Who Is Taking Care of You?

Boy reflection in mirror

After a series of events that threw me off my routine, I found myself asking the above question repeatedly. I wasn’t seeking clarity, or exploring my needs. I was trying to deal with an overwhelming sense of helplessness and fatigue. I was seeking relief.

We spend most of our days dealing with what comes up, or what’s expected of us (work, family, and survival needs). How often do we consciously prioritize, and do what matters to us, before we delve into the chaos of the day?

Who is taking care of you (me)?

Who is making sure that your needs are met? Who is helping you prioritize, and focus on what matters?

Unless you have a personal coach, or a loved one playing that role, the responsibility is yours alone.

You are the one who’s supposed to be clear about what you want. You’re the one who’s responsible for prioritizing your actions. You are the one who should be taking care of your needs and wellbeing.

How many of us are actually taking care of ourselves—with purpose and clarity, and without guilt?

How many days do you get to do what you want, when you want, and not work on someone else’s priorities, or life’s never-ending demands?

There are more questions than answers in this article. The questions are intended to help us reprioritize our choices, or at least become more aware of the motivations behind our actions.

Why don’t we make ourselves a priority?

There are two elements at play here: motivation and time.

Internal vs. external needs and demands

Looking into my own thinking, I feel we’re conditioned to focus outwardly on society’s expectations and demands. Our inner desires and needs come second.

It may appear on the surface that we’re happy with our contribution, which is usually short-lived. In the long run, we’ll feel miserable and resentful.

We can’t fill an inner void with outer satisfaction.

We need to be part of society and care about others, but we need to do it from a place of strength, not out of obligation, or fear of alienation and judgment.

Short-term vs. long-term

When we focus on daily demands, we don’t think of the consequences of our choices in say five or ten years. We barely want to get through the week, or even the day.

By its nature, urgency drives our actions in the short run. But in the long run, urgency won’t mean much. In ten years are we going to care if a website got hacked, or if the car broke down? No we won’t care.

In ten years, however, we will regret not learning a skill, or starting a business, or having a loving relationship.

Which choice matters more, right now, or 20 years from now?

When we truly look at everything we do, or have to do, answering the question will help us clarify our priorities and align our actions with the reality of the choice we’re making.

How to choose you?

How to move past programmed reactions and short-term urgency and refocus on what truly matters in the long run?

Here are a few ideas (and more questions) that I’m working with right now. I hope they can be of help to you.

1- Let go of false martyrdom.

Making others a priority is an admirable choice, if based on genuine desires to be of help and service. Getting lost in a role (parent, lawyer, brother/sister, daughter/son) without being clear about what matters to us will result in resentment and pain, in the long run.

Are we doing something for others because we have to, or because we want to?

Are we afraid of being rejected, or excluded, if we don’t participate? Or are we looking forward to connecting with others?

These questions will shed light on our true motivations.

2- Bring expectations back to reality.

In an ideal world, our day would turn out perfectly as we expected. We get to work on what’s important to us. We take care of our body by eating healthy and exercising. We sit down to reflect, pray, meditate, or just breathe. We do our important work with joy and ease. We spend quality time with our family and loved ones. And then we go to sleep feeling grateful for all that we accomplished and how blessed we are for the wonderful day.

If only!

We might get lucky and have a few days where things are working out according to our intentions and plans. But then things start getting out of control.

A website gets hacked, family members decide to visit for a few days, a sudden illness consumes our energy, a kitchen sink starts to leak, a car breaks down, and much more.

What happens then?

Here is what I normally do. I put my life on hold and start dealing with the unforeseen interruptions. I spend my time for a few weeks catering to interruptions and other people’s expectations.

In the mean time, the important stuff starts piling up. Instead of feeling satisfied that I have dealt with urgent situations, I feel overwhelmed by all the things that I haven’t started, or completed.

The best thing is to set low and realistic expectations. Instead of wanting to work on ten important things, we can start with two or three.

We can allow for unexpected or non-routine interruptions by having free time that may or may not be used.

And when life prioritizes for us. We need to make peace with the challenge and do the best we can. We need to be okay with putting things to the side, if we have to deal with major life situations.

3- Examine the risks and rewards of each choice, before taking action.

Every single choice has its own positive and negative consequences.

When we focus on interruptions, we get the urgent things out of the way (and that gives us a momentary sense of relief), but we also ignore the things that matter (and that results in feelings of guilt and overwhelm).

If we focus on what’s important to us, and ignore the urgency of life and other people’s expectations, we feel we accomplish something that’s important to us (and that gives us a sense of satisfaction). But we risk being penalized for not dealing with the urgent stuff, or disappointing others (which will bring up negative feelings of grief, fear and anger).

When we look at the choices we have, we can consider each advantage and disadvantage, and choose the action with the most acceptable consequences—ahead of time, not after the fact.

The three steps above will help in clarifying our choices.

Choose to take care of you, because that’s your first and foremost responsibility.

To sum up here are five questions that can guide your choice.

  • What realistic actions can I take today and still allow for interruptions?
  • Why am I choosing this action?
  • What are the risks and rewards?
  • Am I willing to accept both the risks and rewards of my choice?
  • Will this choice matter five or ten years from now? Am I okay with that?

The conflict between inner desires and outer expectations is not necessarily a bad thing. Every challenge can be a wake up call for us to make different choices.

Balancing needs, actions, and expectations may not be achievable or sustainable. Awareness of our choices and their consequences, on the other hand, is available to all of us, all the time.

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