How Tara Schuster, a Comedy Central Executive, Learned The Real Definition of Self-Care

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

In the fast-paced world of social media, it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind from everyone else. There’s pressure to balance internships, classes, friends and more all at the same time — and by the looks of your Instagram feed, everyone’s doing it with ease. 

None of this comes easy, especially when you might feel your hard work isn’t paying off. Trust me, we’ve all been there — and even if it doesn't seem that way, the people you look up probably have too. Tara Schuster, the Comedy Central VP of Talent, has felt that looming pressure. But when it came to coping with it all, she discovered what it truly meant to self-care yourself. We spoke with Tara about what self-care means to her, how she dispelled the myth that she couldn't make it happen for herself, and her new book, Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: and Other Rituals to Fix Your Life from Someone Who has Been There. Here’s her story and what she wants us to learn from it. 

Her Campus (HC): How did you get interested or involved in the entertainment industry?

Tara Schuster (TS): I had no clue that I wanted to work in T.V. — I went to college to become a playwright. I never had the right internship and I wasn’t really exposed to entertainment at all even though I grew up in L.A. It wasn’t until I had gone to Brown for playwriting and got out to the real world. One of my mentors had me over for tea in Brooklyn and was like, ‘I think you need to get a career in real estate,’ and I was like, ‘wait, what?’ — he said, ‘that’s the only way you can be a playwright, is if you have a whole other career.’ Great, you can’t make money doing this. The reality came bursting through. 

A friend of mine suggested I intern at the Daily Show — which is a show I love — and by some miracle, I got the internship. That was sort of my first foot in the door for entertainment. At the internship, I made it my job to be the best at the worst of everything. If there was any horrible odd job, I would make it my b*tch. That kind of dedication got me noticed by the producers who helped me get my first job at Comedy Central. It was a PA position at jokes.com, part of Comedy Central. All of my friends were working at Goldman Sachs; they had all these fancy jobs, and I was working at the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder. It was like a step ladder to the actual ladder. I hustled at that one job and was really proactive — that allowed me to climb the corporate ladder here. 

HC: Looking back, what do you think the biggest lesson you learned from self-medicating in what can be such an overwhelming industry? 

TS: If you're looking for things to escape to, you've got to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why. The escape hatch is very alluring, but it's a symptom, not the root cause. 

I was self-medicating with weed. I think right now we’re in this peak ‘weed culture,’ in which people think it’s better for you than alcohol. But any substance you’re using to escape your life or dissociating from your mood can be dangerous. So for a good 10 years, I was self-medicating and felt that life was just happening to me. In a stressful job, I’ve seen people escape to things that aren’t great for them. We need to feel our emotions and process them, not escape them. Ultimately, you can’t really escape yourself, so you’re just delaying the inevitable. 

HC: How did you overcome looking in the mirror and wanting to escape?

TS: I think the biggest ritual that helped me was probably journaling. I've been journaling for almost 10 years now — I do three pages a day, every morning. It gets you in touch with your innermost self, with what you actually believe you need. I call it DMing with your soul. There are things that are hard to admit. Think about when you're with your friends and flexing, telling them 'I've got this great internship,' but you're not saying, 'I'm also really insecure and having these problems with my parents and stuff.' We don't talk about it. You do need to talk about it, and I think the safest place to do it is in a journal where you risk nobody's judgment. Nobody's reading your journal. 

HC: Would you say you have any advice for someone my age balancing it all?

TS: You deserve to take care of yourself. You deserve to treat yourself. You deserve to take yourself seriously. A college professor said that to me when I was a senior at Brown. I was really freaked out about what am I was going to do. I thought, 'should I become a lawyer for some reason, even though I've never wanted to be a lawyer?’ My professor told me, ‘the world doesn't need any more lawyers. You don’t want to be a lawyer. The world needs you to be yourself, your authentic self. The world needs you to take yourself seriously.’ And I had no f*cking clue what that meant. 

Many years later, I realized she meant that I had to take the incremental steps to the kind of life I deserved to lead. I needed to build small habits towards my stability. I think a lot of people at a young age just don’t think they’re worth taking care of. At that time, it didn’t occur to me that I should take myself seriously and not smoke weed all the time. Yes, we smoked and would watch Planet Earth and have a blissful night, but when you’re using substances to run from your life, you have to realize you deserve to treat yourself right. You need to find real, authentic self-care. Massages are nice, but when you need to feel your feelings, a massage isn’t going to help you do that. 

HC: Looking back, what do you think the biggest lesson you learned from self-medicating in what can be such an overwhelming industry? 

TS: If you're looking for things to escape to, you've got to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why. The escape hatch is very alluring, but it's a symptom, not the root cause. I was self-medicating with weed. I think right now we’re in this peak ‘weed culture,’ in which people think it’s better for you than alcohol. But any substance you’re using to escape your life or dissociating from your mood can be dangerous. So for a good 10 years, I was self-medicating and felt that life was just happening to me. In a stressful job, I’ve seen people escape to things that aren’t great for them. We need to feel our emotions and process them, not escape them. Ultimately, you can’t really escape yourself, so you’re just delaying the inevitable. 

