Number One

It’s time to look out for Number One.

“I’m only here to take care of number one.”

How do you feel when you read that sentence?

It’s the ultimate sign of selfishness, isn’t it? What kind of self-centered, narcissistic asshat would proudly say that he/she is only here on this earth to take care of “Number One,” or in other words, only him/herself?

Exactly. Only a self-centered, narcissistic asshat would say that.

Well, on second thought…maybe we’re missing the point.

Unfortunately, there are people who have taken this “looking out for number one” stuff a little too far, and they have completely messed it up for the rest of us. Because of that, many of us have created an idea in our minds that it’s much better to take care of others instead of ourselves.

I mean, let’s be real–no one wants to look like a selfish jerk, right?

It took me a while to realize this, but looking out for ourselves isn’t about “being selfish.”

In fact, looking out for ourselves (aka, Number One) is not only a good thing, it’s the only way to living a happy and healthy life.

Yes, it’s the only way.

If you haven’t started yet, it’s time for you to start looking out for Number One. More importantly, in a minute, I’m going to ask you to take it a huge step further than that.

Putting Yourself First

Okay, I’ll come clean. There was a word that I snuck into the first sentence of this post to try to throw you off-track.

The word: “Only.”

Anyone who believes that the only reason for being on this earth is to take care of him/herself and no one else, is most likely a jerk of the highest order.

Thankfully, I’m not talking about those clowns.

But what about the rest of us?

Do you feel guilty or selfish about doing things for yourself when you could be using your time to do things for other people instead (like your kids, your significant other, or for your job)?

If so, you’re not alone. However, for your long-term happiness and sanity’s sake, I sincerely want you to re-think this strategy.

That’s only part of it, though. Like I said earlier, I want to take this one big step further.

This blog post isn’t simply about “taking care of yourself.” That would be too easy and I’m going to assume that you’re already doing that (if not, stop reading this post and start now.)

I’m talking about making a concerted effort from this point forward to put yourself first.

You read that right. This isn’t about putting your kids first, or putting your significant other first, or putting your friends first, or putting your job first–I’m talking about putting YOU first.

This might sound harsh (actually, I hope that it does), but you will never be the best parent you can be to your kids, the best partner you can be to your significant other, the best friend you can be to your friends, or the best employee you can be to your company unless you learn how to put yourself first.

How?

It doesn’t matter if it’s going to a yoga class, taking an afternoon nap, going out for drinks with your buddies, pursuing a hobby, curling up with a book, watching the big game, getting a massage, or simply being alone doing absolutely nothing. The point is that scheduling “Me time” into our lives to emotionally nourish ourselves is a critical habit to develop for our overall health and mental well-being.

But that’s not how most of us operate, is it?

Most of us look at “Me time” as a luxury, not a necessity. If we’re done taking care of everyone else, and there’s nothing else that needs to be done, then we’ll take a moment to give ourselves the love and attention that we deserve.

But honestly, does that make any sense?

If you kept making withdrawals from your checking account without ever making any deposits, do you know what would happen? You wouldn’t just be broke, you’d be overdrawn. The fees and penalties would keep piling up, and not only would you have nothing left to give anyone, your account will shut down until you took immediate action to fix it.

Not only is this a terrible financial strategy, it’s even worse as a life strategy.

Believe me, choosing to live your life in this way won’t get you a trophy or a reward for all of the sacrifices that you’re making.

If anything, your “reward” for consistently making withdrawals from your life without making any deposits is the sad reality of being overdrawn physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. In extreme situations, you’ll get hit with a fee known as a nervous breakdown that will “shut down your account” until you take immediate action to fix it.

Even worse, if we’re constantly leaving our emotional accounts overdrawn, we’ll always be giving less than our best to the people who we love the most. Sometimes, because we’re so on edge, so tired, and so resentful for not giving ourselves the love and attention we need, it’s likely that we’ll end up giving our loved ones the worst of us as a result.

Worst of all, failing to put yourself as a priority makes it easier to turn to vices such as comfort eating, smoking, mindlessly surfing the internet for hours on end, and falling into less-than-ideal relationships to temporarily fill in the emotional gaps instead of facing the real issue.

