The Oxygen Mask Dilemma - Self -ish, -less or -care?
I’m going to come right out and say it. I don’t like the word selfish. I was catching up with a friend the other day and I mentioned that I was taking some me time, to which he replied, "It's good to be selfish now and again." The judgement of people who identify and address their own needs, go for what they want, cancel appointments for good reason or take some ‘me time’ is certainly on my wish list for human evolution. While I do believe that society in general has progressed, at least to some degree, in terms of its compassion towards the individual (crying in public, for example, is not as ‘frowned upon’ as it used to be), I feel we have a long way to go.
People Pleasing vs Self-Service
I spent the most part of my earlier life putting others first, and it felt great knowing that people felt they could rely on me to always be there to help. But when I grew more comfortable in my own skin and was more honest with myself, I discovered that this behaviour was not serving the most important person in my life – me! It was only after I had a couple of wake up calls that I realised I was being a people pleaser. I am incredibly grateful to have been surrounded by amazing people, who, while they may have noticed a change over the years, accepted me and my journey, and love me unconditionally.
As with most things in life, balance is key when it comes to service. It is beautifully noble and admirable to want to put others first, (for many parents or carers, of course, it is a daily necessity due to the vulnerability of dependents). But at what cost, in the long term? We are not meant to live life as martyrs, sacrificing all for the needs of others. I believe that every time we make an unnecessary sacrifice*, a part of the soul shrivels up. We are certainly here to help each other, I feel it in my bones (it's the warm feeling I get when I see or experience people working together for a higher good that serves either one of them, both or humanity as a whole), but as they say, charity begins at home, or as Rabbi Hillel put it, “If I am not for myself who will be for me?”.
Honouring Your Path
Your uniqueness is vital to the beauty and wonder of this world. Look at the probability of you actually making it past the sperm-egg roulette - 120 trillion to 1 according to the wonderfully creative George Hardwick, in his book Creative Uprising. I invite you to honour your unique journey by listening to your heart and taking care of your needs as much as possible. Balancing this with serving others takes practice, but we’ll get there.
It’s about time we stopped apologising for looking after ourselves. After all, if the airline crew members tell us to, then clearly it is essential! What do I mean? During every inflight safety demonstration, what do they tell you about helping others with their oxygen masks?
You first. Always you first. What a great metaphor for life. If you’re being told that if you do not help yourself first, you could DIE, then maybe there’s something in that!
So, if you hear someone being labelled as selfish, I invite you to be mindful. It might just be the courageous beginning of a journey of self-care.
With this in mind, my Gratitude in this moment is directed at my ability to learn past what other people think. I'm here after all, wearing my heart on my website!
Serving Others From a Full Cup
With time and practice I have learned that I cannot serve others if my own cup is empty, so I’ve been learning how to fill it. It does mean making some tough decisions sometimes – saying yes to yourself can mean saying no to someone else. Maybe it means choosing Yoga over helping someone because that is the only time Yoga is on in your free time. Maybe it means taking an extra break at work, because you know you won’t take lunch until 3 O’Clock and that you’ll be far more productive after some fresh air. Maybe it means speaking up about a heavy workload or stressful situation. Maybe it means seeing massages as healing, and therefore a necessity rather than luxury! Either way, when you replenish and nourish yourself, you may find that sharing your energy with others is more enjoyable and whole-hearted, because you’re not running on empty – there’s enough for everyone!
So how do you fill your cup?
*Let's get a frame of reference here for clarity - unnecessary, in my book, and in this context only, means where you are sacrificing your needs in a situation because you think others will see you as selfish, but in fact there are other solutions that will serve all.