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Best Decisions: Putting Myself First

by Gip Plaster on April 24th, 2012

Everything in life goes better when you put yourself first, and that’s why I’m including putting myself first among my 10 best decisions on the path toward a simpler, more deliberate life.

Don’t think you agree? Let me state my case first, then you can decide — and sound off. As always, comments are open on this and every post on So Much More Life.

This is the final post in a series of 10 articles highlighting my best decisions since committing to a simpler life. While this series is almost over, that doesn’t mean the discussion of good decisions is ending. In fact, making good decisions is a recurring them here and always will be.

This series will also live on in many ways. But we’ll talk more about that another time.

Putting Yourself Above Other People?

My previous post on this topic, Arranging Your Obligations: Putting Yourself First, didn’t get a lot of comments, but among the comments it got was a suggestion that your children’s needs come ahead of your own.

I don’t have children, so I can’t discuss that topic. But I can tell you that no one’s needs come ahead of my own. And I’m a better person because of that fact.

Here’s why: Putting other people’s needs ahead of your own leaves you ill-equipped to serve the world. Until your own needs are fully met in as many ways as possible, you cannot live up to your potential. As I put it in the previous post, you are best prepared to live in and serve the world when you put yourself first.

Creating for yourself a healthy and productive life simply comes first. Sorting out your own issues clears the plate for you to serve others if that’s what you want to do. Since you’re as good as any other person on the planet, you deserve to pay enough attention to yourself to make sure your needs are fully met.

Those who put themselves first are able to give away parts of themselves whenever they choose without resentment or sacrificing their own good life. That means they can choose to put the needs of a spouse, child or friend ahead of their own — momentarily — when it serves everyone involved for them to do that.

Once you’re committed to putting yourself first, the other people in the world fall neatly into place. Obviously, the needs of those to whom you are committed come second. That’s the proper place for husbands, wives, partners, children, close friends and the other people in your life with whom you have share close connections.

All the other real people in the world fall into place after those.

I hope this all makes perfect sense so far. Does it?

People Always Come Before Systems

After all the people in the world come the systems that attempt to organize aspects of life.

While you come first, those close to you come second and everyone else comes third, the systems in which you voluntarily participate come next. That means fulfilling your obligation to any real person in the world surely comes before a commitment to a church, civic organization or workplace social group.

Finally, deservedly low on the list of obligations should be your commitments to the big systems in life in which your participation isn’t completely voluntary. This includes taxing systems, monopoly electric companies and large corporations like Walmart which may serve you but to whom you owe no allegiance.

It makes sense to put real people ahead of these unreal systems but we often get our priorities mixed up, I think.

For example, we might choose to pay a credit card bill before we repay a financial obligation to a friend because the credit card company imposes more severe penalties. While it might be financially prudent to pay the card first, it makes more sense to first fulfill obligations to real people who are present in your life, doesn’t it?

Arranging Your Obligations

I accept that some of your will never agree with putting yourself ahead of other people. You’ll always put others ahead of yourself.

Putting organizations, corporations and so-called authorities ahead of yourself and the real people of the world isn’t acceptable, however. I simply can’t accept that, and I can’t imagine any system of religion, spirituality or practicality that could promote such a practice.

People come first. And I’ve made it clear which person I think comes first of all. What do you think?

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18 Comments
  1. joanna @ I Won't Be A Hoarder Too permalink

    My mom always put my interests above hers. As a result, she never cared for herself and then that came back to hurt my sister and myself. I think there would’ve been a lot less yelling and a lot fewer unhealthy coping behaviors in our home growing up if my mom had taken some time and put herself first occasionally.
    joanna @ I Won’t Be A Hoarder Too recently posted Confession time II: I was emotionally attached to a cardboard box

    • I’m sure you’re right, Joanna. It seems mothers are the least likely to take care of themselves and the most in need of some self-care. Thanks for joining the conversation on this one.
      Gip