This insanity has to stop.

There is a huge cost in failing to put ourselves first. Failure to do this consistently means that we will inevitably end up being of little use to anyone (especially the people who we love the most) if we don’t start making some serious life-changes in a hurry.

In order to make those changes, it’s time to become intimately familiar with a two-letter word that you may not like, but you must learn to love.

The Power of Two Simple Letters

Yep, you guessed it. The simple two-letter word that I’m talking about is “No.”

Far too often, we don’t take time for ourselves because we’re too busy saying “yes” to things that we really don’t want to do.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not naive about this.

Obviously, there will be many times in our lives where we have to do stuff that we don’t want to do, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, there are also plenty of times where we reluctantly say “yes” when we just as easily could have said “no.”

Usually we say “yes” because we’re afraid of being rude. We say “yes” because we’re afraid of not looking like a “team player.” We say “yes” because we’re afraid of making the other person angry or upset with us.

But at what cost?

Believe me, all of those reluctant “yeses” comes with a very steep price. Consistently failing to set boundaries and honor your wishes will leave you stressed out, resentful, stretched too thin, and exhausted. None of which will lead you on the path to living your best life possible, that’s for sure.

As a lifelong people-pleaser myself, the most powerful lesson that I have learned in my life to date is learning the importance of saying “No.” It wasn’t easy at first, but doing so helped me to realize that it’s okay to look out for myself and put myself first for a change.

Yes, it’s okay to say “no” to a family gathering with the in-laws. It’s okay to say “no” to spending $1,000 on a bridesmaid dress for your friend’s wedding. It’s okay to say “no” to going out to that party if you really want to stay home this weekend and catch up on your sleep. It’s okay to say “no” to listening to your friend complain about his job and/or marriage for the 20th time this week if you’re not interested in getting caught up in the drama.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t about saying “No” to everything, and it’s definitely not about saying “Yes” to everything either–it’s about finding balance.

And yes, that balance can be found without feeling guilty.

Yes, There’s Time For You

There may be some people reading this thinking, “Yeah, I don’t have time for all of this ‘Me’ stuff.”

Stop bullshitting yourself. Of course you have the time.

If your doctor said to you, “If you don’t find the time to slow down and stop burning the candle from both ends, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a heart attack and die within the next 6 months.”

Would you find the time then?

Of course you would. It’s not like the doctor magically gave you more hours in your day after she gave you that grim diagnosis–it’s just that you now made it a priority to find the time that you previously believed you didn’t have.

That’s why the problem is never about your time, the problem is about your priorities. 

That’s also why I wrote this.

I know this message of the blog post isn’t going to be embraced by everyone, and I’m good with that. If you want to keep yourself at the middle or the bottom of your priority list, that’s always your choice. But for those of you who are feeling the need to make a different choice, I want you to deeply consider appointing a new Number One priority in your life:

You.

The reality is if you truly want to give your loved ones the absolute best of you, and if you truly want to experience your best life possible at home and at work, then you must learn to love yourself enough to put yourself first.

Contrary to popular belief, your loved ones and/or your career won’t suffer, and this won’t make you a “self-centered, narcissistic asshat.” What it will do is keep you sane, happy, and energized to continue caring for the people and things you love the most in this world.

If nothing else, you can start by doing these two things today:

1) Schedule mandatory “Me time” everyday. Even if it’s only 10 minutes (and yes, you do have 10 minutes), at least start there. It’s better than nothing, believe me. Once you’re comfortable with this idea, ideally you can add more time. The key is making this “Me time” mandatory and not leaving it up to chance.

2) Put this “Me time” at the top of your To-Do List. The easiest way to avoid being overdrawn is to consistently place deposits into your account first.

The reward to doing this is a renewed you who will be more present, more patient, and more energized for your loved ones and for anything else that deserves your attention. Make no mistake about this: To fully love others means to put yourself first.

Make today the day when you stop overdrawing your account and start putting yourself in the Number One spot where you belong.

Are you feeling guilty about this? Don’t. Believe me, your Number One status is well deserved and well earned, my friend.

It’s time that you enjoy it.

