By Kathryn Bisland
I let go of finding my worth externally and for the first time just did what made me happy in that moment.
This is how I operate now, both as a mom and professionally.
I’m sitting in the reclining chair; the baby, who is 3 months old, is asleep in my arms. I know if I move and try to put her down in her crib, she’ll wake up and then I won’t be able to get her back to sleep. A voice is screaming at me in my head, rhyming off the giant list of things I must do NOW for my business because I am so behind. Because if not, I will be even more behind so what am I doing just sitting here watching The View, as if I haven’t a care in the world, wasting time?
But if I move, the baby will wake up. She only sleeps in my arms for her naps and she doesn’t sleep through the night yet. If she wakes up, I will have an over-tired baby AND I still won’t be able to do anything work-related because she requires my full attention when awake. I was not given what they call a “dream baby” in those parenting books, who will sit sweetly in a swing for 30+ minutes and watch you work. I was blessed with what those parenting books describe as a “spirited baby” who is highly active, needs constant interaction, and who requires frequent changes of scenery every 10 minutes to maintain their good humour. And this is when she’s had enough sleep!
I’m exhausted and stressed beyond belief and wish I was asleep like the baby because then the incessant voice in my head that won’t stop badgering me and pointing out all the ways I am not measuring up will be silenced—at least for a little bit.
The feeling of being trapped, damned if I do and damned if I don’t, is all consuming.
I’ve come up against a problem that I just can’t fix.
When you are someone, like me, who prides herself on always having the solution, this is a very overwhelming place to be. In that moment, I realized I couldn’t do it all. I had to choose one or the other, and no matter how hard I tried to think of something, there wasn’t a way around it. I wanted to cry, my frustration was so deep and my resentment towards my situation was palpable.
Then something in me snapped. This seemingly impossible choice was between work and my baby, so how was that even a choice? Nothing in that moment mattered more to me than my baby. The thought that any feelings of resentment or overwhelm were being directed towards her horrified me! So I snapped and said no to anything but simply sitting there and making sure my baby was getting exactly what she needed. My certainty swelled up from somewhere deep inside of me and powerfully silenced the belittling voice. I felt an incredible calm take over me. I was overcome with the beauty and joy of being a mom to her.
For many, it may have seemed like a simple choice and I can understand that—we all know the saying “family comes first”. However, letting go of my “to do” list was symbolic of something bigger than just telling myself, “I will focus on my baby right now and worry about my work responsibilities later.” Let me explain.
As a child, I loved taking care of things: my dolls, my cat, my “students” when I would play school. I loved the feeling of imagining I was making them feel safe and loved and understood.
As I got older, this urge to nurture matured into trying to understand my friends and provide solutions to their problems. Or trying to anticipate the needs of my teachers, parents and loved ones. When I did this, they were happy and any potential conflict was avoided. That left me feeling good and gave me a sense of purpose.
As an older teenager and adult, this urge to nurture became more layered and complex. As I further developed my ability for almost always knowing the right thing to do or say to fix other’s problems, I began to rely on my sense of worth coming from my “fixing”. When I could make them feel at ease, make them feel important and appreciated, I felt the same.
Without realizing it, I was getting into the habit of making other’s needs my priority instead of my own. I was also getting used to validating myself by external factors. How they were feeling was how I began to feel about myself. If I could solve things then I was amazing; if I couldn’t, then I felt incomplete and mad at myself for not being able to figure it out.
What I was cultivating and buying into was dangerous because I was equating my importance and purpose in a relationship with being able to fix things for another. The more problems I could fix, the more fires I could put out, the more I could make someone feel better about themselves, the more worthy I felt.
This was dangerous in two ways.
Firstly, when I was making it my priority to ensure everyone else’s needs were met all the time, you can bet I wasn’t taking any time to meet my own needs. In all honesty, I didn’t even ask myself what I wanted. In fact, I had no idea how to do that because I had stopped doing it a long time ago. No one can sustain living like that long term and I was 100% headed to a major burnout.
Secondly, I also wasn’t bothering to make sure the people I was making a priority over myself deserved my help in the first place. I didn’t check to see if the relationship was healthy and mutually supportive. I was giving my energy and love away to anyone who asked because it made me feel amazing to be needed. I felt valuable because I was providing something of worth and that made me feel worthy for a little bit. But that would wear off quickly so, in my rush to feel that again, I wasn’t making sure I was safe. This put me in the vulnerable position of being taken advantage of.
When you put out the energy that you are willing to prioritize the needs of others and push your needs aside, besides eventually feeling burned-out and exhausted, you also run the risk of attracting people without the best of intentions. People who, consciously or not, sense that they can take from you because you have no boundaries, so take they do without ever giving back. Without the exchange of love and support being reciprocal, you will become depleted and weighed down very rapidly.
For me, living like this eventually accumulated into resentment, irritability and sadness. I was completely ignoring myself and running around after others instead. I also ended up creating standards that I just couldn’t live up to because people always needed more from me. I no longer felt my “hit” of worthiness, I simply felt exhausted and not good enough.
And so, fast forward to myself sitting on my recliner with my 3-month-old baby, torn between letting my baby down or letting my clients at work down. I found myself between a rock and a hard place and something had to give.
This moment was monumental for me.
When I said no, I crossed a giant hurdle because I was finally forced to prioritize my needs. When I let go of my “to do” list, I let go of so much more than completing tasks. What it really represented was letting go of needing to be liked by everyone for having all the answers so I could like myself. To be approved of by people for doing a good job so I could approve of myself. I let go of finding my worth externally and for the first time just did what made me happy in that moment.
This is how I operate now, both as a mom and professionally. When I focus my attention on checking in on how I am feeling and taking care of myself first if I am not okay, then I am more present, energized and connected in the other areas of my life afterwards.
We are told this story that as women (which then intensifies when we become mothers) we must nurture and that sacrificing our needs to take care of everything else is an inevitable part of being a good woman, mother and partner. But when I did this, I didn’t feel fulfilled, I just felt crappy.
How could I properly help, inspire and interact with someone else when I was exhausted? It’s just not possible, so rather than try to live up to an impossible standard I started saying no.
This was a story I was telling myself, so I made the decision to stop telling it and say yes to myself. Now I experience more love, joy and connection in my relationships because I am more present and energized. I encourage you to do the same. When you feel exhausted or irritation or sadness, just take a moment and check in with yourself and ask: “what do I need right now to feel better?” Then take 5 minutes to yourself, even if its just laying on your bed in silence.
Saying no to others is saying yes to yourself. Plus, by saying what you need instead of pushing it aside, you become a better communicator. I give myself permission to do that and I extend the wish for you to do the same. It is vital to give to ourselves first so we can replenish and refresh. Then we can give to others properly and in the capacity that we want to. Let’s start telling ourselves a new story where we prioritize our needs and give ourselves some love everyday. Then we can love others with more delight and fullness—and life will become better all around.
About the author, Kathryn Bisland
Kathryn Bisland is the proud mama of both a gorgeous little girl under 2 and a newly developed spiritual perspective that has brought her more joy and emotional freedom than she ever thought possible. Being a mama awoke her to the realization that the present moment is all that exists and to fight it leads down a slippery slope of stress and anxiety. After surrendering and releasing the need to make things happen by giving it up to the Universe, she was blown away by how productive and connected she actually became. This led to incredible shifts in her life, both professionally and personally. It is now her goal to help people find the life they were meant to live, lives that are full of joy in the little moments, so they can get off the stress/fear/guilt/worry treadmill loop and flourish.