I believe that we currently live in a world where people take great pride in being insanely busy, staying late, trying to do it all for their kids or family members, and working ridiculous hours, or just having days that are filled with doing things for others – essentially, putting everyone else above themselves. Taking time to be selfish has become somewhat of a mythical legend or that other people do in far-off lands.
Putting yourself first has become something only a selfish person would do. The word selfish is often thrown in with inconsiderate and thoughtless. I am a good person (most of the time) but recently I have begun to be a little selfish too. I have become more comfortable with taking care of me, and the result is that I am better able to take care of others. The added benefit, I am able to prioritize, and, therefore, feel better overall.
I often fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people and then find myself exhausted, burnt out, sick and teary wondering where the person I used to be has gone. Six months ago, at the end of surviving an eight-month deployment, I decided to make a change. The first thing I did was take a long look at the things that took up the bulk of my time. I got tired just making a list of all the running around I was doing! What I had never done was stop and ask myself why I take on what I do and what it brings to my life.
I was taking things on without thinking, just blindly adding to the pile and the pile of “to do’s.” It overwhelmed me in ways that I didn’t even realize. Once I had a clear idea about why I did the things I did, I had to take a look at what things make my life easier and more fun and what things add stress to my life and not a lot of happiness. It amazed me that there were things I thought made me happy that, upon reflection, just added to the stress and strain of daily life.
Setting limits, boundaries and saying no was the next step and it was hard. I want to be known as someone who can do it all. I want to be the person that people know they can count on and come to when they need something, but I also need to feel rested, sane and happy too – I cannot have it all. I discovered that the key to saying no and setting limits is to say it clearly and not always being the one to jump up and offer when something needs to be done. When I stopped jumping up and offering other people slid in and helped out. When I said I couldn’t or told people that I am taking time for myself, the response was overwhelmingly supportive. The people that truly love and care about you won’t need you to justify it or make you feel guilty about it when you tell them you are putting yourself first sometimes – I discovered that they will applaud you and offer their help.
The final step in my journey was to create permanently scheduled time each week that was just for me. Depending on the week, this can be easy or like trying to wrestle a bone away from a hungry dog. I quickly realized that in order for me to take this time I had to make it clear to my family that this was my time and that only life-threatening emergencies will stop me from taking it. I put it (in permanent marker ) on the calendar. I do it the same time and day each week, so my kids know when it is and schedule their lives accordingly. I make no apologies for taking it and have been clear with everyone that their lives will be more pleasant when I feel renewed.
As we embark on this new year, make the same commitment to yourself that you do to everyone else you love. Teach your children how to make themselves a priority by modelling it. Let the world know that you value yourself, and you will discover how valued you are by everyone else too. This journey has been a hard one for me. I still feel guilty when I do selfish things for myself, but I am slowly reclaiming this word and making it something that healthy and well-balanced people do – they are sometimes selfish. When I take this time, I am a more pleasant and patient person to be around, I am better able to care for other people, and by prioritizing and thinking about what I take on, I am getting to the things that matter most and letting go of not doing it all.
Make January the month that you commit to taking care of yourself as well as you do others!