Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choose You

When we're in a good mood, we can always find a silver lining, no matter how cloudy the situation.  When we're in a crummy mood, we always find the clouds in the sunniest of skies.  I guess it's a reflection of my mixed emotions, then, that I seem to be noticing both lately.  I'm truly appreciative of the positive things in my life, but there's always a flip side.

I got an e-mail the other day from one of the higher-ups at my new job.  It wasn't just to me, but to everyone in the region. Basically, she was cancelling an upcoming staff meeting because there was some other stuff going on that was keeping everyone busy, so the meeting would be "difficult to fit in."  That in and of itself was enough to make me do a double-take.  In most (all?) of the places I've worked at before, there was no such thing as cancelling a meeting because we were busy; we'd just have to find a way to do more in less time.  This time, though, it wasn't even in response to a complaint (that I'm aware of); it was just her understanding what everyone is doing and caring about the people more than the product.  How cool is that?  

But that was only the beginning of the email.  The next thing she said had me completely floored.  I had to re-read it several times, and when I'd fully absorbed it, I forwarded it to a few people.  I had to show off ... and now, I guess, I'm doing it again.  What she said was:

I would ask that each of you take 90 minutes next week and Choose You in place of the staff meeting. Do something that is just for you - and packing things for a meeting doesn't count!

I wrote back and told her how much I appreciated that, and how refreshing it was to be in an environment where taking time for oneself is not only allowed but encouraged.  She then told me about the Choose You program, an initiative that encourages women to make their own health a priority.  It's a great idea, and a much needed one.  From the CY website:

In the constant struggle between family, work and self, we know how difficult it is to focus on oneself.  To help change this, American Cancer Society has developed the Choose You Commitment. Powered by stickK, this online program provides tools and support to enable women to commit to and achieve their personal health and wellness goals. 

While I think it's great that there is such a program (and others like it that offer support to help people improve their health), I think it's sad that there is such a need.  Not that there's a need for support - we all need help sometimes.  But that we need a program like this, an intervention of sorts, to make ourselves a priority - that is the sad part.

How many of us live our lives for everyone and everything around us, but never take the time to take care of our own needs?  Whether it's the kids, the spouse, the parents, the job, the class or the extra project, there's always something else that has to be done before we can do what we really want - or need - to do for ourselves.  Something else always comes first. Something else (or someone else) is always more important.

Now there's nothing wrong with being responsible.  Of course we've got to prioritize, and do the things we have to do before we get to the things we want to do.  We've got to pay the rent  before we book the vacation.  We've got to finish our homework before we go out to play with our friends (see, mom, I listened!). And we've got to make sure that the people who depend on us are nourished in every sense of the word.

The problem here is that when we get on this roll, we don't know when to stop.  There's always something that has to get done before we can do what we really want to do.  Something that's more important.  But more important than what?  It may start out with us simply thinking that completing the report is more important than taking a lunch break, or that the kids' girl scout meeting is more important than the art class we've been thinking about.  But as the trend continues and we work longer and harder for everyone and everything else, what we're really saying is that all of these things are more important than us as people.  

We're saying that not only to ourselves, but to all those others who we put first. The boss knows he can always ask for more, because we'll always take on that extra responsibility, put in those extra hours.  Our friends know they can always call us when they need a favor, because we'll always drop our own needs to help with theirs.  Our parents, kids, and spouses know that their needs (and wants) are more important than ours.

We don't take the time to take care of ourselves because we think we're just not worth the effort.  We care more about our spouses, our parents, our kids, our jobs than we do about our own health and happiness.  And it shows.  When we don't eat right, we don't exercise (I'm not talking about running a marathon, just being physically active at all), we don't take time to relax and unwind, we suffer the consequences: physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

We've got to remember what they tell us every time we get on an airplane.  If we lose cabin pressure, they tell us to put on our own oxygen masks before we help the kids put on theirs.  There is real logic there, and we've got to follow it even when we're on the ground.  If we can't breathe, we're no good to anyone else.  

What we need to remember - and continually remind ourselves - is that we are important, and we are worth it.  We need to take a moment for ourselves each day (however brief that moment may be), and say yes to something that's just for us. We need that moment to refresh, to recharge, to redeem.  After that moment, we are reinvigorated.  We can give that renewed energy to anything we choose ... as long as every so often, we choose us.

* If you like what you read, tell a friend!  Actually, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If you don't ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!