Imagine the following scenario: it’s a regular day and you’re going about your business until a stranger stops you. They don’t ask you for your name or what you do, but instead they give you a pen and paper and ask you to write down every single person that is important in your life. How long would it take until you wrote your own name down? Would it have even crossed your mind to do so?
When I read this scenario I had to ask myself, when was the last time I made myself a priority? Since the semester started I’ve been juggling two jobs doing thirty hours a week, running a Latin dance club on campus and a mentorship program, and trying to stay on top of my math-heavy course work. Whatever I don’t finish during the week has to be completed during the weekend, and whatever’s not finished by Sunday night gets added over to next week’s to-do list. I feel like a robot who’s caught in an endless cycle of work, and no matter how much I get done I can’t seem to catch a break. Unfortunately, this is a very common feeling, particularly among high school and college students who feel pressured to do their best both in the classroom and within the community.
What I’ve noticed is that most of the people who face this very issue all have one thing in common: we’re people-pleasers. We’re afraid to say no, and in order to convince ourselves that we can add on another commitment we over-estimate the time that we have and under-estimate just how much energy is required to complete all of our tasks, a dangerous mindset that can lead any individual to spread themselves too thin. What one fails to realize, however, is how crucial it is to make yourself a priority and make time for yourself in your schedule. How much influence do your own needs and desires have on what you do on the daily? Everybody, including you, has goals, but the actions needed to achieve them often times get left behind in our efforts to be of service to others.
While being constantly busy might give off the impression of productivity, it can very easily achieve the opposite of it. A scattered brain can make you forget about important tasks, accidentally double-book yourself, and overlook silly mistakes. In your attempt to commit yourself to many things at once and please everyone around you, you jeopardize the quality of work you’re able to bring to each situation, eventually disappointing the people you were initially so concerned with pleasing. You may have good intentions, but intention doesn’t guarantee success; action does. When your ability to fulfill these actions to the best of your ability suffers from lack of time, desire, or energy, you risk delivering results that are mediocre compared to what you could actually accomplish with more time and a clear mind.
This isn’t just about the value of your performance, though; the more time and energy you spend on others, the less you have to nourish your body and soul. The rise of the self-care/self-love movement in social media has raised awareness about how we view ourselves in relation to others, sparking an often-overlooked but necessary conversation about mental health and self-image and enabling people to reconsider and value their methods of personal care. Even with its success, I believe it hasn’t emphasized enough the importance of self care in academic and professional environments. “Treat yoself” is cute and much-needed sometimes, but at some point it stops being effective and starts becoming an excuse to constantly neglect responsibilities or inner-conflicts, counteracting the original meaning of the movement itself. When you start feeling guilty for treating yourself or are over-indulging to forget about the hundreds of responsibilities you have, it’s time to analyze how you’re spending your time and, most importantly, ask yourself why taking care of yourself is such a special occasion rather than a regular part of your routine.
Being busy is one thing, but being so busy that you don’t even have time to process through thoughts or emotions is a form of self-destruction. Neglecting your mental health is just as harmful as not drinking enough water or not eating enough food; you become emotionally stagnant and begin to accept life at face value. You start navigating life like a robot that just follows directions and denies themselves the simple pleasure of experiencing life, which includes feeling sadness, anger, anxiety, etc. You may think you can bottle up all of these emotions and deal with them at a later date, but that bottle is bound to explode open, and the moment it does the damage will be ten times worse than it was to begin with. This failure to prioritize yourself creates a huge wave, affecting your relationships and friendships, your aspirations, and your intentions to keep moving forward.
As women, this tendency to put ourselves last is especially prevalent, and there is a feeling of shame that overcomes our mind whenever we even think about being a little selfish. As daughters, sisters, and/or partners, there is so much pressure from different ends to be caregivers and fixers and followers. Our availability is almost always expected of us. I have met so many remarkable women who despite having goals and ambition put everything off for the benefit of someone else; there is nothing wrong with compromise, but you must never forget that you deserve the opportunity to chase your own dreams just as much as the next person. We don’t think twice about helping others and saying yes to favors, yet when it comes to our health and emotional well-being why do we feel so willing in putting it off for so long? Even worse, why do we hesitate to put our own goals before our loved one’s agendas?
In your attempts to meet everybody’s expectations and deliver your best efforts, there will be moments of success, personal satisfaction, and growth, however you will also face disappointment, unexpected setbacks, and unfortunate events that may or may not be in your control. With time I’ve come to learn that life doesn’t care just how hard you work to satisfy others, because at the end of the day you’re only left with yourself. At the end of the day what really matters is whether or not you are happy with yourself and the achievements that make you feel complete and accomplished by your own standards. How are you spending your time to build the future you want for yourself rather than building the image you want people to see?
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