Ponder these questions a moment. You might even like to use them as journaling prompts …What do you think self-care is all about? Who comes first in your life? Do you take care of yourself last, or somewhere in the middle? Do you consider self-care an optional activity that you fit in whenever you can? Or is it something you do for yourself as part of your personal daily routine?

If you’re like most women, myself included—because this is how we were raised to be—you often show up for everyone else first. That’s what nurturers do.


Meet Ruby and June

I want to share a little story about a grandmother and her granddaughter. This is one of my favorite stories about the importance of self-care. It’s a perspective that helps me and my clients, so I love sharing it. Maybe it can help you too.

One day a very kind and generous grandmother, I call her Ruby, spent a day with her granddaughter, who I’ll call June. June was about 7. Now, June was not this grandmother’s only grandchild—she had four—and Ruby made it a practice to take one grandchild at a time for a full day, once a month.

On this particular day, Ruby and June spent time doing some of June’s favorite things—they went to the library to check out books to read together, they played dolls and had a real tea party, made cookies, and played games. And Ruby took June to her favorite restaurant to have lunch.

They talked about all kinds of things and Ruby always made June feel very special—as Ruby did for each of her grandkids when it was their turn to spend the day.

Over lunch, out of the clear blue June asked Ruby, “Grammy, do I come first?”

For a moment this caught Ruby off guard and she paused a moment before she answered. Then Ruby said, “Yes, June, you come first—after me!” 


Do you run on an empty cup?

“You come first—after me.” I love this story because it teaches us how important it is to first take care of ourselves so that we have enough to give to those we love and who depend on us. Ruby was teaching June this lesson with those five simple words. The lesson is, self-care isn’t optional.

I would say this grandmother was a very “tuned-in” lady. Ruby understands who comes first. She recognizes that her own well-being is vitally important if she is going to keep up with her growing family of grandkids, her own career, her family, and community obligations, to say nothing of her beloved circle of friends.

You only have so much in your cup to give every day … when you start to run low or you hit “empty” and someone needs something from you, what do you do?

If you keep giving from an empty cup, you can’t be giving your best. Do your friends and family, your work, and your community deserve the best from you? I suspect you’ll answer “yes” to that question. Self-care at its best requires you to put yourself first.


Can you say, “Yes … and?”

So what can you do if your cup is empty and someone asks one more thing of you? Here’s an idea that I recently shared with a client and it helped her shift her thinking just a little bit and a weight lifted.

You see, my client, perhaps like you, feels really bad when she says “no.” Do you hate to say no?

What if this were the scenario: It’s 5 pm, you’ve had a tough day, you’re exhausted, you’re heading home and get stuck in traffic—then your cell phone rings. It’s your best friend. You think, “Great, she’ll cheer me up on the ride home!” You answer the phone.

Instead of being cheered up, she unloads on you about something horrible that happened between her and her significant other, and she really wants you to meet her for dinner to talk.

It’s the last thing you feel like doing, but she’s your best friend and she needs you—and you’ll feel really bad if you say “no.” You also know that you will not be able to give your best support if you meet her now.

Here’s an approach that avoids saying ‘no’ and still gives you a chance to unwind, regroup, and recharge. You could say, “Girlfriend, I’m going to be there for you, just as you’re always there for me. Here’s what I can do. I’ll meet you in two hours. I need to get home and do a couple of things before I can get there. So meanwhile, I want you to take a deep breath and try to relax. I’ll see you at 8.” That’s self-care at its best.


Give yourself permission to be at your best

You never said ‘no’ … and you gave yourself permission, and time, to refill your cup first.

I love using this metaphor: think of yourself as a beautiful teacup and saucer. Whenever you do something to fill your cup it makes you feel better, more resilient, ready for anything. What if you kept your cup full to overflowing?  Then you would always be at your best and you could give from your saucer—from the overflow. How does that feel to you?

Sometimes it takes just a small shift in perspective.  The choice is this: You can jump at everyone’s beck-and-call when they need you, or you can recognize that it’s not a life-and-death situation and take some time for you first—so you can be at your best for those who need you. That is the best thing you can do — for you — and for them.

I hope this story of Ruby and June helps to shift your perspective on “Who Comes First.”


Take the First Step

When you struggle to make yourself a priority and self-care is a challenge, you might want to pause and consider a new approach. It may be due to feeling overwhelmed by changes in your life. You could be asking yourself, “who am I now that things have shifted significantly?” If you’re ready to take the first step and explore how to face change with clarity and confidence, you will be glad to know it can be done with ease and grace. This free book will help: From Darkness to Light: Learning to Adapt to Change and Move Through Transition.