  2. Back in the 70s I attended a women’s workshop where one of the seminars was entitled “Who takes care of the caretakers?” It was intended to be for people like nurses and social workers. Most of the women who showed up, however, were homemakers–women who stayed home to raise their kids with no support systems. No one was taking care of us–including ourselves–so we were burning out. That’s when I learned how important it was to take care of myself first.
    Linda Sand recently posted Exercising

    • Thanks for commenting, Linda. The same comment I gave Joanna applies here. As always, it’s good to have you commenting.
      Gip

  3. Ellen permalink

    From the ‘someone with children perspective’ (well, a child), I think it’s a balance that has to be struck between the needs of yourself versus the needs of the offspring. If my baby has a dirty diaper, or rolls somewhere he shouldn’t (he’s only 8 months and can’t get himself out of his pickles) or is hungry, his needs to come first. But, if all his immediate needs are met and I’m starving, haven’t had a shower or mentally exhausted, then my needs should be attended to, and sometimes that means he sits in his jumper more than he likes, or cries a bit, but that’s what has to happen. I have noticed in the short time that I’ve had him that I am a MUCH better Mama if my needs are being met. I agree with you Gip, that if my needs are met, then I give of myself more freely and do not resent my son when he needs the so many things that he needs. And on top of that, I crave spending more time with him, nurturing him and showing affection when I feel more ‘whole’ as a person.

    On another note, my husband and I are now working on changing our diets to something that, although it’s not fun or comfort-inducing, seems to meet our nutritional needs better than the way we have eaten in the past. We are meeting our nutritional needs in a way that makes us better people all around; slimmer, healthier, mentally-clearer and all that good stuff. We’ve really noticed a difference and it’s funny that meeting your needs isn’t always the fun, cozy, comfortable activities that make you the best person you can be, but they are often the most productive and fruitful.

    • I’d like to think that eating well can be fun and comfortable, Ellen, but I know the transition to a new way of life can be challenging. I’ve made several changes to the way I eat — like eliminating cola and eating smaller portions — and once I made the decision to change, the change came easily.

      As I said, I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak for parents, but your idea of putting yourself first when the needs of the children are met makes sense. If you have multiple children, though, I wonder if the needs every all met…
      Gip

  4. Joni Brown permalink

    I completely agree, NOW. I did not always. I lived for my kids and always tried to put them first. This damaged my marriage (I can’t take all the blame b/c my ex has a drinking problem). But my mom always taught me that kids come first but she also is an alcoholic. So that taught me that if people’s needs are not met they will try to meet them in some destructive way. If I am in bad shape, how in the world can I take care of anyone else?

    My kids were always first in my life and that was great until my son moved to LA and my daughter and I had a falling out and hardly ever speak. I am willing to do anything for her to have her back in my life but she holds grudges like her father does. So, putting them first, not having friends of my own and not having any interests of my own I have become a hermit and it has made my mental disabilities worse (I believe).

    I’m not feeling sorry for myself but I believe I am proof that if you don’t take care of yourself it show no self-respect. If you don’t respect yourself, others won’t either. I am working on this aspect of my life and can see how I made mistakes by ignoring my needs.

    Joni

    • Ellen permalink

      Hugs to you Joni… >:D< Life sure is a learning process and its hard not to repeat the actions that were taught to us throughout life. I have struggled with that.

    • Now that you’ve recognized your mistakes, Joni, the whole world is open to you. Acting from your stronger position, you can take the lead to heal old wounds, and you can make sure you don’t make new ones. You’re in one of the best positions in the world: the position of someone who has learned and now has the opportunity to apply what’s been learned. Congratulations.
      Gip

      • Joni Brown permalink

        Thanks Gip. That’s a great way of looking at the situation.
        Joni

  5. Joni Brown permalink

    Hugs right back Ellen…thank you 🙂

  6. Something I agree with completely Gip,

    “Putting organizations, corporations and so-called authorities ahead of yourself and the real people of the world isn’t acceptable, however…”

    The world is filled with “busy” people that think what they do is really important and needs to be a priority. This is in actual fact, the self serving stigma we need to eliminate. People who put themselves and the ones the love on the top of the hierarchy have a much better picture of the world.

