Why putting yourself first matters

I regularly find myself working with busy, stressed clients and who struggle to find optimal balance between the different elements of their life.  Regularly, I find myself reminding them that, if their battery is flat, they cannot power anyone else’s life.  They can’t provide the support their kids or their partner or their boss or their team need, if they have no resources available. 

I truly believe this.  But it is only in the last few weeks that I’ve realised what it really means, and just how important it is. 

Yes, I’ve been stressed before.  Tired, run-down.  Can’t wait for a holiday, then collapse with a bug for the whole of the first week.  But not since I’ve been running my own business. 

Until now. 

I’ve been very stressed recently, by something which is largely out of my control.  Much depends on the outcome.  It’s personal and emotionally tangled, and I’m reliant on other people, over whom I have little influence, for the final resolution. 

I knew that I had low energy, and was finding it hard to invest time and effort in winning new work.  As a result, my business has slowed considerably, and I’ve started to worry, seriously, about money for the first time ever.

But I didn’t realise just how bad it had got until I went for a two day “Deep Dive” with a coach/mentor in early August.  She specialises in working with people’s energy, and on honing their intuition so they can use it as reliably as, and hand-in-hand with, their intellect to run their lives and help others.  I knew I needed some help, and her offer came at just the right time. 

The Deep Dive happens at her house, where she and her husband welcome you to the beautiful Dorset countryside.  The sun shone.  We reflected on my childhood, and my parents – not the usual therapy territory of the bits that screwed me up, but the blessings and positive role modelling and talents they gave me, and how these countered some of my, er, less lovely attributes (stubborn? Me?).  We examined my emotional tangle, and what I needed to let go of.  We talked.  We drank wine.  We laughed.  We lay back in our chairs on the patio one evening and stared at the night sky, watching for shooting stars and being rewarded by the passing of the International Space Station. 

We worked on my purpose – in life, in work – and how to live it more fully.  We talked about what I am holding back, and why. 

And we talked about how to use my intuition, my felt sense, to make choices in life.

I realised I had got stuck in a left-brain cycle of trying to find rational, logical answers to everything, and had lost touch with the intuitive, emotional reasons why I do my work and how I make my best choices.  I had forgotten that you have to feel enthusiasm for something, not just be able to argue its merits intellectually.  That you have to have passion for what you do, or why will anyone else?  That you have to radiate joy in your work and your life, so that others are drawn to your warmth, not repelled by your rigid adherence to some kind of mental straitjacket that doesn’t energise you. 

When I came home, I was tired, but not beaten-carpet exhausted, like I was when I’d left.  The next day, I had more energy than I’ve had for months.  The day after that, I did two hours of gardening and many more hours of emailing contacts and devising new coaching programmes.  I also meditated, something which I’ve pledged to do every day from now on, and went for a walk (even though it was raining). 

I feel amazing.  Not on tip-top form yet, but a thousand miles from where I was.  And it shocks me.

I simply hadn’t realised just how bad things had got.  That is not how anyone is meant to feel.  That is not what life is for, and it’s not going to bring success and happiness.  It’s not going to make me useful to my clients or my friends or my family. 

You can’t drive anywhere without petrol in the tank.  You can’t make a mobile phone call without power in the battery.  You can’t comfort or console or advise others without love in your heart, and you don’t have love in your heart if you are exhausted.  You can’t believe in others if you don’t believe in yourself.

It is not being selfish.  It is an absolutely necessary condition to allow you to be what you want and need to be in the world.  Keep your battery charged and your tank full. 

Next time I find myself in that conversation with a client, I can speak from the heart about how utterly self-defeating it is to get into that depleted state, and how much it matters that you put yourself first.  Always.

(First published 10 June 2012)