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The simple reason you have to put yourself first

I fix problems. It’s what I do. It’s how I’m wired. See problem, fix it. And that’s good, because it helps to make the world go around. But, as commendable as playing my part in keeping the world turning may be, it’s also the very reason I spent the first thirty years of my life focused on keeping other people happy, and having no freaking clue who I really was.

I was so intent on living up to expectations, on being the one who could be relied upon, and being reliant on no-one, that I never stepped back to think about whether that person - the reliable self-reliant one - was actually who I was. And you know what? When I actually did take the time to ponder that question (or, rather, had that pondering-time imposed upon me), turns out that wasn’t me at all.

I had spent the best part of three decades living as someone who wasn’t me; and, I’m not going to lie, discovering that you’ve been living some other dude’s life riles you up. Or it did me, anyway. But that’s not the worst of it. No, not by a long shot.

Because, it also turns out that when you live out your days in someone else’s life, those same people you were trying so hard to please actually end up disappointed. And all that discomfort and wasted time existing in a life that wasn’t your own, was for nothing.

And that totally sucks.

You see, when you live your life - your real life - and you focus on becoming your best self, not only do you experience a lot less discomfort and enjoy life a whole heap more, the people around you experience a version of you that is far richer than the interpretation they may otherwise have been subjected to.

And, if you think about it, that figures, right? If you are the best version of you - your best self - then the people you invite into your life, and who invite you into theirs, experience the best you can be: the best husband, wife or partner; the best mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother or grandparent; the best boss, worker or colleague; the best friend. They are in the presence of the very best of you - the 100% authentic, genuine, real-deal.

But if you live out your days as an interpretation of who you are meant to be - a version of the real you - then those people you invite into your life, or who invite you into theirs, get the rough end of the stick. They get short-changed. Because not only are they not getting the best you, they aren’t getting any kind of you at all. Because all you have to offer them is some amalgam of other people’s ideas of who you are meant to be.

Yet, despite all the myriad discoveries, benefits and experiences that flow out of it, rather than the most important thing you can possibly ever undertake for both you and the world around you, the pursuit of your best self is somehow made to feel like a guilty pleasure. To focus on yourself, you are told either directly or indirectly through the messages that crash against you, is little more than self-indulgent, selfish naval-gazing that results in the people you could be serving losing out.

And therein lies the irony: it is, in fact, that focus on yourself that guarantees that those people you could be serving do not lose out - that guarantees that, in fact, they experience benefits that, without your so-called ‘self-indulgent, selfish naval-gazing’ they could never have hoped to have enjoyed.

This principle is brilliantly captured in the movie ‘October Sky’. The central character, Homer, has a dream. A dream he wants to pursue. A dream to engage with Space that manifests through something of an obsession with rockets. His Dad, though has other ideas. His Dad sees Homer following a different path. A more predictable path. A more certain path. A path that he can wrap his head around.

But, Homer stands his ground. It was a ballsy move, but it was a move that meant he pursued his best self.  

As the movie unfolds, Homer’s path is anything but smooth, and there are a whole bunch of people who are leveling the whole ‘self-indulgent, selfish naval-gazing’ accusation at him. But Homer stood firm. He followed his path and pursued his dream. He became the person he was meant to be, ultimately reconciled with his father and went on to become a Shuttle mission instructor (it’s a story based on fact). Homer and the world benefited from that one, ballsy move.

And you, and the world around you, will too; if you muster the courage to stand firm and pursue your best self. When you are the best you can be, you not only express the true essence of you, you empower and help the people around you to flourish and become the best they can be. And, that’s pretty cool.

Which is why becoming your best self should be smack-bang at the top of your list of priorities. And, as you go deeper into the quest to become your best self, and see the impact that has on the people around you, that fear that you will neglect others by focusing on yourself will be exposed for the lie it is.

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