I pride myself in being a Nice Person and someone who can be relied upon to get things done. As someone who is highly empathetic, I know just how good it can feel to have someone dependable and enthusiastic to help you with the tricky things in life. There’s no joy in waiting around wondering if Mr. Flake is going to show up to their promises, or bail on you for the 6th time. (Flake being the millennial term to describe someone who is unreliable, off-beat and cancels often.)
The thing about Mr. Flake is, if he (or she!) is bailing on you time and time again, you eventually lose trust and effort with him. You eventually learn that they’re not the right person to help you out, and seek support elsewhere. But is Mr. Flake a bad person? Or are they selfish? Is being selfish a bad thing?
We’re taught that it’s important to always be selfless and put others before ourselves. I’ve always followed this mantra and I quite literally function with the intentions of making other people happy and ensuring that I show up to my promises. Read: People Pleaser.
But then I get faced with a bolder in the river. My intentions to put others before myself become stagnant when a personal issue surfaces and I genuinely need to put myself first. I struggle with speaking up and admitting that I actually can’t take on this project, I can’t meet you for lunch, I can’t watch your show and I can’t be there for you all the time. I think part of the reason I struggle to say “I can’t”, is because I really mean is “I don’t want to.”
I don’t want to run myself into the ground in order to say yes to every opportunity that comes my way. I don’t want to push through a period of poor mental health to go on a night out which will only compromise my mindset more. I don’t want to take on extra work for ~ExPeRieNce oN my CV~, I don’t want to stay up until 2am texting someone because their sleeping pattern is the Exact Opposite of mine.
But it feels wrong to listen to my wants and needs. As a woman especially, I feel like I have to put on an enthusiastic smile, be nice and forthcoming to every opportunity that slides into my inbox. But I actually don’t want to do half the stuff I accept, I don’t have any desire other than knowing that it’ll make someone else’s life a bit easier or add house points to my imaginary social Richter scale.
I acknowledge that there are many instances in life where you have to grin and bare it. Nobody wants to work long hours for poor pay, no new parents want to wake up every few hours to feed their screaming child, no healthcare worker wants to tell a family that their relative is dying. There are lots of things that we don’t want to do, but we have to do. Equally, there are lots of things that we don’t want to do, and don’t have to do either.
I’ve recently started reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and a particular line stuck out to me along the lines of “let everyone else down, before you let yourself down”. It resonated with me, because I’ve let myself down countless times in order to please other people and live up to their expectations. It’s hard to weigh up the pros and cons of something and turn it down. It’s hard to invest time and energy into yourself – but it’s so necessary.
You can’t pour from an empty cup. A cliche phrase, but a good one. It’s one that I think about quite frequently, and I often check my figurative cup to see how much is in there. Sometimes my cup is basically overflowing, and it makes sense to support others and give some of my energy and experiences to them. Other times my cup is half full, and a situation requires me to give the remainder of the contents to someone else. A few times, the cup is completely dry, yet I’ve got queues of people waiting to receive some water. In these situations, this is when I panic.
This is when the awkward emails, the last minute bail texts and poor performances take place. I struggle to admit that I’ve let myself burn out, and quickly scrabble to explain to people that I’ve got nothing left to give. People are usually understanding, and those are the folk who I know I’ll be able to help once I’ve recharged again. Some people are rude or arrogant, which highlights to me that no amount of people pleasing will ever get to their soft core (if they even have one. Some people are just stale toffees).
In conclusion; I’m learning to say no. I’m learning to assess what will actually benefit me, and then the secondary benefit of others. It’s good to be a caring person, it’s good to be giving and it’s good to be dependable. But none of this is possible if you don’t prioritise some elements of yourself first