SELF is not a dirty word.
When I started dancing competitively 10 years ago, I beat myself up- a lot. On one hand, dancing again was a total blast. Dance has always been my “go to” thing and reclaiming it when my kids were young gave me something that made me feel inspired and alive in my own right. On the other, a loud, mean little voice in my head told me I was really selfish to be willing to spend time and money on something that was just for me. After all, I was a mom.
Somewhere along the way, I internalized a belief that good mom’s don’t do things for themselves. Unless no one is home, or awake, or aware. Because God forbid our kids see us making ourselves a priority. They might feel like they aren’t the only person in the world who matters. How horrible would THAT be? (heavy sarcasm, in case I lost you).
Oh sure, people said do something for yourself. But they meant take a nap instead of doing laundry, occasionally go out for a glass of wine, or read a book instead of writing a brief. Not, put on sparkly costumes, high heels, fake eyelashes, and dance like a goddess. Nope. This is not on the “accepted” list of shit good moms should do.
I danced anyway, but always with nagging guilt. “I shouldn’t be doing this,” I thought.
The idea that I might be taking something away from my family by doing something for myself haunted me for years. It came with me to dance lessons, to coaching sessions, and to competitions. Every time I won I used the result to justify the journey, and if I lost, I told myself this whole thing was utterly ridiculous. No matter what happened, even when I danced better than ever before, I always felt kind of bad about it. “What am I doing?” I asked myself, “this is really selfish,” I concluded.
Still, I persisted. I loved it that much. I was willing to do it even though I didn’t fully believe I was entitled. Wanting to dance, not fully believing I should.
One November, I found myself sitting in my hotel room at the biggest competition of the year not wanting to dance a step. I couldn’t believe it. I have found myself not wanting to do many things in my life, but dance has never been one of them. And yet, I really didn’t feel like dancing. I sat there feeling so, so sorry for myself. "WHY oh WHY can’t I just enjoy this?"
As I sat there staring at the ugly brown wall in a dimly lit hotel room miles away from my family, sulking miserably, it hit me. I WAS being selfish. Horribly selfish. And it wasn’t because I chose dancing. My decision to dance was actually far from selfish. I was doing something that should have made me feel amazing, which then would have translated into me being happier and more fulfilled as a person, mother and wife. What WAS decidedly selfish: going through the motions while feeling miserable and unconvinced of my worth to fully and joyfully experience it. While I never consciously embraced the role as mommy martyr, I was certainly playing it well enough to exist in a fog of frustration and resentment.
I realized I had only two choices: 1) quit, or 2) believe with my whole heart that I deserve this, and dance with joy, appreciation, and gratitude for the journey itself.
I’m still dancing. You know what I chose.
When I look back at how much time I spent making myself utterly miserable doing the very thing I really love, it makes me curious. No one ever told me dancing was selfish. I mean, no one I cared about. My husband is my biggest fan, and has always supported me. My kids are proud, if not a little bored in the ballroom. I cannot tell you exactly where I got the idea that doing something for myself once I became a Mom was selfish. And yet, it was there.
Loud and clear.
When it came to others, I was quick to help them embrace the positive qualities associated with the word “self.” I encouraged the development of self-esteem, self-awareness, self-assuredness, self-belief, and self-confidence through the unapologetic pursuit of things that bring happiness, joy, and fulfillment.
When it came to myself, however, I applied a different standard altogether. My own pursuit of happiness was deemed self-absorbed, self-centered, and the worst one: selfish.
In my work with women, I hear this a lot. All the good “self” words are for other people. Like our daughters, our friends, and people we admire.
What a bunch of crap. Claiming something for yourself and owning your right to have it is actually generous. It empowers you to be a happier, stronger, more fulfilled person. Your positive energy permeates the lives of those around you. And, you are modeling self-worth. Yes, that is right. You are showing others (including little eyes that are watching) that you value yourself and that they should value themselves too.
Simply put, prioritizing and claiming something for yourself is not selfish. Acting like a martyr and doing it reluctantly, or whining about not having something for yourself actually is. Been there, done that. It’s time to move into power, and claim your thing.