Your Turn

Do you struggle with putting yourself first? Have you been led to believe that doing so is selfish? If so, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola

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Comments

  1. Yes!!! This was a hard one for me to learn, Shola. When I was a single mom with three little girls, two on the autism spectrum, I was more than burning the candle at both ends… I was burning it in the middle too! But through an autism parent support group, I discovered the concept of the http://oxygenmaskproject.com/ . I don’t know if that link will work, but this is a website called The Oxygen Mask Project.

    Here’s the idea: If you have ever flown on a commercial airplane, then you have heard the stewardess tell you, “If the cabin loses pressure, oxygen masks will fall from a compartment above you. If you are traveling with small children, please put your own on before helping them.”

    Why do they tell you to put your own on first? Because if you can’t breathe, you are of no help to your child or anyone else!

    Parents of special needs kids (and small children) are often the ones putting themselves last. Sometimes it is because there is no other choice at that moment. {If your child is screaming and running away in a total meltdown, it is not a convenient time to say, “Sorry, kid. I have a nail appointment. See you in 30.”} Sometimes it is because we don’t have anyone else to step in and help. There are also moments where the demands coming from those children are medically necessary for their survival! But all of that pressure on us can lead us to become burnt out and empty. There were days I could not drag myself out of bed because the thought of facing another day was more than I could bear.

    So the oxygen mask project was created to remind those of us who are truly burning our candles from all angles to take a moment and care for ourselves. Just like you said, even if it is just 10 minutes of meditation, it will make a huge difference.

    If we let ourselves get to the point where we cannot function, we are of no use to anyone. NO ONE.

    So definitely, Shola, we all need to put ourselves first. Not every moment of every day, certainly, because then we do become that jerk you mentioned. However, our bodies and minds were not intended to run on empty. We need to let ourselves re-fuel physically, spiritually, and mentally.

    (As a side note, I would also like to ask that if you have someone in your life who has a special needs child, please consider them when you are looking for ways to make a difference. Even if you just bring them a cup of coffee or offer to sit with their child so they can run errands, they really do need more than they ever ask for. Just a thought!)

    Hugs and Happy Monday!!!

    • Kathy, what an absolutely brilliant comment! I’ve never heard of The Oxygen Mask Project, but after checking out their site, it truly is such a fantastic concept. In general, I don’t think that any of us truly take the time out for ourselves that we should–but I agree, from what I’ve seen, this is even truer for parents of special needs children. Taking time out for ourselves is consistently challenging, but like you said, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day, it can make an enormous difference in our overall mental health. I especially loved your side note about considering ways to help out parents of special needs parents (or anyone else who is severely burned out) to find a moment of “Me Time” that they may not otherwise find. You are a gem, Kathy!

  2. Hey Shola,

    I recognized at least 15 years ago that “me” time was essential to keep my sanity. I stopped saying yes to the things I did not enjoy at the risk of being accused of anti-social behavior. I’m ok with that title. Being with myself and my own thoughts is rejuvenating. I’m a much better person for it. I also realize that I’m lucky in that I don’t have the restrictions to me time as a lot of people (those with children or demanding life situations). I agree that taking just a little time for yourself and making decisions that are important to “you” gives you a much better perspective and a better ability to help others when it is really needed.

    I appreciate your help Shola and your mission.

    • So true Kat! Some people like me (extroverts) get their energy from being around other people, and some people get rejuvenated by being alone (introverts.) Neither is better than the other, but the key is knowing where we stand so that we can say “yes” more often to the things that give us energy, and “no” more often to the things that do not. We can’t do it all of the time of course, but honoring ourselves by taking some much needed “Me Time” to energize ourselves in our own unique way can be life-changing. I appreciate you too, my friend!

  3. Shola,

    This post was really what I needed to hear. My life is not on the course I would like it to be but I’m working to find my way and reading your blog has become part of that journey.

    I’m glad you chose this path for your life.

    • Deb, that is honestly the highest honor that I could ever receive. Knowing that my words are helping others to work toward living their best lives is the coolest thing in the world for me to hear. Best of luck to you Deb, and I’m so happy that you found me and this blog!

