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Girl, Choose Yourself!

Heather B Johnston talked in our interview last week about how she "chose herself" over and over while recovering from burnout. She knew her boss wanted her to stay, and it felt amazing to be needed and wanted, but she chose herself and walked away, knowing it was the best move she could make for her true self. She also talked about being on vacation after she turned in her notice and not checking emails the entire time. This was choosing herself. She talked about being at another job interview in the months after she left her job and feeling that sort of sick feeling that this wasn't where she was supposed to land. She honored that inner voice and chose herself.

This got me questioning whether or not I choose myself on a regular basis. Being a pleaser, I'll often put another person's happiness above my own. As Mary Oliver says, you don't have to walk a hundred miles on your knees through the desert.

That's my specialty, walking on my knees. My husband is like, "Stop making gourmet suppers every night. You're stressed out. Let's get a frozen pizza. It's fine." But I want to be needed and I like feeling like they'll starve if I don't provide a meal.

I repeated this scenario at work. When I'm leaving work on a Friday afternoon and one of the front desk girls comes speed walking down the hall to ask if I can see one more patient who showed up on the wrong day, I stay. I stay even though I'm exhausted and mentally drained and possibly not capable of dispensing useful medical advice.

Years ago when we had two kids under the age of 5 and I was telling our marriage therapist how overwhelmed I felt. She suggested I make a list of everything I "had" to do. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I filled up a notebook page front and back, every line with items I felt I had to do. The to-do's stretched from the time I woke up until I fell into bed. I didn't even include the 8 hours I spent at work. My husband was floored. He immediately went into helper/fixer mode, saying things like, "I can read to one kid while you read to the other. And Eli is old enough to bathe himself and brush his teeth" (he was 4.5, so this was questionable), and "we can eat takeout once a week or I can make pasta or something." And "you don't have to do laundry when you get home and fold it and put it away by bedtime."

In hindsight, there were a lot of ridiculous things on there I thought I had to do. Heather said her boss had the same reaction when she brought him a list of all the things she was doing for her job. He asked if she really needed to do all those and whether she could delegate some of them?

When the kids were toddlers, it was darn near impossible to show up for myself. Now that the kids are 9 and 13, and now that I'm a big girl in my 40's, I practice showing up for myself more and more. Here's how:

  1. I notice how I feel when I don't choose myself. I acknowledge the heaviness I feel. I let go of regret and guilt, those aren't productive. Instead, I make a mental note to choose myself next time.

  2. When faced with a decision, if I know one of the options is something I'd rather not do (play American Girl dolls instead of sitting on my porch with a book), I consciously think, "I'm choosing my daughter instead of me and I'm okay with it." and I move on. This lessens resentment later when I feel frazzled for not having "me time".

  3. I save the most valuable hours of the day for me (for me, this means 4:30-6:30 am).

  4. I put the responsibility on my kids for remembering items on trips, in bookbags, and things left out in the rain.

  5. I've trained my kids to fix a few easy meals for themselves. They can heat soup in the microwave, make sandwiches, and make "toaster tacos". Fruit is always available and requires zero assistance from me.

  6. When I'm drained emotionally and physically, I try to notice this and put on my oxygen mask before helping anyone else. For me, this usually means taking a bath. The running water and warmth help calm my sympathetic nervous system and reset my mood.

  7. My kids and husband know that I'm a better mom and wife when I do things like yoga, exercise, journal, and get 8 hours of sleep. My son was offered a chance to stay at an Airbnb with his grandma last night. He'd have to share a room with his sister and sleep on the floor. He chose himself. He said sleep was important to him and he knew he'd be sleepy all day in class if he went.

I had a dream where this consultant was going around the room and giving each person a book of what he thought we needed the most. He'd done a thorough psychological evaluation and he knew each of our weak spots. For me, I unwrapped my book and it was about courage. My good friend was there who is going through a divorce and her book said "Loneliness."

I reflected on the dream the next day. I thought I had courage, but I'm starting to see that it takes courage to choose yourself. I so often take the easy road of pleasing others, of not wanting to rock the boat. I don't like fighting or confrontation. I avoid these at all costs or apologize quickly after a disagreement, but I now realize I stuff all those unhappy emotions down inside me. That is not choosing myself. That's choosing to let the other person think everything is hunky-dory so I don't have to deal with uncomfortable feelings.

Choosing myself means being raw and honest about how I feel and how I'd like a situation to be different. Choosing myself means being courageous enough to take the road less traveled, the one that might feel uncomfortable and make someone else mad. It means finding the courage to take care of my own needs before I take care of others even if I feel guilty.

How will you choose yourself this week? Consider how different your life will look if you choose yourself first instead of everyone else. Ask yourself what you need. Get quiet and listen. I guarantee you it'll be something simple and easy to give yourself. Your inner GPS will guide you if you'll simply choose to listen.

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