I know what some of you are thinking. Wait, what? Are you some kind of monster? Of course it's a bad thing to be selfish. But, hear me out and you just might gain some valuable insight into the inner workings of you. (Or you might still think I'm a monster and go eat a sandwich while you further contemplate the universe, but hey, a sandwich sounds like a win to me 🙂)
Let's start this healthy introspection off with a few observations about societal expectations placed on women, shall we. First, I'll start with the immortal vocal stylings of Chaka Khan, "I'm every woman, it's all in me, anything you want done baby, I'll do it naturally." Don't get me wrong, I love this song and I totally get why it shows up on so many lists of female empowerment songs, but it points to a less healthy cultural trend that has been picking up steam since the 1970's - women can do it all, at once, without batting an eyelash. Nicole Lapin points out this issue in her amazing book Becoming Super Woman: A Simple 12 Step Plan to Go from Burnout to Balance (more on this book in an upcoming blog post).
I must admit that I found myself in deep agreement with Lapin and started really thinking about the things I've been taught about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. Women are caregivers and often times sole caregivers. I know that we are making progress as a society, but as with so many things, we've still got a long way to go. We are taught from day one to take care of everyone else's needs before our own. Cook, clean, raise children, run the carpool, go to college, have a fulfilling career, go to the gym, look flawless, remember birthdays, send cards and never complain about being tired or you're selfish. There it is - the s word.
Growing up, I internalized the belief that being selfish was a cardinal sin. Absolutely, above everything else, you must not be selfish. Give to others to the point of complete self-sacrifice in order to prove that you have not failed, that you are not a bad person, that you don't lack moral character. And it's just a terrible model to follow.
You can't fill from an empty cup. One more time, louder for those in the back: YOU CAN NOT FILL FROM AN EMPTY CUP. Sorry for yelling, but it's just so frustrating, and irritating this cross we are taught to bear. When you try to do everything and be everything for everyone, you are spread too thin. As human beings, we all have a breaking point. Giving to everyone and never taking for yourself means that you are an empty vessel with no fuel, and, instead of giving 100%, you are giving 1% to a hundred different things. It's exhausting and unhealthy.
Your needs matter. Not after you have met everyone else's first - now. Being selfish gets a bad rap because it has the connotation that taking for yourself means disregarding everyone else. That you would deliberately harm another person physically, emotionally, or spiritually, to get what you want. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and say that this is not you. You are a good person, and meeting your needs first is about finding balance, and being happy so that everything you do going forward will be met with all the energy and passion you have.
So, what do you want? Now that you have permission to take care of yourself, what do you need? This question is often deeply unsettling. It's like walking into the world's largest all you can eat buffet on an empty stomach. There are just so many choices, so many things you haven't tried before or thought to try. So much all at once. Take a deep breath ( I know, I give that advice a lot 🙂). This isn't a mountain you have to conquer in one day. This is a process and for most of us, it takes time. And giving yourself permission to explore and grow and change your mind - a hundred times if that's what it takes.
Put yourself first. Not because you are greedy and irreverent of others feeling, but because you care about being the best version of yourself and sharing that with the world. Start making time, even if you have to fight for it, to ask yourself what you want. What do you dream of for yourself? What kind of life do you want to have? What legacy do you want to leave behind? It doesn't have to be grandiose - you don't have to change the world (unless you want to). Maybe you want to run a successful business, maybe you want to share your passion through art, maybe you want to teach others how to love themselves too.
Take a small step today. Get out a pen and a piece of paper. Write at the top, What do I want? You can start making a list, or doodle, or just free write. No one else will see this but you, so don't worry about how it looks or if it's organized the "right" way. There is no right way. Maybe, all you can think of is a sandwich. Write that down. Describe it. Think about what will be on it, what kind of bread, how it will taste. No limits. Just start writing, and do this every single day. What do I want? You'll be surprised how your thinking starts to shift. When you give yourself permission to dream, to contemplate, to imagine without limits - that still small voice inside you will start to speak again. Just listen.
Put yourself first. Be a little selfish. Figure out what you want for your life. This is the first step on the road to building true fulfillment. And when you allow yourself to have what you need, to be happy, and to grow, that light will shine so brightly that it warms everyone else in your path. Your personal fulfillment will give you strength and direction and purpose. There will be no more 1% to 100 things, there will be 100% to the most important things. So, really, there's only one question left today, what do you want? You owe it to yourself to find out.
Creating my own sunshine 🌞