  4. Shola, this was definitely written for me! Yes, I need to carve out me time and put balance back in my life. Yes I said back in my life. Somehow, I got caught up in the rat race of making money and pursuing things to feel a sense of accomplishment. When I realized how far gone I was, I took inventory of myself and realized that I began to work so I wouldn’t focus on a relationship because my last one burned me. During this time of self-medicating with work, I decided to spend more time with family, make new friends, join church and become active in the community by volunteering in my “spare time”.

    I have felt bits of myself falling away because I try to make others happy at my expense, even in business.

    Well, I had the flu a little while ago and when I could not attend any functions nor answer the phone, a surprising thing happened. The earth didn’t fall off its axis and No one’s head exploded! Life went on and everyone who had been depending on me found ways to accomplish all the items on their to-do listst. The most interesting thing is I was actually able to rest and take care of myself.
    It’s amazing how much of a difference this made. Now that I’m healthy again (over the flu) I’m committed to continuing to put myself first. I will say no and I won’t fear the responses to my “No’s”.
    Again, thank you for such an insightful and real piece. I really need this!
    Blessings!

    • Andrea believe me, I can relate! Just like you, it took an illness (actually in my case, an injury) to help me to realize that I didn’t need to be all things to all people. When that forced and involuntary “Me Time” happened, I started to realize what it was like to consistently address my own needs for a change. And like you said, the earth didn’t fall off of its axis and no one’s head exploded–everything was still cool. Interestingly enough, even though I was in pain, I felt mentally and emotionally better than I have felt in a long time while I was recovering. The power of “Me Time” cannot be understated. Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. Great post! When I think about “taking care of number one,” to me it also means this: I only have control over my own actions. I’ve found that when I’m putting someone else first, what I’m really trying to do is control their response to me (you probably recognize this, since you’re a recovering people pleaser). But really, I have no control over them — what I have control over is my own thoughts, attitudes, behavior, actions, and time. I also have control over how much I tolerate a demanding person. So now I don’t constantly do things for others and resent it; instead, I often do things for others and am happy to do so. Even when doing something for someone takes over my day, I can feel good about it because I made a choice. I decided that whatever is happening is stop-the-presses important and I am willing to give it my full attention. The key here, of course, is “I decided”: drama queens and narcissists need not apply. 🙂

    • Damn, well said Maria! Yes, I completely agree–it’s also about having control over our own actions and behavior too. In the end, we all have control over much more than we think we do. But part of that realization is understanding that the one thing we’ll never have control over is other people. Instead of worrying about other people’s behavior, actions, etc, it is so much better for our sanity to focus on the behavior and actions of the only person we can control: Number One. Brilliantly stated, my friend!

  6. I have found the biggest battle i fight is….fear.
    I want to set my own business up, but the fear of getting it wrong holds me back.

    Then the fear of life is passing me by and I will always be in a unhappy job scares me, so i fight both ends, but stay in the middle too frightened to move in case it all falls down around me.

    I know that 99% of successful business people have failed more times than they care to remember, but only talk about the success the have made.

    Just thought I would share.

    • I hear you Steve. Fear is a big challenge, and unfortunately, is not something that will ever leave us. The key is choosing to “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Trust me, if you want to start a business, you will get it wrong. No one gets it right on the first try, and that’s okay. It’s all about learning from our mistakes and improving instead allowing our fears to keep us on the sidelines of life. I lived in fear for 3 long years before I finally hit “Publish” on my first blog post, and once I did, I realized that my fears weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they would be. Since then, I have made a TON of mistakes with this blog (still making them, actually), but each mistake that I fix causes this blog to get better and better, and that’s what life is all about. Having the courage to make mistakes and grow from them–it may not be easy, but it’s necessary. Best of luck, my man!

  7. My wife and I occasionally watch The Biggest Loser Australia, and I’ve noticed how many of the contestants will say they push themselves past their limits in the show’s various challenges, how they’re “doing this for” family, spouses, kids. I can’t remember if any of them have ever made the leap to deciding that they’re doing it for themselves.

    It’s something I admit I struggle with sometimes – I’m fighting with a “people pleaser” habit I’ve had since I was a youngster. Still, lately, I’ve been doing things for myself on a more regular basis, from meditating and exercising to drawing, hanging out with friends and, occasionally, playing a video game.

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