    P.S. Just because you don’t have children, doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable insights on family units, people and life in general. Voice your opinions freely and remain open to the other side of the coin (as I know you do).
    simply stephen recently posted the long and winding off grid road

  7. Sally permalink

    This is a really simplistic way of thinking about things.

    I can’t imagine a world functioning if people put themselves first all the time. Long-term relationships are based on compromise. And great heroes are made through sacrifice. We remember great people for their sacrifices, not for their selfishness. And it’s those times in our lives when we are pushed to our limits that we really discover not only who we are but what we are capable of.
    Mother Theresa spent her life helping the less fortunate and living among the poorest of the poor. If she had put herself first, surely she would have returned to a better quality of life rather than living in the poverty of the Indian slums.
    Nancy Wake rode 800km across France nonstop to deliver codes to the allies. If she had stopped to fulfill her own needs for food and rest, many people may have died as a result.
    Bravery medals are not awarded to people who put themselves first. Rather, they are awarded to the people who do the exact opposite. Heroes are those who put themselves in danger in order to help save the lives of others.
    And as for being a parent. An infant’s needs do have to come first. While I recognise the importance of looking after ones self, eating, sleeping and showering can only be done when an infants needs have been taken care of, or someone else is taking care of them. If an infant is hungry or needs to be burped, or has a dirty nappy, it really doesn’t matter how exhausted you are, you still need to ensure that their needs are met. It is your responsibility as a parent to care for them.
    Perhaps one way of looking at this by considering the concept of delayed gratification. Sometimes our immediate needs are not as important as our long term needs. And our long term desire to achieve a certain goal (like running a marathon, or raising a happy, healthy child, winning a nobel prize or being awarded a bravery medal) require that our immediate needs are not met. The most celebrated people in our society are those who have made the greatest sacrifices, not those who put themselves and their own needs before others.

    • Ellen permalink

      That’s why I said from a parent’s perspective, its a balancing act. Especially for our family when our son was born. Yes, we attended to each and every need he had, to our detriment, because with him being so colicky and uncontrollable, there was nothing we could do (after his diaper was changed, fed, rocked, play, comfort, etc.) to remotely help the situation…. While we were trying to calm a baby that refused to be calmed all the while, not having eaten or showered or taken any care of ourselves, is a futile effort. In no way was that situation positive for anyone. That’s why I say that sometimes the baby had to be put down and we needed to take care of ourselves. We couldn’t serve him at all in a functional perspective without taking care of our needs at that time. I’m sure you’ve seen those news programs about the problems with shaken babies. Although I love my baby with all my heart, he’s our miracle conceived in the light of massive infertility and my dream, he has at times brought me to the end of my rope and sometimes my saving grace was a hot shower and a cup of coffee while he cried. It’s just the way it is. No one can be a caretaker to the point of insanity (because that’s where it was going)…

      • Sally permalink

        I absolutely hear you Ellen. Please don’t think that I was in any way judging you or commenting on your personal experience. I myself have also had a colicky baby due to dairy, soy & egg intolerances (among others) and it can be exhausting & soul-destroying. But look at us, here we are with our beautiful growing children after making those sacrifices of sleepless nights and endless crying. I’m sure there were many many times a day where your needs came second to your child’s. But I absolutely agree if you’re at breaking point then you need to take care of yourself first.

        I simply meant to point out that putting yourself first all of the time is a very simplistic way of looking at things, especially for a parent.

        • Ellen permalink

          I agree with you on that. Delayed gratification is something that I think has gone by the wayside in many ways, especially with technology allowing someone to be ‘connected’ all the time and people end up expecting things to happen instantly for them.

    • Thanks for calling my thinking simplistic. That’s just what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to be a saint or a hero, and I don’t know how to ride a bicyle or a horse. I put myself first, however, in order to best serve the world, and I make no apologies for that.
      Gip

  8. Lorie McCloud permalink

    I first ran across this concept in the Conversations with God material and it blew my mind! I think that if everyone were taught and allowed to do this we would have much less greed and hoarding in this society. I think that if an individual’s needs are met and most of their wants satisfied it’s human nature to reach out and give to those around one.

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