HC: Were you ever scared or hesitant about moving forward from that past life?

TS: Oh yeah. I was terrified. My identity was so wrapped up in being a smart, cool girl who could smoke a lot of weed and still get good grades. It was a real cliché and part of my identity. It was super scary to let go of that. Weed had also been my coping mechanism for so long, so I was afraid of what my life would be like without it. I didn’t know who I was. 

Weed is also not something you can really do a 12-step program for. It wasn’t taken seriously. The very first thing I did was put post-it notes all over my apartment covered with apologies to myself about why I couldn’t smoke. They said things like, ‘I’m so sorry, you can’t smoke because it makes you sick.’ ‘I’m sorry you can’t smoke weed because it doesn’t work.’ I had to post those everywhere, even on my mirror, so when I looked at myself, I had to face the truth — weed was bad for me. 

It took a lot of willpower to throw away my pipe for the last time. I put it in the trash and covered it with Greek yogurt and buried it in the trash so it would be too shameful to pull out. I really had to quit. I then replaced that habit with running. I told one of my friends, ‘hey, I’m quitting weed and I have anxiety,’ and she told me to pick up running. My first thought, honestly, was ‘f*ck you, running won’t help my anxiety.’ So to spite her, I picked up running, and little by little, it became almost a soothing meditation. I was able to replace habits and have an outlet to run out my anxiety the way that weed had numbed out my anxiety. Now I had something to work out my anxiety. 

So I tell this little story to say, you know, if there's a crutch that anyone’s leaning on, there is a way to work yourself out of that crutch. You don't have to think about, ‘oh my god, how am I gonna ever get to the end.’ You start with the first step, which is admitting that you need to take yourself seriously.

HC: What inspired you to write your book?

TS: I didn’t set out to write a book. I set out to save my life. I grew up in a neglected household, and I was really good at projecting like I was good in life, but inside I was a f*cking mess. I bottomed out on my 25th birthday when I drunk-dialed my therapist threatening to hurt myself. The next morning, I realized, ‘this is not a life. This is shameful.’ 

My parents weren’t coming to rescue me. If anyone was going to save me, it was going to be me. So I started a Google Doc, like a good student, of all the questions I had. ‘What are values? What is self-care?’ And then I answered them and treated it like a homework assignment. I read self-help books and went to talks, and saw movies that had deeper messages about how I should like my life. At the end of five years, I was stable and content, which was something I never dreamed I would become. I was climbing the corporate ladder and becoming successful. I looked back and was like, ‘oh, I have a story to share.’ 

HC: When you were writing your book, what did you want the main message to be for readers?

TS: Well, there were two things. One was a feeling I wanted to give — that when you have the book, you have a friend. I wrote it with the reader in mind, the same way that the memoirs of David Sedaris made me feel. The primary goal was to make people feel less alone. The message that I wanted readers to get, was that it is far easier and more joyful to take responsibility for your life than to let it slip through your fingers. I think a lot of us think we don't have enough agency. We think, ‘this is just the way life is,’ but you can change your life if you have the self-awareness to take responsibility for your life and figure out what you actually want. 

HC: What has been the most surreal moment of your career so far?

TS: I think when I was pitching my book. When I was going around New York with my agent to different publishers, I realized, ‘oh my god, I’m going to be an author.’ I’ll never forget the meeting where we found the right publisher and the right editor. One of the publishers turned to me and said, ‘if your parents aren’t proud of you, I am.’ And to feel that from someone so respected, and she was proud of me, I realized ‘wow, I’m on top.’ It was completely surreal. 

 

HC: What advice would you give a 20-something with aspirations to follow in your footsteps? 

TS: Take care of yourself in an authentic, real way. What is the very first thing you need to do to take care of yourself? What is the basic habit that you want in your life? Attack that. There is magic in choosing one good habit you want, one thing you want to bring into your adulthood. What can you do to take care of yourself and where do you need to nurture yourself? 

We are told to move on and that we should be fine, even with circumstances that are really not fine and experiences that are absolutely not fine. It's not helpful. If you think, you know, ‘I was pretty privileged I shouldn't feel bad, other people have it much worse,’ that's insulting to other people. It's not cool to compare pain, and it's not helpful to yourself. Who are you helping by minimizing where you might need healing? 

Take an honest accounting of where you are and where you want to go and start making the changes towards that vision. You know, for me, that was just I wanted to be a stable adult. 

HC: From what I’ve heard from you, it’s more about realizing what’s self-care and what’s not. 

TS: The difference between self-care and self-soothe is an honest accounting of how you’re feeling. And the right self-care can change the quality of your life. A Korean sheet mask is nice, but it’s not self-care. You need to feel your feelings. 

Grab yourself a copy of Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies: and Other Rituals to Fix Your Life from Someone Who has Been There!

If you or someone you know struggles with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).