Ahh, the new year. The magical time when many people feel they have been given a clean slate, a fresh start, and a second chance at whatever it is they are reaching towards. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it, that we can turn the page of a calendar and leave behind any mishaps, hurts, or heartaches from the past year? When I was much younger, the new year made me feel a bit invincible, almost drunk with excitement. I remember waking up many January 1sts believing in my heart that this was my year.
Now that I am (ahem) a bit older, the new year still fills me with hope, although in much more concrete ways. Instead of casually wishing for stronger relationships, happier days, and healthier living, I am more conscious of the decisions and actions that will lead me to these things. It’s easy for me to say “I want to be a better friend.” But the truth of it is that being a better friend is not a choice to make on a specific day. Being a better friend, to me, means being conscious of the tiny choices I can make to work my way towards the friend I want to be. It means using a few spare minutes to send a card to someone who is important to me. Yep, an actual paper card, with ink on it and a stamp to get it to where it needs to go. It means getting a text about a problem at work or a fight with a relative, responding, and also asking them about it a few days later to see if they need more support. Being a good friend means being conscious of what I can do to make their lives easier and happier and more wonderfully full.
Admittedly, taking care of myself often falls to the bottom of my list of important things when I think of the year ahead. I’m a friend, a wife, a mom, a sister, a daughter…I have lots and lots of other people who clearly need me every single waking moment. I don’t have time to spend on me. I can always take care of me later.
If you spotted the ridiculous truth I’ve told myself, and saw through it immediately, you’re probably already doing a good job of taking care of yourself.
You see, the truth is, no matter how much I want to love and care for and support and feed those around me, I’m pretty damn useless when I am feeling unloved, uncared for, unsupported and unfed myself. It’s been a long road, and continues to be a difficult thing for me, but I am starting to recognize and actually believe that I am worthy of my own time and love. Even writing that now, it seems like such an obvious truth, but it has taken me a really long time to soak it up in my heart. I’m not unique here, it’s something many of us struggle with.
My challenge to you, yes you – the one telling yourself the same story about how putting others first is alwaysalwaysalways the very best thing you can do – is to make a list of the people you care most about. It doesn’t have to be in any particular order, but it should include just the handful or so that are most important in your life. It’s a private list, just for you, so don’t worry about offending anyone by leaving them off. You can name it whatever you want: People I Love, Awesome Folks, The Ones That Matter Most.
Now stop reading, and go make that list right now. I’ll wait here.
Ok, look back over the list. Did you leave anyone off? Include anyone out of feelings of obligations rather than genuine love or desire for connectedness? Go ahead and edit it. Now you have a good working list of who you want to devote time and energy and love to this year.
Here’s the revolutionary act I am encouraging: Add yourself to the list. Write your own name right there with the other people who are most wonderful, most important, and most loved in your life. You are (and should be) one of those people. As such, you deserve the time and energy and love too.
I once made a pact with a dear friend of mine. We were sitting on my living room floor bemoaning our various body “flaws.” I was wishing that I had her slender hips, and poked at the (possibly imagined) chubbiness of my own. She pointed out her small chest, and wondered if boobs would ever appear. We were wallowing in our own self pity. And then something truly magical happened. As I was telling her how I thought she was perfectly perfect exactly as she was, I realized how unkind I was being to myself. I looked into her lovely eyes and said “We would never say to each other the things we just said about ourselves. We would never be so mean.” We made a pact then to be aware of times when we were speaking or thinking ill of ourselves, and to ask “Would the other one ever say this about me?” It was a way of keeping ourselves honest in our quest to love and accept ourselves the way we were. This was over 15 years ago, but I am proud to say that I have caught myself many times thinking yucky things about myself, and then remembered the pact. Apparently, she has too.
So the challenge here is to add your own name to the list to keep yourself honest about loving and respecting yourself. I feel in my heart that you are so worth that, and so worthy of that. It’s amazing how much more and better we can love others and care for others when we are loving and caring for ourselves. If you still insist that everyone else is more important, consider it a gift to those you love to put yourself on the list. I am positive that you would be tops on their list, and that they want as many good things for you as you want for them. So do this. Love them with everything you’ve got, and love yourself right along with them. Make this your year.