“You never put yourself first!”
There was no denying my therapist was right, and I knew it. My therapist’s words rang in my head like a bad hangover.
My inability to prioritize my needs has cost me dearly throughout my life. I paid for my lack of self-care with lost relationships, missed opportunities, and fractured professional networks. What’s more, I spent most of my life short-changing myself while simultaneously paving the way for everyone else’s success.
Making myself a priority in my own life feels like an entirely foreign concept. Every time I prioritize my needs, I feel selfish, awkward, and guilty. After all, sitting on the sidelines and letting life pass me by is practically second nature.
However, prioritizing myself feels both liberating and empowering. The difficult part is learning how to navigate my newfound freedom, and the process has been nerve-wracking, to say the least. While I no longer want to live in others’ shadows, I also fear that I don’t have enough wants and desires to fulfill.
Nonetheless, I’m learning that putting myself first also means putting others in my life second, even though it doesn’t settle well with everyone. Some friends have stayed with me as I learn to prioritize myself; others have chosen to leave. Although I didn’t realize it at first, prioritizing my needs serves as a definitive litmus test of true, lasting friendships. Now, I see just how much I’ve allowed some to walk all over me, and I’m starting to change that narrative.
With time, I’ve come to realize that I’m partially responsible for my habit of putting myself last. Because I didn’t put myself first, I had no reason to expect anyone else to. I simply couldn’t get out of my own way. I was the embodiment of “What It Means To Teach People How To Treat You.”
Since I started putting myself first, I’ve learned how to tell people when they’ve hurt me. I no longer accept “sloppy seconds” or scraps of love and affection. Since I began making myself a priority, I learned how to walk with people, not behind or ahead of them. I now take up as much space as my family and friends and no longer shrink into the crowd. Furthermore, I only engage in respectful conversations and healthy relationships and refuse to accept abusive behavior. Most importantly, though, I no longer feel guilty for caring for myself first, and I carry myself more confidently because I know that I can assert myself and set boundaries to benefit me. Most of all, in putting myself first, I’ve learned to say “no.”
If you struggle to put yourself first, know that it’s never too late to take your place in the world and use your own voice. As someone wise once said to me, “You should always play the lead role in your own life.”