How do we prioritize ourselves? In other words, how do we put our life in the centre of our life? Or, in another more provocative sounding way of posing the question, how do we become the most important person in the room?
If your first thought is, ‘I don’t ever do that’, or, ‘I would never do that’, I hope you read on. I hope you consider the possibility that we each need to take our own life this seriously, not only to be happy in ourselves, but also, and maybe especially, to be ’good’ for anyone else.
The idea of putting ourselves first can seem wrong or counter-intuitive because it’s not what our culture teaches us to do. It’s a grown up and courageous way to live. There is strong social pressure to ignore ourselves and serve in someone else’s plan. It’s easier, less scary, to bend to the will of others. We can easily convince ourselves to defer our own priorities for another day.
Learning to prioritize ourselves requires standing up for and speaking our own truth. It can be scary if we’ve never done it before, and sometimes we don’t even know what our truth is.
One of the ways to discover our values is to work on a creative project, to tap into our imagination and discover what’s going on in our unconscious body and mind. This has been happening to me on a daily basis lately, as I work on a new music project, the re-recording of songs that hold themes reflective of chapters in my book, The Importance of Being Important. The songs are coming to life in new ways. I’m hearing them as if for the first time. I have a new understanding of their messages and the emotional content of the music is deepening. As a result, the stories in the book are emerging with more clarity. Over and over I hear myself say, “Ah, that’s what that means.” I’ve discovered a lot of my truth through writing songs and stories when a verse or the turn of a story line guides me down the path I didn’t want to go.
Whether or not you’re a professional artist, your life itself is a creative journey. I believe our life is an adventure because we don’t know what the future holds, experiences are revealed moment by moment, and day by day. Rather than thinking we’re supposed to have all the answers as our life unfolds, what would happen if we approached the day as a creative project?
That’s where the importance of prioritizing our life comes in.
We can’t live anyone else’s life for them. We can’t breathe their breath or take their steps or think their thoughts or digest their food — you catch me? That is a fact. If you know that fact then you also know the opposite side of the coin, no one else can live your life for you. Your life is up to you.
We each individually need to prioritize what really matters to us in our life, think about what’s really important. We need to come up with our own list and get right with those. How else are we going to be able to make all the wonderful contributions we want to make in the world?
If you aren’t making the choices about what matters to you, who is? It’s a simple question, but as a few of my friends have noted when I’ve had this discussion with them, it’s not a simple point to put into practice. It’s hard to even think about putting our needs first, we think it sounds mean and ornery, that no one will like us. The fact is, if we don’t put our needs first, we will not be any good for those people we care about. You know that, don’t you.
And if you’re having trouble with this concept, ask yourself, what’s so wrong with deciding what really matters in my life? In the final analysis there is no right or wrong answer here, there is only your answer, if you choose to accept it. You get to choose. Whatever you do or don’t do, it’s always your choice anyways. So wouldn’t it be better to start with you and get to know yourself?
I have a good friend who hates being told what to do. I can hear her right now reading this and balking at my bossiness. (I hear you Kathryn:)) I get it. But at the same time there’s really no way to dance around the facts of life. You are the nucleus of all of this. Fact. No exclusionary clause.
I believe life is an opportunity, it’s a gift, and we can choose to get wiser, to get right with our life, to thrive and be the best we can be. Or not.
If you’re reading this, there is no time like the present to face the fact of your existence, that your one life begins and ends with you. This is a fact, by the way, whether you accept it or not. And this fact has nothing to do with selfishness, or hedonism or narcissism or any of the other names people who want to keep you under their control will call you. Make no mistake, anyone who tries to make you feel bad about putting yourself first is definitely not a friend, and they may be benefiting from your reticence to make your life a priority.
To make our life a priority does not require we alienate ourselves from people we love, or become an island unto ourselves, and in fact results in the opposite. When we are the centre of our own life we know we are the centre of all life. When we have this awareness of being the centre of all life, we understand we are connected to all life. Being in the centre of our life is a portal to empathy, knowing that everything we do think, be, has an impact on the lives around us. Only when we know what’s important to us individually can the choices we make benefit anyone else.
In one magnificent revelatory moment I understood this principle – my life is my responsibility, and simply put, every choice I make is the choice I make. I remembered a moment when I asked myself, ‘what would I do right now if I knew I was going to die?’ and knew the answer right away, but because of a lifelong pattern of not taking responsibility for my life, it took me ten years to move on this answer. I wanted to make others responsible because accepting that I am the centre of my life felt wrong and scary.
Recently I did an interview with Rachel of Magnificent Midlife podcast and we talked about the importance of making our life a priority. Rachel has devoted her energy to helping people like me re-define what it means to be an older woman. “We’re not old, we’re just getting started.” Is what she always says. And it’s so true when you think about it. Really what is there but this moment right now?
I love this attitude so much, it helps in every way, in my relationships, in my creative work, in the thoughts that circle around when I’m taking a walk. To carry the knowledge that this moment here really is the beginning, is I believe, to carry our real power. Every moment is a new one, a new moment to choose, a new moment to be.
We’re none of us cooked to perfection, we’re all a work in progress, on a journey, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. As in any journey, we need to keep ourselves in balance, stay healthy, get rest, eat well, and be open to the unknown encounters. Whether the journey we’re on is out there in the world or in here in our own body, in order to remain balanced we need to be firmly planted in the heart of our own awareness. When we forget to be in the moment, we can realign ourselves and begin here and now again.
I have a few ways that I bring myself back into this moment, I meditate and practice pranayama (breathing with awareness), I do yoga, and I remember to realign my posture while walking through the day with an open heart. I let my body come back to its natural median. Bottom line, I seek to allow my body to re-balance itself. I know my body wants to be healthy. I know my heart and mind want to experience joy.
Sometimes we need to get out of our own way and let our perfect creative nature take the wheel.
If you’d like to hear my chat with Rachel, and check out some of the other inspiring people she has interviewed, you can find her Magnificent Midlife Podcast on her website, here and on Itunes here.
I’ll leave you with a final thought. This moment, this now is the only moment you have any control over. Breathe, smile, choose.
With love and gratitude, thanks for reading.