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What comes to mind when you think of putting yourself first? Hopefully it is a positive image of taking good care of yourself and living your best life. However, it most likely involves thoughts of what and who you will have to sacrifice in order to put yourself first.

Socially, we hear that putting ourselves first is necessary, but then in real life (our daily life) we quickly learn that we are considered selfish when we do not live and breathe for everyone and everything around us. Hmmm…so if we place our self-care as a priority, we are neglecting everyone else? I just cannot agree…

When you board an airplane and the flight attendants review the safety procedures in the event of a crash, you are instructed to place your oxygen mask on your face first before trying to assist anyone else. Now why would they suggest this to passengers with children and relatives sitting next to them, people they would likely sacrifice their own life in order to let them live? The answer is quite simple: we cannot do anything for anyone if we do not care for ourselves first, including placing an oxygen mask on their face. But in our minds, we will do anything we can to save our families and children, even putting that mask on their face before our own…

Ok, let’s move out of that example so that we can calm our minds about airplane crashes…whew...ok, seriously, self-care is critical to living our best life, correct? But honestly, and I mean honestly, how often do we really practice putting ourselves first in ANY situation in our lives? Instead we often put our needs at the end (if they exist at all) of a busy day or work week, sacrifice our sleep and health needs, postpone goals and dreams, and even make our dinner plates last to be sure there is enough food for everyone else. Self-care is often neglected to the extreme, everyday, all the time.

But this is just how life is, right? In order to take good care of our families, maintain successful jobs and careers, and meet our life goals we must put all of these things and people ahead of our personal needs, right? There is just no other way to work everything into a 24 hour schedule.

You have two choices here. You can believe the questions asked above, or you can believe something radically different: putting yourself first is not only possible, but required! I am not saying that every moment of everyday will belong to you, this would be foolishness. What I am proposing is that in order to be successful in all of your life endeavors, from personal to family and professional to financial, you have to figure out how to put yourself first AT LEAST the majority of the time.

  • If you look at an entire week, seven full days, is it impossible to take one day for yourself, or even half a day if one full day is too long?
  • If you look at a full calendar month, is it reasonable to say that one weekend could be designated as downtime for you, where even if you cannot physically leave home, you mentally shut down by silencing all technology and spend time with family (or alone) away from stress and distractions?
  • If you look at an entire year, 365 days, would it be possible to carve out two weeks for time away from all of your obligations? Even if the two weeks were broken up throughout the year, does this seem impossible to schedule?

Some of you may agree with these questions and see the need to start putting yourself first, others may believe that this type of life is absolutely impossible. For those who find it to be impossible, let me ask you this: what is life all about if you do not stop to enjoy it, and also do not stop to take care of yourself by switching up the routine? 

There are five common myths associated with putting yourself first that I think may help those who are skeptical about this entire concept:

  1. Putting yourself first is selfish and lazy. Let others talk about it and this is what you are likely to hear. Taking that random weekend (or *gasp* a day) for yourself although you have children will always be considered selfish by someone who doesn’t value putting themselves first. Actually using your vacation time at work may become the source of some office gossip because of others determined to retire, with ALL of their vacations day intact. You may be called lazy because you have elected to use your PTO. And you know what, screw them. What is the point in living life if all you do, all the time is work? And what is the point in having PTO time if you NEVER use it?
  2. Putting yourself first is not necessary. “I will sleep when I’m dead.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this saying, and it drives me crazy. So, are you ok with running yourself to the ground while alive instead of practicing some self-care and placing your sleep and health as a top priority? Sure, it’s not “necessary” to take a vacation every year, but it is also not “necessary” to work all year-long, non-stop, either. If you constantly allow everyone around you, and all of your obligations, to take precedence over yourself and your needs, I guarantee this will catch up with you. And on your death-bed it is unlikely that you will think about how you should have worked more hours or made more money, instead you will think more about all the time you could have used differently and who should have received more (or less) of that time.
  3. Putting yourself first will derail routines and plans. The notion of making goals and reaching them is on overdrive today. We are being socially taught to believe that we can multi-task and do it all, everyday. We have smart phones and smart cars, even smart homes that make life much more accessible, but also make it impossible to really rest and recharge. One thing about life and making plans is that we have to take into account a major factor: life. If we go non-stop and make our goals an end to the means ALL THE TIME because we are afraid that if we stop, we will fail, then we have already failed. Living life at a breakneck pace everyday is not only unhealthy, but it is often unproductive. Instead of getting things done, we are busy “multi-tasking” and getting nothing done. I am all about productivity, but if it comes at a cost to our well-being and self-care, then I wonder if a self-assessment might be in order. If your goals cannot be met while putting yourself first, then is it really a reasonable or healthy goal? 
  4. Putting ourselves first means that we put others last. This is a big one, and the most common myth. If I put myself first, then am I placing my children, family, and job last?  No, you are not. Lets go back to the dreaded airplane example. How can we help anyone else if we cannot breathe? Seriously, think about this for a minute…If we want to be our best selves in all areas of our lives and in all capacities, then we have to make sure that we are at our best, right? And in order to be at our best, we have to take care of our needs, putting ourselves first as much as possible, at least with the basic necessities: health, food, sleep, well-being, mental and emotional rest, etc. Yes, our families and jobs need us, but they also need us to be able to care for them and bring our A game. We are actually serving those around us in a higher capacity when we take good care of ourselves first.
  5. Putting ourselves first is prideful. This goes with the myth of selfishness, and both are inaccurate. Putting yourself first is not about pride or conceit. Putting yourself first does not mean that you think more highly of yourself than your children or your career. Now, in some cases we do have to reassess our personal value and connections to people and activities in life, but for the most part this should not be done in a prideful manner. Putting yourself first is actually the opposite of prideful, as it is rather humbling to know that someone is taking good care of themselves. So often, people neglect their needs for long periods of time and burnout, resulting in medical ailments, emotional and mental despair, and extreme levels of depression. Pride is involved when we mistakenly believe that we are so important to everyone else that we do not need to properly take care of ourselves, sincerely believing that everyone else needs us so badly that they cannot function without us. 

Do you still believe that putting yourself first is impossible and unnecessary? 

Are you living your best life? 

When was the last time that you planned and completed something just for you? 

What changes are you willing to make to start putting yourself first?