“Where is there time for me?!” Jenna (wifey) yelled, exasperated.
“All I’ve been doing is sacrificing for other people. I waited to work out for you, which frustrated me. And now I’m stuck again, having to choose between myself and other people,” she continued.
“You need to be selfish. Selfishness is good. If you’re not selfish, you’ll have nothing to give to anyone else,” I said, trying to calm her down.
Students of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People know this idea well—the P/PC balance. There is always a tension between our productivity (P) and our capacity to produce (PC), which Covey deftly illustrates with Aesop’s fable about the golden egg-laying goose.
But in relationships, this tension is further complicated. We restore our productive capacity with our loved ones. We exercise; we rest; we play; we binge-watch The Crown or Stranger Things with our families, children, and/or pets.
There are times that this restoration doesn’t always take place, because we’re serving each other.
We’re helping the spouse recover from knee surgery, walking the dog, doing dishes, taking Stella to soccer practice. We’re sacrificing—an incredibly noble, essential thing—on behalf of one another.
All this activity prevents and obstructs the renewal of the one thing that makes it all possible: Ourselves. Our mental, physical, emotional, spiritual health. That's exactly what was happening with my wonderful wife!
I recently read Living Forward, a book that guides you to make your own life plan. One part of the process is to list your priorities—family, self, work, etc.—in order or priority. They explicitly urge you to put yourself and your health near the top of the priority list—because that’s the linchpin.
For example, in the current version of my life plan, Me is below my relationship with the Divine, and above my relationship with Jenna.
As you think through your priorities, I would urge the same for you.
When we do this, we turn down the voice in our heads that screams at us for being selfish. When we see that selfishness as necessary, welcome, and good, we’re empowered to do invest in our foundation.
After Jenna settled down, she put herself first went to the gym, and came back home beaming.
(While we’re on the subject, I think it’s also wise to realize this is not a problem to be solved, but a dilemma to be managed. We’ll never achieve perfect harmony. We'll never be finished with it. Instead, it's a dynamic equilibrium that's always in flux.)
So—what about you?
Are you selfish enough?
How, specifically, could you be more selfish in the next two weeks?
What would that do to your foundation, and therefore, to your relationships?