It wasn't until I was sobbing in my classroom on a Saturday afternoon that something finally clicked for me. I, like countless others, have spent my entire life turning my back on what I want to do in order to fill the role of everything to everyone. I had become a broken record, saying "yes" without fail to everyone else, only reserving the "no" for me. Without me knowing, the endless trail of betraying myself had caught up to me and knocked me off my feet, finally taking away my ability to run from what was best for me.
The details of my story are singular, but the premise is the same as millions of people. I live for helping and going beyond what's expected, not for me but for others. I take comfort in knowing that I helped make someone's day a little easier or brighter, even if that means a few extra hours of work or added stress to my day. It's who I am, and I have come to embrace this altruistic lifestyle, but I was completely unaware that each time I had tossed away a part of me to help someone else that those pieces were slowly collecting, readying themselves to knock me flat on my face so that I wasn't able to extend a hand to help. All I could do was use it to wipe away my tears.
I had completely dedicated my life to my students and school, so much so that I utterly lost sight of who I was outside of that role. I had to have a rack to hold all the hats I wore at school: English/journalism teacher, yearbook adviser, volleyball coach, Virtual Learning Academy after school teacher, pep session and variety show co-host, school videographer, makeshift pr liaison for the corporation and so on. I would receive daily emails asking for help outside of my normal role, and I would answer the call every single time.
There I was on a Saturday, which is fitting that I was in on my day off, getting ahead on an extra assignment given to me and trying to plan engaging lessons for the last few days of school. I happened to check to see if the book tour of my favorite author Brenè Brown was up because my heart was set on standing in line for hours just to have that minute to tell her how much she impacted my life. Then, there it was. It was like time stopped and the heavens opened up for me. She was hosting an entire day sponsored by O Magazine filled with talks, a meet and greet and sessions with people from O. My love for Oprah and Brenè is trumped by very few people. It was perfect. I stood up and danced around my room and refused to squelch my child-like giddiness.
I messaged my friend to tell her how God had created the world's most amazing day for me and that we had to get our tickets immediately. I decided to quickly glance at my volleyball schedule, and that was when it all came crashing down. We were hosting a tournament on the very day that I desperately wanted to be somewhere else. Down I went. Sobs shook me, and the 28 years of putting myself last rushed over me like a tidal wave.
There are some of you reading this who are wondering what my deal is and why I would always place myself on the back burner, but I also know there is a group of you who know this pain. The thought of disappointing someone who counts on you is more debilitating than the thought of disappointing yourself, so you just choose others before you. Once in a while though, a moment comes along that is so perfect and beautiful; you want to choose you, but your time has already be promised to a litany of people and groups. It feels like you're playing Monkey in the Middle with your heart, and you're unable to get out of the middle.
When my sobs subsided, I finally learned the lesson I wish didn't take 28 years to discover. It's okay to be the helper. The world needs us. We have selfless hearts and are happiest when we can use whatever talents we have to lend a hand to those who need us. It's who we are, and there is no reason to abandon that part of us; however, there comes a point when we must help ourselves. We have to nurture our hearts since we so freely give it to others. A "no" from us doesn't mean the world stops turning or that we don't love those who need our help. A "no" in order to do something for ourselves is simply a choice to love ourselves as much as we do everyone else.
I am going to see Brenè next month in Nashville. I talked to my volleyball team, and they all said they would only be disappointed if I didn't go because they knew how much I love Brenè and my stacks of O Magazine. My assistant coaches are stepping up to fill my role for the day so that I can meet my hero and be hopelessly awkward and unable to control my excitement. The helper is becoming the helped. It was one of the hardest decisions for me to make because I felt like I was letting everyone down, but every once in a while I have to look in the mirror and realize how detrimental it is to constantly let myself down. We can't give to others what we don't have, so it's imperative that we allow ourselves to recharge before our next "yes."