Put Yourself On The List

Why am I willing to give up my own sanity and balance to maintain everyone else's?
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Like a lot of women, I've got more than my fair share of titles: Daughter. Wife. Boss. Friend. Sister. Mom. And while not all describe "jobs" in the pure sense of the word, with each of them comes a list of responsibilities that I take pretty seriously. Sometimes I've been great at them -- remembering birthdays, managing to actually get to the doctor's appointment WITH my daughter or giving constructive feedback to my team.

Yet there seems to be one area in particular that I can't seem to take on seriously enough. Me. Try as I might, I can't find the ways to put myself on the list -- to make my needs and wants rise to the same priority level that I would a PowerPoint presentation I need to do for work. And I get the feeling that I'm not alone.

A couple of months ago, I was on a panel with some powerful, accomplished women talking about "Redefining Success." The room was filled to overflowing with other women who came to hear us. Some of those women, I suspect, thought those of us on the dais held the key to the high wire act known as Having It All. Then I talked about the trouble I have "putting myself on the list," and I got that collective head nod rippling through the room that lets you know you've hit a raw nerve. I get the feeling that so many of us are wrestling with the same thing: the guilt associated with taking time out for ourselves. With saying "no, I can't do this right now for you because I need that time to do something for myself," and not feeling like we're being selfish and self-indulgent.

I'm part of the generation raised on the promise that we actually could have it all. We watched other women do it, or seem to -- women like my mom. She worked (and still does) in a job that she likes, and she's good at what she does. She took a break to have three children and went back to work when my younger brother started school, getting a job as a secretary with our local school board. This was positioned as good for her, but great for us -- Mom was working hard at her job (she probably didn't think if it as her career) so we could all have more. The extra money would send us to summer camp, and the contacts at the school board would help her secure places for us at the best schools in our district. No risk of feeling selfish and self-indulgent when the primary beneficiaries were her kids.

Flash forward to the next generation -- I've enjoyed an exciting career, a nurturing, loving relationship with my husband and watched two great girls grow into tremendous young women. The rewards have been rich, but the cost was pretty high too. I've missed more than my share of first steps and words, snuck in just-in-time to countless recitals and been away when a heartbroken kid needed a hug. And don't get me started on the times I've shortchanged my marriage.

Is it that I'm just lousy at time management? That a more organized, diligent person could figure out how to keep all the balls in the air, her highlights rocking and her core toned? Why am I willing to give up my own sanity and balance to maintain everyone else's? Why does the risk of being perceived as selfish make it okay to deprive myself of what I need?

I'm not willing to sacrifice that anymore. I'm putting myself back on the list. Because here's the truth: I am sure to be a better daughter, wife, boss, friend, sister and mom if I remember that the only title that matters is "Christina." I need to feed my soul so that I can get to all the things I want to do and be in the world.

Since I tend to overdo most things, I'm starting small. I'm taking the time to breathe, which is giving me time to think. I've spent so much time with my shoulders hunched up around my ears that I barely knew what it felt like to take a deep breath and really really feel it. And having space to think means I'm able to be more considerate about saying yes to things that sustain me and no to things that deplete me. I'm learning to ask for help -- and this one is pretty monumental for me. I HATE asking for help. I'm like that guy who drives around in circles because he's too proud to ask for directions (god bless you GPS!). But I'm learning to ask for help, and I'm learning that people will help you.

And more than anything, I'm learning to see me for who I am. A work in progress for sure, but a project worth the time. I'm making my way back onto my list, one deep breath at a time.

Now I hope you'll do the same for yourself. We're proud to introduce a new feature where we can all share what we did for ourselves today, any day, and support each other in those efforts. What did you do to put yourself on the list today? Add it to our list below.


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