Prioritize Yourself: A Lesson From My 23rd Year

August 1 is always a day of reflection for me. It’s the last day of whatever age I’m at, the day before I start a brand new chapter. With that comes the anticipation of what’s next, as well as the sweet melancholy of looking back at what has passed.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my birthday and I am happier than ever to see this next one come. So far, my twenties have been some of my favorite birthdays, earmarked by celebrations full of bubbles and love and milestones in my career and my life. Honestly, it’s been a wonderful handful of years and I can’t wait for what’s still to come.

That said, I like to look back at the past three hundred and sixty five (366 on a Leap Year) and consider what the world has taught me.

This year, the lesson is quite simple.

It’s okay to prioritize yourself.

This one took me a long time to learn. I’m a born people pleaser. It’s difficult for me to let go of the idea that something I do might let someone else down. In some ways, this has greatly benefited me and strengthened my relationships with my friends and family. I like to think of myself as reliable, as someone that will always be there if needed.

But in other ways, this has resulted in me neglecting my own self care, and as I navigate through adulthood, I’m realizing that self care is not selfish.

If you aren’t okay, how can you help anyone else be? 

In particular, I learned this lesson after my grandfather passed at the end of last year. It’s the first time I’ve experienced that sort of loss in my immediate family, and it was the second loss of someone close to me within the year. It wasn’t easy, to say the least. And while I remain bouyed and grateful that he left the legacy of an impeccable family behind, I’d be lying if I said I bounced back right away.

During that time, I had to say no to a lot of things, just for the sake of taking care of myself. I didn’t reply to texts as quickly as usual, I didn’t go to as many holiday happy hours as I may have liked. I needed time to be alone; I needed time to be with God; I needed time to be with my family. I just needed time, and for the first time, I recognized how important it was to put that time ahead of something, or someone, else.

Learning to be with yourself is an important part of learning about yourself.

When I emerged from my hermitting to rejoin the real world, I had a new perspective on putting yourself first.

Mainly, I finally decided to dub time spent with yourself as equally important to time spent in community.

It goes beyond that, though, of course, because we’re never truly alone these days, are we? That little thing in our pocket is always buzzing and beeping and tweeting and posting. I’m a huge fan of social media and an even bigger fan of messaging apps that let me keep in contact with loved ones who are flung across the world, but it is just fine to shut off sometimes. It is just fine not to reply to a text that is not urgent. It is just fine to laugh at the meme you’re sent, give it a little like, and then be on your way.

That is just fine. And no one should make you feel guilty for disconnecting.

It’s perfectly okay for work to be important. Just remember, your personal life is, too.

Now, I’ve always been a huge proponent of working to live rather than living to work. Admittedly, that’s a hard thing to do in my industry. PR is always on, and the deeper I get in my career, the harder it is to fully “switch off.” In fact, I was talking to my cousin last night and she asked what my schedule is, and as I rambled on about the hours I’m in the office vs. the hours I’m checking email, I realized how ridiculous it sounded to say, “Oh, but I make a rule not to scan too much on Saturdays.”

Alas, that’s the industry I’m in and, for better or worse, I love it.

But I’ve been better at setting ground rules. I only work late when I need to, and that’s usually just within the first couple of days of the month when all the reports are due. I try not to send emails after 6 p.m. or before eight in the morning. I try not to open my inbox on Saturdays at all, and on Sunday evenings it’s only to clear out the junk mail and get a footing for Monday. I turn off my email app on vacation. I try to be as present as possible at work so I can be as present as possible outside of it, too.

And so far, it’s working out pretty well.

Granted, there’s so many more lessons that you learn within the span of a year, but this one stands out to me as the most important. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all of the stimuli in our lives. It’s so easy, especially in our twenties.

So, as I enter my twenty fourth year (ack! Writing that out makes it feel so real!) I pledge to myself to prioritize myself when I need to. I pledge to switch off when I can, and be present as much as possible. I pledge to do these things in order to make myself the best that I can be, but also to make myself better for those I love.

And with that said…

Bring it on, 24.

ps: happy birthday, J. thanks for always looking out from that giant cloud trampoline in the sky.

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