Sometimes things crumble. Other times, they completely shatter in an instant. Last month, I missed my deadline for the She Tribe Project - I was so caught up in a series of personal tragedies that I lost track of time and forgot responsibilities. I had poured my heart and soul into a big project, and it was pulled out from under my feet, suddenly and brutally. I felt exposed, betrayed, and discarded. It seemed insult was repeatedly added to injury as other things kept going wrong. But at the bottom of all the anger and hurt, there was the inkling of relief. I was relieved because the loss of this project, even though it meant the world to me, meant that I got to sever a relationship with an extremely toxic and abusive person. I got to walk away from the responsibility of constantly having to shield a group of people from this abuse. Ultimately, I found myself freed from a situation where I constantly had to place the needs of others above my own needs.
A couple of years ago, I came across a post on the Etsy blog that really changed how I evaluate priorities: The Oxygen Mask Principle (https://www.etsy.com/blog/en/2011/the-oxygen-mask-principle/). This original post speaks in terms of parenting, and of making sure that you take care of yourself first so you can be a better parent. But this idea easily extends to all interpersonal relationships, whether family, romantic, professional, etc.
We are taught from a young age that it is not okay to think of yourself first. We are programmed to always be self-deprecating. Our needs are to come last, lest we be thought of as selfish.
Our accomplishments are to be downplayed, lest we be seen as egotistical and boasting. As adults, we then often find ourselves exhausted, resentful, and confused about these negative feelings. After repeatedly finding myself struggling with these feelings, finding that original article helped me find clarity. I was always taking care of others before taking care of myself, to a fault. I would let both my physical and emotional health deteriorate rather than say no to those around me.
Since then, I’ve made an effort to prioritize my well-being. This has been an ongoing journey, because it’s been accompanied with a constant struggle with guilt. The notion of taking care of others is so ingrained that my first reaction to putting myself first was a rush of guilt. It has taken constant reminders and logical arguments with myself to help shift my mindset. After several months, I started to see the benefits of applying the Oxygen Mask Principle to my life. Being better rested, healthier, and allowing myself time for the things I enjoy, I found myself also being a better partner, friend, teacher.
Earlier this year, I lost track of this personal journey. I got involved in a situation I was very passionate about, and suddenly found myself responsible for the best interest of a group of people. All of a sudden I was working hard to shield these people from the abuse of another, and putting myself in harm’s way in the process. In the moments when I was truly honest with myself, I knew that the best thing for my own well-being was to walk away. But I was so preoccupied with everyone else that I felt unable to put myself first.
The universe ultimately took the choice out of my hands. The situation crumbled, and rather than fight to stay in it, I walked away. While I am speaking in vague terms here, the specifics of the situation don’t matter; the important lesson was the undeniable reminder that I am primarily responsible for my own well-being.
Do you put the needs of others before your own? Are you doing so to your own detriment? I leave you with the challenge to pay closer attention to your needs and making sure that you have room in your life to nurture yourself. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish.