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TO EVERYONE WHO WANTS TO SAVE THE WORLD: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST

Put your oxygen mask first, when you really want to help others


Did you ever say yes to someone who asked for your help although you really didn’t have the time or energy? But of course you were there for them, because you always are. Or even worse, you said yes to something you really did not agree with, but you felt like you just couldn’t say no?  Maybe your boss or colleague asked you to do something and you just felt like you had to?

I have done it many times, for many years. People are very open to me, trust me and ask for my advice. On one hand this is such an honor. On the other hand, it is also a big responsibility. I always knew that whatever came across my way, I would find a solution for it and fight through it. 

I want the people around me to live the happiest life and if there was the chance to support them, I would be the first person by their side. I rather compromised my struggles and duties for someone else’s. 

I really avoided to tell them “no, I can’t help you because I don’t have time or not the energy because I need to focus on myself”. Telling people I can’t help them, felt so wrong to me. Does this sound familiar to you? Would you do anything for the people you love, even compromising your own life?

This worked out until I faced a year filled with profound transformations and challenges in every area of my life, that I had so many personal fires to fight and I just couldn’t support anyone around me anymore.

I have been constantly fighting one fire after another during this time. Keeping up my happy nature, my smiles, my health routines and the support I was used to offer everyone around me. I kept my life the way it has always been while really everything was changing.

The day after I decided to focus on myself for a while, a friend reached out to me asking for help with his bachelor thesis. Another friend wanted my opinion about her relationship. And then there was my job. By that time I was still in my old job, leading a fashion company, and I got several invites to “very important” events I should attend because it would be good for the company if I’d show up. Normally I would have just confirmed all of these requests and I almost did – out of habit. But I it was just the night before, when I decided to focus on myself. Now was the time to set boundaries around myself. It was neither the time to make other people’s problems mine, nor was it the time to go to events that wouldn’t really make a difference for my company. It was time to admit that I needed to say no, now.

I expected so much resistance from everyone. And there were some people who really started this type of discussion, where they would try to make me feel guilty for not helping them or not attending this very important event. That was what I expected, and I was prepared for those conversations, especially regarding work but also with my friends. But what I didn’t see coming were the people, who without even thinking about it, told me that it was no problem at all and ask me if I was ok or needed help. To be honest more people were totally fine with me denying to help them.

Are you afraid of saying no? Do you think people will hate you, leave you because you focus on your problems first, instead of theirs? Trust me, there is no better time to find out who your true friends are. 

If you are just a little like I used to be and are always there for everyone, you already do a great job! You help people and you give so much! Now it is time to give back to yourself and recharge your batteries. When you see a friend struggling, you help them. What if your friends see you struggle but expect you to help them first? Is that the kind of people you want to have in your life? Do you feel supported by them? Do you think they are worth spending your precious time on, while you have so many other things to do as well? There is nothing, absolutely nothing more important, than taking care of yourself, first. Otherwise you won’t be able to really take care of them or yourself. You will start to do all the things but not mindfully and with your full power.

The first few times will feel awkward. But it will pass, as long as you keep setting your boundaries. It is like doing an exercise for the first time or speaking a language for the first time. It feels uncomfortable but the more often we practice, the better it will get.

The following months I kept setting healthy boundaries. There was one thing that still irritated me. I denied many requests but when I did I still felt guilty and explained my decision. But there is no reason to explain myself. I wouldn’t explain why I would help them, so why would I explain why I wouldn’t? This stopped when I read the following sentence:

No. No, is a complete sentence.

Yes! This is how simply it is, isn’t it? Do you want this? No. Can you do this? No. There is no reason to add anything to it. My first word as a kid was no. So ironic that I had such a hard time saying no as an adult. This sentence helped me a lot. I have one more way of looking at helping others, that you have heard before but probably never thought of it that way:

Ever been on a plane and really listened to the safety instructions? When they tell you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others? You are useless to everyone around you, when you run out of oxygen and you risk your life. Put your mask on first, breathe and then help others. This applies not only to a flight but rather to overall life.

There will never be anything more important than the relationship with myself. There is nothing more important than taking care of myself. Somehow society decided to make ourselves feel bad for that. Self-care almost equals selfishness for some people. But there is a huge difference. In order to really support others, I needed to be ok first. 

I would even argue that self-care is the opposite of selfishness. Helping others doesn’t mean to solve their problems for them but rather support them on their way. 

Even when I have the energy and time to support other people, I only do it when my heart agrees. I learned that scheduling me-time on a daily basis is something I need, in order to live the life of my dreams, to perform best in my job and to be the best daughter, friend, partner, and sister I can possibly be.

I learned to put myself first without feeling guilty because I understood its necessity. I learned to say wholeheartedly a healthy “Yes” when I really mean it. And on the other hand I also learned to say wholeheartedly a healthy “No” when I mean it.

Hoping to have inspired you, to take care of yourself and to have given you a new perspective on helping people the most by not always helping them, I will leave you with a Polish proverb that became one of my favorite mantras, that I always recall when I am about to make other people’s problems, mine:

“Not my circus, not my monkeys” 

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