Although this is often put forward as the mantra for survival in your corporate career, in my experience it’s not what most people do. Actually, it’s more normal for us to put others first, to help our colleagues and co-workers, to put the needs of our staff above our own. Perhaps that’s why we don’t get to the top, you might say. Well, maybe that’s a prize not worth winning if being a selfish arsehole is the cost.
It extends to our private life, of course, especially if we are the main bread winner. We put the needs of our family above our own, putting up with frustration, tedium, stress and pain of life on the Mothership so that we can provide for them. It’s not unusual to curtail our own interests and ambitions for the steady, regular and (we imagine) secure income of a corporate executive. We put in the hours, the travel, the entertaining, and our body and our psyche take the strain. We put aside our hobbies and interests because we ‘don’t have the time’, we try and fit all of our renewal time into our two weeks in the sun. We put ourselves last and neglect our health and wellbeing.
Sometimes, this leads to burnout. More often, it’s a slow degrading of our lives, our energy and our spirit. By the time we leave the Mothership, we are depleted. Unfit, overweight, exhausted, dis-connected from ourselves and generally out-of-sorts.
What’s really important is to actually start doing what it says at the top of this article, to start looking after Number One. Not in a selfish way, but in a self-focused way. Start to take care of yourself, pay attention to your health, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Show yourself some self-compassion, be kinder to yourself. Start to love yourself again.
Changing your priorities in this way can seem strange and feel uncomfortable, such is the conditioning we have received about sacrificing ourselves for our family, of putting other first. The reality is, however, that you have put yourself first, you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you can help others. What we’ve developed is an unsustainable habit, where the more we give the less we have until we are empty.
In Stephen Covey’s book “The seven habits of highly effective people”, the seventh is ‘Sharpening the Saw”, making time to do the things that replenish and renew you, give you the energy and enthusiasm you need to be successful in your life. What are the interests you had before work and family crowded them out? What lights you when you do it, what are the things that you can completely loose yourself in? Make these your priorities, find space for them in your life. Or have some fun and try some new things.
Start doing things for you.