“You know how you find joy? It’s right there in the word: Jesus, Others, You.” I can’t tell you how many times this was taught to me growing up. I heard it in church and Sunday school. I’m sure it was on a bulletin board somewhere too.
The idea was simple: You put Jesus first. Then everyone else. THEN, way down the list, yourself.
On the surface it maybe seems innocuous. I mean, certainly not as traumatizing as being taught Jesus was made to suffer and die because seven year old me was too terrible to be loved, right?
But something about this JOY acronym, coupled with my wiring and tricky things I experienced as a kid in my family really messed me up.
I internalized this idea that everyone else’s needs were more important than my own. Not only that, but if someone needed to step back and I had capacity it was my duty to step up and do what they couldn’t. Which has led to years of being in situations where I’ve overcompensated to get things across the finish line.
But here’s what’s so insidious: For years I’ve been teaching that you have to put on your own oxygen mask first. You can’t give out of a depleted tank. You have to care for yourself. You have to do your own healing work. And I’ve done that. I have good self care practices, I know how to protect my heart, I make sure to invest in continued learning and set good boundaries. So I thought I was doing the right stuff.
But then I realized if someone dropped a ball, I would push off my journaling time to pick it up. If someone didn’t have time to tackle something important that was necessary for the project, I’d step in even if it wasn’t in my job description. If someone else could only do a meeting on Monday morning, even though Monday mornings are my best writing time, I would push my writing time and take the meeting.
And I felt okay about it because it wasn’t self care related, right? I was still getting enough sleep, I was making sure I was healthy, I was tending to my spirit.
But I was still putting everyone else first. I was still putting their needs ahead of my own, I was overcompensating because I’d been taught that everyone else was more important than me.
Then I’d get frustrated when I didn’t get the support I was longing for. I was hurt that people weren’t showing up for me the way I was showing up for them. I was tired because I was juggling lots of other people’s balls.
It was like a lightning bolt when I realized “I’m wanting everyone else to show up for me but I’m not showing up for myself.” Oh. Crap.
The world is not going to end if I put my writing time first. My relationships are not going to crumble if someone needs to wait a couple of hours for me to return their text. If I don’t have availability on Mondays, the meeting will still happen. The list goes on.
I’m really clear on what my calling is. I know what I’m here to do. And I need to show up for myself and protect the time needed to do those things. And showing up for myself in this way is also an invitation for other people to show up and support me in their ways. It will make it easier for me to be grounded and centered enough to show up for them as well. To show up calm and without resentment. To show up with clarity knowing exactly how much time and energy I have left to give because my most essential things will be already taken care of.
So if you’re like me, growing up with upside down notions of what it means to be of service to others, I invite you to consider what it might look like to show up for yourself first. What might become possible if your needs are taken care of? How might you show up differently in a variety of spaces?
These questions are particularly difficult for those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, ESPECIALLY in bodies assumed (correctly or not) to be female. So I invite you to breathe through the discomfort you might feel in even considering what it might look like to center your own needs. (If it helps, remind yourself the world won’t end over a thought exercise!)
What are your most essential needs? What is your most essential work? How can you center that today?