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Get Real About What You Can Actually Expect of Yourself

By Stephanie Marston

"When we truly care for ourselves, it becomes possible to care far more profoundly about other people. The more alert and sensitive we are to our own needs, the more loving and generous we can be towards others." ~ Eda LeShan

Let me ask you, How many of you would drive your car when the gas gauge reads empty or the oil light is flashing? I know that some of you would. You have to read to this book at least three more times? Just kidding, but, think about it for a minute, for those of you who have children, would you ever ask your child to pull an all-nighter to prepare for a test or a final exam? Absolutely not. Yet we continually push ourselves past the breaking point.

Most of us are caught in a tug-of-war between who we think we should be and who we are; between what we want to do and what we're actually able to do. In other words, we're at the mercy of our guilt demons. Our feelings of guilt often prevent us from taking care of ourselves. These feelings often stem from unrealistic expectations.

When you stop to think about it, you'll realize that you have impossible ideals that you strive to live up to-ideals like, "I must always put other people's needs first," or "I should never disappoint anyone." These kinds of standards are not only impossible to meet, but also they wreak havoc on your life.

When you let yourself be driven by perfectionism, guilt and unattainably high standards, you become irritable, grumpy and unable to function well. Ignore your own needs long enough, and I guarantee, sooner or later Godzilla will emerge wreaking havoc and suffering on you, your entire family, friends and co-workers.

First and foremost, we have to have realistic expectations. I'm talking about what you can reasonably expect of yourself. Time and time again, we demand that we act more generously than we feel, give more than we have to give, and push ourselves beyond our limits. This is a surefire recipe for disaster. How long do you think you can function under these conditions? Not very long, and certainly not very well

Guilt is a major roadblock to taking care of ourselves. There's always a list of things that have to be done that takes precedence over attending to our needs. Then there's the fear of disappointing someone if you occasionally make yourself a priority. But stop and consider for a moment: when you put yourself last on the list and allow your guilt to run your life, the person that you continually disappoint is yourself.

Think back to the last time you were on an airplane. Remember the instructions the flight attendant gave when you were about to take off, "in case of an emergency first place the oxygen mask securely around you nose and mouth and then place it on your child or someone next to you who needs assistance." This notion needs to run through every aspect of your life.

The truth is, you have to come first, at least some of the time. I know this probably makes you uncomfortable since it goes against everything you've been taught. Yet, the reality is that it's only to the extent that you love and care for yourself that you're truly able to love and care for others.

If that's not motivation enough, taking care of yourself is an essential part of restoring your sanity and creating a life you love. I'm not talking about abandoning your family or career and becoming completely self-absorbed, far from it. What I'm suggesting is that you simply bring yourself back into the equation and maintain a healthy balance.

Stephanie Marston has assisted Fortune 500 companies, global corporations, women's and health-care organizations and professional associations in reducing employee stress, increasing productivity and creating a culture of satisfaction in the workplace. Sign up for The Balancing Act, a free monthly newsletter. Get free tips and strategies on achieving Life Balance.

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