Why not being selfish is in fact, selfish. Part Three in the series ‘From Struggle To Success, From Miserable to Magnificent’ for fulfilled Expatriate living.
Right, so this week I’m getting personal. I’m really hoping this will turn out as a blog post but right now it feels a lot like a rant. This week I’m all about BEING SELFISH. The word ‘selfish’ has bad press – look it up in the dictionary, it’s hideous. Probably one of the worst adjectives you could throw at a person. It makes me really CROSS! Sure – there are many people in the world to whom this word could (in dictionary terms) truthfully apply but let’s turn it down a few notches and look at the ‘Fifty Shades of Being Selfish’ – the grey areas, and how not being selfish really is in fact, being deeply selfish.
Let’s start with one of my favourite bugbears: The Protestant Work Ethic. Ingrained in much of Northern Europe and America at first glance this sounds like A GOOD THING. The underpinning of meritocracy. Work hard and your reward will come. Work. Hard. Harder. Harder, harder. There, I’ve gone all ‘Fifty’ again. But sometimes working hard is the last thing you should do – especially if you have just moved heaven and earth to live in a new country.
In 2005 I gave birth to my first baby in Sydney as my husband and I were living in Australia. I went from working full time as a consultant (working hard) to being a full time mother with few local friends available outside work hours, my family on the other side of the planet and something crazy happened to me. My protestant work ethic started whispering in my ear telling me that sitting down breastfeeding my son for 8 hours a day was not work and that I had to earn my keep. I had to prove myself as a mother and a worthy person because my husband was now the breadwinner and I was ‘riding on his coat tails’. This meant I had to do everything else as well. All the washing, all the cleaning, all the cooking, all the childcare (every night feed, every early morning), social organising, networking with other new mothers. I went from working around 9 hours per day and earning a very good salary to working 19 hours a day and earning nothing. I had a baby that slept badly, ergo I didn’t sleep – for twelve months and who wouldn’t take a bottle so I was the only one who could feed him. Halfway through this we moved to the South of France and I continued with this madness in a country I didn’t know or understand and layered my exhaustion with more work – learning a new language, creating another new circle of friends and finding my way around the Cote d’Azur without a GPS. And that’s exactly how life felt – like I was going round in circles without a compass, no GPS, not even a map!
What was the impact? I was totally EXHAUSTED – I had nothing in ‘the tank’ so I could enjoy the amazing country I lived in. Even picking up the phone to talk to friends back home in the UK was hard work so I felt DISCONNECTED. I was ANGRY with my husband and JEALOUS at how his tennis-playing, go to the office without-being-covered-in-baby-sick-life had not changed. Because I was the only person who could feed my child I felt CHAINED to my baby. Ask my husband and he will gladly tell you that I was DEPRESSED. Exhausted, angry, jealous, chained, disconnected and depressed does not make for creative solutions. It does not make for a sustainable, fulfilled and happy experience. It doesn’t make for much at all in fact. Yes, I got to be indispensable. Yes, I got to be superwoman. I got to be the hero (where’s my damn medal?). But the cost was too much. By ‘not being selfish’ I actually was being deeply selfish because my son had a mother with little energy, patience and fun and my husband had a depressed wife! I had nothing left to give freely and with joy – an unsustainable situation. I can’t remember the exact moment I ‘admitted defeat’ but there was a definite period of realisation after a year or so (A WHOLE YEAR!!) of madness and relief that I didn’t have to carry the burden of the responsibility and work all to myself any more. I got myself a cleaner, a babysitter and I started exercising. I got some new clothes. I started feeling good in my own skin again and enjoying what life had to offer in the Riviera, and I met some really nice people. My protestant work ethic was FURIOUS. But too late – I’d found a much nicer way to live life!
So, a big life-lesson for me has been to watch my innate tendency to do too much. To create sustainable balance and a self-care routine that now sees me taking regular exercise, going to meditation classes, working the hours I want to work and blending this with time making new friends, spending time with established friends, family and in creative pursuits. All the things that make me happy. What’s the impact? I have enough time for myself. I have enough (usually) patience for my three children, my husband is happy and we work well as a family unit. In order for me to be able to give more, I have to be able to give myself more first, just like the oxygen masks on the aeroplanes. As for my Protestant Work Ethic – it is ever present – these things never fully go away for good I think but I have safe guards in place and I know my patterns well enough now to keep it on the leash, its mistress rather than its slave.
So, what is it you are doing or not doing to support your health? What one change will you commit to this week? Drop a comment into the box below and let me know!
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Take care, have fun, grow and flourish, wherever you are!
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