Why We Put Ourselves Last
I don’t want my life to be on hold, do you?
My life used to be on hold. I happily (or so I thought) put my own dreams and desires on hold and adopted the dreams, desires, and goals of my husband. And society. I didn’t question what success and happiness was for me. I just assumed it was about money, career, possessions, and snazzy vacations. After all, who didn’t want to live that ‘American Dream?’
And when living the American Dream left me empty, unfulfilled, and discontent, I assumed I needed to try harder. I assumed the problem was with me!
It wasn’t until I really looked at my assumptions that I was able to shake myself up and wake myself up and realized that something was very amiss in my thinking.
Alan Alda put it this way: “Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
If you’ve been used to putting your own dreams and desires on hold for the sake of your family or career, maybe you need to do some scrubbing. If you’ve been waiting to make some changes until the time is right, maybe you need to do some scrubbing.
Saying YES to your dreams and desires sounds like it should be super-fun and super-easy, doesn’t it? But, if you don’t have much practice, then it can be uncomfortable and feel scary. And those feelings of discomfort and fear talk us back into putting our life on hold.
And staying stuck is not the answer.
Staying stuck will never lead to fulfillment, joy, exuberance, authenticity, power, purpose, passion, success, happiness, or peace.
But staying stuck is so darn easy! And after all, you might tell yourself, life isn’t that bad. You’ve made it this far. But deep down, you know there’s more. You know YOU’RE more.
So, why is it so easy to put ourselves last. We have some assumptions, of course! Let me help scrub off some of the common assumptions. Let’s do some myth-busting!
Assumption 1: No one will like me if I say no or if I don’t go along
This assumption is a potent one! Part of the strength of the ‘being unselfish’ myth is that people will like you more. That equates to the idea that being good ensures you're loved. It doesn’t. They won’t. Others will love or like you for being you, not for what you can do for them.
I used to feel like I had to buy friendship or love (and I know others who have felt or feel the same way). That meant I was always paying for things, buying gifts, and over-spending on others. For me, this started all the way back to Jr. High when I paid for a friend to go to a Monkees concert with me. And guess what? Once the spending stopped, often the relationship did too. When my friendships were based on my neediness and willingness to buy my friends, not only were they ultimately unfulfilling, but they weren’t long-lasting either. Because they weren’t real friendships.
A good relationship is not transactional and it’s not a contest. Anyone who judges you for having healthy boundaries or for what they can get out of you don’t belong in your life.
Assumption 2: Self-care is selfish
It seems like ‘self-care’ is the new buzzword and it’s misunderstood. Initially, I thought self-care was all about extravagance and self-obsession, like massages, spa days, manicures, pedicures, or a bubble bath with candles. Don’t get me wrong, those activities are part of self-care, but a very small part.
Self-care is actually the complete opposite of being selfish. Self-care is applying the same level of kindness to yourself as you do to your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. There’s enormous pressure to be selfless and to be all things to everyone in our lives. It can feel like there’s just not enough of you to go around, and if you’re not careful, you will end up exhausted, sick, and resentful.
Your mind and body need some space and time to rest, restore, and heal from the stresses of everyday life. Self-care can start by just carving out some non-negotiable downtime in your week. Think about loosening your schedule so it’s not crammed with obligations. Prioritize sleep, good food, and rest. Meditation or journaling wouldn’t hurt either. And neither would having some fun. And practice saying no!
It’s okay to be there for others, to be kind and loving, but you shouldn’t leave yourself behind. Instead of getting caught up in negative self-talk about being good and unselfish, reframe the conversation using kindness as your watchword, and start with yourself.
Assumption 3: Giving is your identity (who would I be if I didn’t overgive?)
The ‘good girl’ narrative depends on you identifying as the unselfish caregiver. You get positive strokes for always being the one running around helping others. But it should be balanced by being able to receive.
I have to confess I still struggle with this. As a matter of fact, this past Christmas triggered me a bit because the amount of gifts I received from my daughter was much greater than the amount of gifts I gave her. I felt a bit guilty. And that’s when she reminded me that it wasn’t a competition!
How is your ability to receive? Do you immediately push away compliments? Do you feel compelled to reciprocate if someone gives you something? How about using the opportunity of receiving something (even a compliment) to reflect on your brilliance, your worthiness, or your unique position as a child of the Divine?
Self-care and challenging your assumptions doesn’t mean you stop giving. It means you stay balanced by having time for you so you don’t get burned out. In fact, learning to receive will make you better at giving and being of service because you’ll be happier and have more energy!
Say YES to yourself by challenging your assumptions!
Janet is a transformational coach who helps women move beyond the negative voices in their head so they can unleash their purpose, unmask their self-confidence, and uncover possibilities that they have been blind to. Bottom line: she helps them to stop settling, start soaring, and experience the magic of their dreams again.