For those who know me, you’re probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind with a title like “Me First!” On the contrary, I may have just found it.
As we go through life, we each are called on to be some sort of caregiver. That encompasses a lot, from babysitting to pet care, a spouse, children, neighbors, and relatives. We look out for the employees who serve under our supervision, and those people we serve by virtue of whatever niche our job fills. We care for the elderly, the injured, and those with special needs. We water plants, weed gardens, service our vehicles. Our churches, temples, and mosques offer service, as do the hundreds of community organizations that are woven into the daily life of each and every one of us, no matter where we live.
Service is a good thing — perhaps the single most valuable act that protects the essence of our humanity. There is no higher station than that of one who serves others. In order to serve, though, we must have something to offer. In order to serve, we must first take care of ourselves.
The concept of self-care has long been muddled with the concept of someone being selfish. This, I believe, is where we lost track of our obligation to take care of ourselves – we were afraid of being selfish. The two are wildly different.
Selfish people act without regard for others, only chasing their own interests. They’ll hog the TV remote, eat the last cupcake, interrupt others when they wish to speak. They entitle themselves to disproportionate rights and benefits. Their actions may hurt or inconvenience others, and the selfish person may or may not even notice. They consider their own wants to be more important than those of others — if in fact, they stop to consider other people at all.
Self-care however, is an entirely different thing. A person in self-care doesn’t consider their own needs as more important than the needs of others, they consider their own needs just as important as the needs of others. Often that realization comes from a place of having put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own for a long while, to the point where they have become worn out, beaten down by life, and near-broken in mind, body, and spirit. It’s a mindset that says “I’ll take care of myself just as soon as I finish….” and they collapse in exhaustion each day before that list of caregiving tasks is ever complete. Their own needs are always at the bottom, perpetually after everyone else’s.
It is not selfish to arrange your life so that your needs are met. Schedule what you need first, and schedule everyone else around that. It could be a time to exercise – how many of us have been guilty of “not having time” for that? It could be a walk on the beach or in the woods, a bike ride, or watching the birds at the feeder. Enjoy your hobbies, or start a new one. You might read a book, take yourself for coffee, or visit a friend. Whatever it is, make it happen so you can be nourished and healthy for all the others to whom you give your time.
I can hear dissent in the ranks, and let me just say this is not a “woman problem” although many in this situation are women. I know plenty of grandpas and male bosses and husbands who work til they drop each day, and seldom get to play that round of golf or take an afternoon nap because they are constantly putting others’ needs ahead of their own. It isn’t healthy.
Anything that can take us away from that pressing sense of “the burden never goes away” or “I can never catch up” isn’t selfish — it’s self-care. Only you know what will give your mind a break from the underlying sense that everyone else’s needs are more immediate than yours are. But find those things, and treat yourself like you would treat any other nice person who has a need. You’re worth it.
(c) 2018, J. L. Cools