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The Tough Reality of Putting Yourself First

We're always told that we need to put ourselves first if we're going to have any hope of being there
The Tough Reality of Putting Yourself First
We’re always told that we need to put ourselves first if we’re going to have any hope of being there for others.
We’re told to care for ourselves so that we can be at our best when we care for others.
All of this makes perfect sense in theory, but in practice?
It’s not so straightforward.
Let’s have an honest conversation about what putting yourself first actually means.

Know How You're Doing
I’m a big believer in practicing self-awareness, and if I’m being completely honest, I’ve felt pretty rundown the last few days.
I can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on, but I’ve been feeling lethargic and dealing with on-and-off headaches.
And I think it’s coming from a lack of balance.
I’m getting enough sleep. I’m eating well. I’m moving my feet to get my heart rate going. But still something feels off.
I took some time last night before bed to really think about the source of my exhaustion and anxiety. And what I came up with after calmly pondering it for a few minutes is that my life is lacking relational balance at the moment.
It’s in my nature to want to be everything to everyone, and that is just not possible. I know I’ve always had the most success when I can plan out my days and then give my full energy to only one task at a time.
But what has been happening lately is not that I’m stretched too thin–instead, I’m feeling too scattered.
This is what I mean by that.
Instead of doing one thing at a time, my attention has been bouncing back and forth between multiple tasks at once. And this is the reality for me: I’m not going to be at my best if I’m trying to help someone on Twitter while also messaging someone on Facebook while also trying to plan my day.
That is not being intentional. It’s an energy-draining mess.
Now, I’m not saying this to judge myself, because judgment can lead to even more self-inflicted energy draining. I’m saying this to point out the reality of what’s going on for me. And I know that this is a reality for lots of people. It’s a common conversation I have with others.
So let’s talk about what regaining balance looks like.
Balance Your Energy and Your Life
What do you actually do to balance your energy? What does it actually mean? I love to use myself as a test subject, so let’s continue on that theme, shall we?
Balancing energy, to me, means having the courage to take an honest look at what’s going on.
This is not easy to do.
Because once you do it, you have to acknowledge that things may not be going swimmingly. In fact, it’s opening yourself up to the possible acknowledgment that things could actually be going quite badly. And that is scary.
No one like to open themselves up to peer at their own shortcomings. But it’s necessary.
First, a note. I believe that there is a different way to think about this. Maybe “shortcomings” isn’t the best word to use. To reframe that, let’s look at it a different way.
Shortcomings imply personal failure, but there is so much in this world that is out of our control. We have no idea which projects will blow up in our faces and which ones will proceed smoothly.
Rather, we all must respond to the chaos of the world and take corrective action. Corrective action is something that puts you back in the driver’s seat. It’s regaining your power, and that’s much better than feeling you have to fix a shortcoming.
Balancing your energy also means that some things are going to need to change.
This is what I mean by corrective action. It’s when you muster the courage to honestly assess your life and think through what needs to happen next.
Perhaps you have one relationship that is completely draining your energy. That doesn’t mean you have to totally discard the relationship, but maybe you need to cut the time you spend on that relationship in half. Of course, this does not preclude increasing that time back to its previous level when your life is back in balance.
It just means that you and your mental health have to be the priorities.
And lastly, I believe it means undying compassion. This is crucial.
Change is hard. Accepting that things need to change going forward is a humbling position to be in.
So, whatever you do, treat yourself with compassion. Use good self-talk. Don’t get down on yourself because of something you think you should have done months ago. It’s OK. It really is.
Sometimes the most compassionate action you can take is to change–to acknowledge that what you have been doing is no longer in your best interests. Most people don’t do this, but you are not like most people. You’re here. You’re reading about mental health, and that means something.
If you have the courage to take an honest look at your life, you have the courage to change your life for the better.
That’s an admirable quality, and it’s something you should never feel guilty about.
Finding balance in life often seems elusive, but it’s possible.
So take a step back. Look around. And make changes if you need to.
There’s no shame in doing whatever it takes to live your happiest life.
If you want to learn more about change–from two totally different types of books–read these: How Poetry Can Change Your Heart and How Proust Can Change Your Life. I found them both to be fascinating in their own ways.

Thank you for reading. You always have the ability to change.

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Jordan Brown - Mental Health Writer, Poet, and Advocate

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