If you’ve ever flown on a commercial plane, you’ve undoubtedly heard the safety speech regarding life jackets, emergency exits and such. In that case, you’ve also heard and seen the demonstration about putting on your oxygen mask. In the end, they make mention that you must put on your own mask before assisting others.
I find this interesting that they have to point this out. Shouldn’t it be pretty obvious that if you die or pass out due to lack of oxygen while trying to help others that won’t be able to help anyone at all?
Yeah, it probably should be. But I’d bet that 9 times out of 10, most people are going to make sure their loved ones are ok before taking care of themselves.
You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this, but how often are you guilty of this in your everyday life? If you’re like most people I work with, the vast majority of your life revolves around the needs of others before you take on the needs of yourself.
This sounds all altruistic and warm and fuzzy. I mean, if we all just devoted our lives to helping others, wouldn’t we live in an incredible place?
It would only be incredible if everyone was content with their own sh*t before ensuring other’s sh*t was taken care of too. After all, if you expire, burn out, lose your mind due to the oppressive stress of making sure that everyone else’s needs are met, you won’t be able to help anyone else at all. Or more based on reality here, you’ll have a deep seeded resentment and lack of true energy to serve others.
Think about it. If you’re absolutely elated with your life, are you better or worse in your relationships and interactions with others?
I’ll answer for you. You’re better. Everyone is.
But isn’t taking care of yourself first selfish?
Nope. Notice I said, “take care of yourself first”, not “ignore everyone else and only serve yourself”. Those are two totally different practices.
“But by serving myself first, I’m going to make my spouse and/or family mad at me. I can’t just devote time to getting what I need, then them. I need to continue running at full speed to provide for their needs, then in that last 20 minutes before I go to sleep, I’ll focus on me.”
Hmmmm. Read that again and tell me if it doesn’t sound a little crazy?
Yet, I hear that all the damn time. “I really want to do “x”, but ______ will be mad, jealous, or resentful.”
Imagine that you just up and did what you wanted, ignoring them. Would you be happier?
At this point, one of two things will probably happen. One, the person you are worried about will be so supportive and happy for you that you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it a long time ago. Or two, they’ll be jealous and resentful and more.
If it’s path two, they’re really toxic to your life, and you need to do everything you can to cleanse that relationship. That could be working through the issue through deep conversation or counseling. Or you could just do your best to cut them out of your life and never look back.
I can understand that this all sounds great in principle, but the execution is much harder. That’s normal. From an outside perspective, most other people’s problems seem easy. The underlying histories and complications make everything a lot more challenging. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
The best course of action that you can take from here is to get to a place where you are mentally comfortable with taking care of yourself first. Consider all of your choices and actions from the perspective of, “I’ll be better at everything else if I do this for me first.” Ignore all the why not for now. Just try and retrain your brain to think that way. Even just thinking that way will make you feel a lot better about things.
Then, start taking small actions towards making those self-care and self-interested things a reality. The underlying bonus here is that when you can do those things without guilt, you will become better at all of the things you were afraid of losing track of or feeling guilty about not fulfilling. You’ll do them with more vigor and energy that all of the people in your life will be much better off than they were when you were seemingly unselfish.