Everyone used to tell me to take more time for myself, but I was on the proverbial treadmill, doing for my bosses and always being available to my loved ones when I wasn’t at the office. Time for myself was out of the question. I became so compulsive about doing for others that when I didn’t have anything to do for anyone else, instead of enjoying an activity of my own choosing—something that nurtured the things that I’d always claimed were important to me—I would pick up the phone and call a friend to find out what was important in her life.

I seem to have equated my self-worth with how perfectly I could serve the needs of others. I thought by so doing I could prove I was not self-centered and self-absorbed. I was so wedded to this concept of serving others that I couldn’t conceive of letting go and noticing all the large and small ways I was not serving numero uno. A voice inside often reminded me that taking precious time to consider my own needs was selfish, even though my childrearing days were long over.

Then, one day after I’d studied coaching, it struck me that I was giving away my priceless life in service to others who were using it to pursue their own dreams. At my job I was getting paid well, but I was not spending any of my time practicing or pursuing activities that nourished and supported me in ways other than financially. For me, the only way to overcome this inequity was to do something radical. I quit ignoring my needs cold turkey. I left my job, retreated to relative seclusion far from family members, and got a friend to pay back a loan I’d made to her by covering my living expenses for the year.

I have spent the past year being completely self-absorbed—and learned to love it! I’ve devoted myself solely to examining who I am and what my purpose is, and to acquiring some of the skills I need to live a fulfilling life. My loved ones (none of whom really needed my attention 24/7 anyway, since they are all adults) survived well enough. I seem to have defined new boundaries for myself in the process. I realized that I’d actually been resentful of all that I did for them, so I was constantly reminding them of what a huge sacrifice I was making on their behalf. That was tantamount to holding them emotionally hostage, which is what my slavish devotion to them actually was doing to myself!

On a recent airline flight I was reminded of the common sense logic of all this, as the flight attendant went through the familiar litany of instructions in the event that the oxygen masks drop. Put on your mask first before helping others. Helloooooo.

If you aren’t breathing, it’s awfully hard to help anyone else!

I coach creative people who want to live an artful life.

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