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Stephanie Marston is America's Foremost Life Balance Expert
 

Issue 11 November 2005

Sanity Saver#1:
Get Real About What You Can Realistically Expect of Yourself

Let me ask you, How many of you would drive your car when the gas gauge reads empty or the oil light is flashing? I know that some of you would. You have to listen to this CD at least three more times? Just kidding, but, think about it for a minute, for those of you who have children, would you ever ask your child to pull an all-nighter to prepare for a test or a final exam? Absolutely not. Yet we continually push ourselves past the breaking point.

Most of us are caught in a tug-of-war between who we think we should be and who we are; between what we want to do and what we’re actually able to do. In other words, we’re at the mercy of our guilt demons. Our feelings of guilt often prevent us from taking care of ourselves. These feelings often stem from unrealistic expectations. When you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that you have impossible ideals that you strive to live up to—ideals like, “I must always put other people’s needs first,” or “I should never disappoint anyone.” These kinds of standards are not only impossible to meet, but they wreak havoc on your life. When you let yourself be driven by perfectionism, guilt and unattainably high standards you become irritable, grumpy, and unable to function well. Ignore your own needs long enough, and I guarantee, sooner or later Godzilla will emerge wreaking havoc and suffering on you, your entire family, friends and co-workers.

First and foremost, we have to have realistic expectations. I’m talking about what you can reasonably expect of yourself. Time and time again, we demand that we act more generously than we feel, give more than we have to give, and push ourselves beyond our limits. This is a surefire recipe for disaster. How long do you think you can function under these conditions? Not very long, and certainly not very well.

Guilt is a major roadblock to our taking care of ourselves. There’s always a list of things that have to be done that take precedence over attending to our needs. Then there’s the fear of who you’ll disappoint someone if you occasionally make yourself a priority. But stop and consider for a moment that when you put yourself last on the list and allow your guilt to run your life the person who you continually disappoint is yourself.

Think back to the last time you were on an airplane. Remember the instructions the flight attendant gave when you were about to take off, “in case of an emergency first place the oxygen mask securely around you nose and mouth and then place it on your child or someone next to you who needs assistance.” This notion needs to run through every aspect of your life.

The truth is, you have to come first, at least some of the time. I know this probably makes you uncomfortable since it goes against everything you’ve been taught as women. Yet, the reality is that it’s only to the extent that you love and care for yourself that you’re truly able to love and care for others.