As I have done for the past several years, 2013 starts with a word or phrase that I will focus on throughout the year. It is always my hope that you will find this focus just as useful. For 2013, I am declaring A Year of Self Preservation. A year of taking care of yourself so that you can help take care of others.
When we had our son nearly 15 years ago, our pediatrician passed on an important piece of advice — one that I share with almost everyone I meet at some point. “Rested Parents are Good Parents!” It is so easy, as a new parent to dedicate yourself so completely to your child that everything else in your life suffers. Your sleep suffers, of course, but also your relationship with your spouse and family, your relationship with friends and even your relationship with yourself. Your work and career can suffer, as well.
We took his advice to heart as much as possible. We slept when the baby slept. We found babysitters and family members who could give us a night out every so often. We actively thought about — and engaged in — self preservation. We knew that if we allowed ourselves to become too tired (both mentally and physically) we wouldn’t be the type of parents we wanted to be.
Fast forward to 15 years later and I find myself offering this “rule” of self preservation for a host of new reasons. I meet people who have been unemployed for months or years. I have friends who are acting as caregivers to elderly or extremely ill family members. I have fellow parents who are making their way through the teenage years with all the stress and confilct that can generate. To all of them I whisper “self preservation” in their ears as often as I can.
It is my belief that you can only truly help others when you are in a good position yourself. This good position might be monetary. It might be a good mental position. It might be the position of having available time. Whatever your particular situation, you must look to your own stability first before you can truly help others.
This isn’t a call to selfishness, though. I am not telling you to ignore others and their calls for help. Rather, I am asking you think about your own self preservation and not sacrifice your own stability, your own income, your own happiness to help others. If you do, you will soon find yourself in the same situation as those you are trying to help. You will quickly expend all your good intentions, most of your income and disturb your stability if you don’t think deeply about your own situation first.
Of course, this self preservation will mean that sometimes you have to say, “No.” There will be times you can’t help. People you can’t help. Actions you cannot take. This is simply the nature of life. Be aware though, if you try to help everyone at everything, all the time, you will quickly find yourself unable to assist anyone. You will use up all your energy and leave everyone worse off than when they started.
I urge you, in 2013, to think carefully about your own self preservation when asked to become involved with any endeavor. Here are a few questions to ask yourself on each occasion.
- Do you have the time, skills, energy, money to help at this time?
- Are there others who can help share the work? Will you be able to take breaks, when needed?
- Will this activity take away from your own projects, work, happiness at this particular time?
- Will this activity have a deep positive impact on both you and the recipient of your help?
- Will this activity eventually no longer be needed or will it continue for the foreseeable future?
If you want to truly help others, you need to practice active self preservation. You need to take care of yourself first, so that you have the energy, time and income to help others. To do otherwise is dangerous to your own stability and well-being. This isn’t selfishness in any way. By thinking about self preservation, you are helping to insure that you will be there when people need help rather than being in need of help yourself.