A couple of years ago, I had an eye-opening experience on a drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway from Monterey to Morro Bay.
The road is narrow and winding with dozens of switchbacks. In the day, you can see what’s ahead and adjust accordingly.
That day, I got a late start and it was dark. I mean really, really dark. No moon. No streetlights. Nothing.
Suddenly, a truck zoomed up behind me and flashed its brights. I did what I’d been taught to do… I pulled over to let him go ahead.
The problem was, the pull-out was gravel and shorter than I thought. My car started sliding and the harder I braked, the more I slid. I finally came to a stop just a few feet from the cliff’s edge.
I sat there and shook. The truck was long gone. It was just me, the deserted road, (and I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true), and my realization that my lifelong default of putting other people first had just about cost me my life.
Putting others first (and yourself last) puts your well-being at risk. What’s worse, it teaches people that what you want doesn’t matter.
My close call made me wonder, “Where did I learn this from?”
Well, as with many things, it started at home. My mom was a model of unconditional love. She was also sick the last twenty years of her life. She rarely, if ever, talked about her illness because she didn’t want to be a “complainer.”
My mom did what she thought was the right thing, the selfless thing, but at a great personal cost.
What we learned from her example was probably not what she intended.
We learned to be “strong,” to not share our pain, to not ask for or accept help, to not be a “burden.” We learned that putting other people’s happiness first, and not thinking of our own, was the noble thing to do.
While serving others IS noble, it’s even better when we balance it with serving ourselves. What we want to model is that adults take care of themselves while taking care of others.
Jack Kornfield said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
Including yourself in your own story isn’t selfish, it’s smart.
Next time you’re about to take yourself out of the equation, ask yourself…
- Am I putting this person’s needs first and not even considering my own?
- Is this a one-time exception to the rule – or is this an ongoing pattern?
- Is there a way I can serve this person and myself at the same time?
Here’s to being better.
Until next time,