I come across many women who have spent most of their lives prioritizing everyone else’s needs and desires above their own. During our discussions, it usually doesn’t take long for me to observe how living that way for so many years has taken its toll. Yet, the troubling part for me is that most of them are so used to it. They don’t even recognize it as an underlying factor hindering their career and overall life satisfaction.
I used to be the same way. Once upon a time, I had a minimal sense of self-worth and approached much of life as a people-pleaser. For years, it prevented me from pursuing my dream career and reaching my full potential. If you can relate to any of this, I want to share five tips to overcome this mental barrier and step into the life you deserve.
3 Reasons Why You Get to Flip the Script
If you’re like most women, the idea of putting yourself first probably makes you feel incredibly guilty. So before I get to the tips, I want to address why doing so is crucial for your well-being.
Reason 1: Something’s Always Got to Give
As cliché as it sounds, indeed, you can’t pour from an empty cup. When you give and give and give, and never replenish the source. Eventually, you’ll burn out and find yourself unable to put the same level of energy into helping others. You get to redirect some effort into addressing your own mental, physical, and emotional needs.
Putting yourself first doesn’t mean you don’t care about others. It means you’re smart enough to know you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first. – Unknown
Reason 2: Inner Happiness Provides a Protective Barrier
In my previous post about working through a midlife crisis, I touched on stability and contentment and how they help us avoid looking outside ourselves for happiness. Why does that matter? Because life happens! Kids leave for college; marriages fail, jobs end badly, and so on. It’s essential to have something internal to anchor yourself to. Taking care of yourself is foundational for building an inner sense of peace and contentedness.
Reason 3: You Matter
Yep, that’s right.
In a perfect world, this is the only reason I’d need to give. But if you’ve been conditioned to feel inferior to others, it’s no surprise if this doesn’t register with you. I intentionally put this last, hoping that you’ll remember that you’re an inherently valuable human being whose wants and needs are valid. On that basis alone, rewrite the narrative you’ve been telling yourself so you can stop playing second fiddle all of the time.
Still not convinced? Check out this article for five more reasons to put yourself first before moving on to the next section.
5 Ways to Start the Shift Today
1 – Figure Out Your Priorities
Putting yourself first begins with self-awareness. Map out your priorities and decide what’s most important to you. The best way to nail this down is to discover your core values and understand what drives you. You’ll be far more intentional and effective throughout your days when you know what deserves your immediate attention and what to delegate, put off until later, or ignore altogether.
When going through this process, I encourage my clients to avoid what I call the “should zone.” That is, valuing things on an artificial level based on upbringing and societal pressure.
Also, note that your values shift with time, so it’s essential to revisit them every once in a while, especially after going through a significant life change.
2 – Ditch the All-Or-Nothing Mindset
It’s easy to fall into the all-or-nothing mentality when trying to break your people-pleasing habit. You may find yourself climbing out of one ditch only to fall into the other, going from focusing on meeting everyone else’s needs first all the time to ignoring them entirely. While there may be a time and place for that approach, it probably won’t help your relationships and other commitments long-term.
The beauty is, making improvements in this area isn’t about choosing one over the other. Instead, it’s a balancing act. It’s about recognizing and saying to yourself: “I deserve a higher place on my list because I’m important too.”
All or nothing thinking leads to all or nothing. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. ? Michelle May MD
3 – Teach Others How to Treat You
People are like puppies; they need training. You can teach people how to treat you by making a couple of shifts. First, set up and communicate your boundaries, including what you’ll do, what you won’t do, what type of language you’ll respond to, and so on. Second, show people how you want them to treat you through example. In other words, change how you treat yourself.
How do your daily actions reflect your self-esteem? Do you keep appointments and promises with yourself? Do you take time to decompress? Are you overly self-critical after making a mistake?
Believe it or not, people will pick up on these cues and use them as benchmarks for their behaviour towards you.
4 – Ask Loved Ones for Support
Do you feel disappointed when those closest to you aren’t automatically in tune with your needs? It happens to us all, but it’s unreasonable to expect them to be mind readers. Remember that they do care about you – but just like many others, they might need a little coaching to figure out how to treat you.
Talk to friends and family about your struggle to prioritize yourself and the changes you wish to make. This will remove the guesswork and equip them to support you. Plus, it’s excellent practice for standing up to the rest of the world!
5 – Recognize That It’s an Ongoing Process
Undoing people-pleasing tendencies won’t happen overnight. Chances are, you’ll feel terrified the first several times you encounter circumstances where you must choose between what you want and old social habits. If you forget to pick yourself first (or, let’s be honest, chicken out entirely) sometimes, that’s okay. Give yourself grace. The key is to practice mindfulness.
Begin by noticing and naming those situations where you feel compelled to compromise in a way that negatively affects your well-being. As mentioned earlier, it all starts with self-awareness.
Regain Control of Your Career
So what does this all have to do with career growth and development?
As women, we often learn to adapt ourselves to those around us from early childhood. We develop a habit of fortifying our tolerance levels and minimizing our boundaries to make others feel comfortable. That often leads to a life-long struggle with putting ourselves first for fear of coming across as selfish or rebellious. This mental barrier affects us in many ways, including our likelihood to pursue our dreams and goals at full force.
If you’re having a hard time finding your right career fit, you might be out of touch with what makes you tick. Perhaps you’ve spent so much time worrying about other people’s happiness that you don’t know how to find your own.
My goal as a career and leadership coach is to help you shatter that and other mental barriers through my Design Your Dream Career program. I take a holistic approach, showing you how to build a foundation for long-term career and life satisfaction through mindset shifts, goal setting, and actionable steps.
Ready to make some serious moves? Let’s chat and get started!