with just being conscious that that's what you're doing and making a point to not do that every time you see the same person or do that with all of your friends in sort of the same way. Like, if every conversation you're having is the same vent but just to a different audience, I think it's good to stop and think - am I just - do I just want to scream into the void, or do I actually want to talk to this person and hear what they think?

Another thing that I think is good to remember is that most therapy sessions last 45 minutes or 50 minutes. That's because, like, that's kind of the amount of time that, like, any one person should or can vent about something and another person can listen to it. So kind of keeping an eye on the clock when you're venting. And if you find that you're repeating yourself and kind of just rehashing the same thing over and over again say, OK, like, thank you for listening. Now, how are you doing?

And I think that's the other thing is not only asking how people are doing in those conversations when you're venting but maybe lead with that. Like, don't always be the person who starts the conversation with venting. Like, ask and genuinely listen to the answer how your friend is doing 'cause I think we can all tell when somebody vents to us and then they're like, and how are you? And you're like, you don't really want to know that. You're just saying that to be nice.

So it - just, like, really think about, like, what kind of approaching it in good faith and making a good effort, not so that you feel burdened when you're going through a tough time of - oh, I can only talk about this for 45 minutes - but more that you're just being generally mindful when you're going through life because I think that creates good relationships and good bonds that then when, like, you're going through a really hard time and you need to talk every day for an hour, like, your friend's going to be totally fine with that because you have this, like, established trust that you care about each other and you show up for each other all the time.

MERAJI: That's great advice.


MERAJI: All right, Rachel. To recap, what are some of the most important ways we can show up for ourselves right now?

WILKERSON MILLER: I think just figuring out who you are and what you need to feel content, to feel happy, to feel good, to feel energized. Know what your biggest needs are, whether that's a good night's sleep, whether that's working out every day, whether that's talking on the phone to your best friend for an hour, whether that's excelling at work, whether that's being with your family. Like, figure out what you need most, and then figure out how you can make time to do those things first and foremost.

MERAJI: And one more time, why is it important that we figure this out for ourselves before we make ourselves available to help our loved ones?

WILKERSON MILLER: Well, no one should be going into debt, whether it's emotional or financial, to support other people. Like, we need to give what we have to give. Taking care of your basic physical needs and also your emotional needs is going to keep you from getting burned out. It's going to keep you from resenting people, and it's going to actually allow you to fully show up for people and be generous and kind and have a good spirit when you do so.

MERAJI: Thanks, Rachel.


MERAJI: Rachel Wilkerson Miller is the author of the new book "The Art Of Showing Up." And on the next LIFE KIT, she's going to share tips on the best ways to show up for the people in your life when they're going through something difficult.


MERAJI: And for even more episodes of LIFE KIT, go to npr.org/lifekit. We have episodes on all sorts of topics, from how to deal with a tough time to how to appreciate poetry. If you love LIFE KIT and you want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter. Also, we want to hear your tips. What are you doing to cope right now? Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at lifekit@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Andee Tagle. Meghan Keane is the managing producer, and Beth Donovan is our senior editor. I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. Thanks for listening.


Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.