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How to Put Yourself First (Really!)

Two women in cafeDoes the idea of putting yourself first seem radical? Does your inner voice say: “That’s selfish!”

In my work with women who run community economic development and non-profit organizations, I hear a lot about the struggle to find time for self-care and to set healthy personal/professional boundaries.

There are entrenched social norms that say women should put others first. We’re not always rewarded for being assertive, and we’re not socialized to take leisure time. Self-care is even harder for women in particular situations. For example, single working moms usually can't afford to pay someone to take care of their kids so they can take some personal time.

But self-care is a political and social issue, and it’s part of the fight for gender equality. We know that, over the long term, ignoring our own needs can diminish our physical, emotional, and even financial well-being. We get burnt out. We’re less able to make empowered decisions and take on new challenges.

So let’s get radical and start making self-care a priority! It can’t happen overnight, but here are three ways to start.

3 Ways to Practice Putting Yourself First

1. Say "No" to Office Housework

Women are more likely to take on “office housework”—behind-the-scenes tasks like cleaning the fridge, joining committees, organizing afterwork drinks, and taking minutes. These tasks typically go unnoticed and unrewarded, yet there is often an assumption that they’re part of women’s jobs. The next time you're tempted to volunteer for tasks like these, ask yourself: “Will this advance my career? Is it necessary I volunteer again?” Practice saying “No” and don’t feel guilty about it!

2. Do Things You Love

Have you noticed that the things you LOVE to do have slowly been replaced by the things you HAVE to do? Women are often caregivers for a host of people and, naturally, our interests can be displaced by the needs of others. See if you can make space to spend at least 30 minutes a week doing something you enjoy. Once that gets comfortable, try carving out more time to pursue things that give you energy—things that you LOVE.

3. Ask for What You Need

Many women find it hard to tell their partners, parents, colleagues, or friends what they really want. Our reluctance may spring from unequal power dynamics in relationships, or an unconscious belief that our needs simply aren’t important. Make a list of things that would make your life easier or happier, whether it’s equalizing housework, a raise, more vacation time, or a sympathetic ear. (How about a space in the house just for you: the Den of Equality!) Then share your needs in a straightforward, respectful tone—no apologies required. Start with someone you trust, who will listen non-judgmentally, then work your way up to more challenging conversations.

This article was first published in the Fall 2015 edition of SHE magazine.


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