When Do You Come First?

August 1, 2017 - 4 minutes read

“Sometimes women in families put themselves last,” Angelina Jolie recently told Vanity Fair.  “Until it manifests itself in their own health.”

Jolie makes a very important point. We face decisions every day about whether to put ourselves, or others, first.  That series of decisions, repeated day after day, forms a pattern of behavior that has a long-term impact on our lives, for better or for worse. It is possible that Angelina Jolie’s pattern of putting herself last has contributed to several of her health challenges, including, most recently, Bell’s Palsy.

We all have personal values, especially around our children and loved ones.  We want to show our love by helping them.  But when we look deeply into our choices we might find that we are, in fact, working against our own ideals.

My first priority is my own health.  That may seem selfish, but if it is important to me to help my family and others, and if I sacrifice my own health in pursuing that goal, am I not working against myself?

If I drive eighty miles an hour to get to the hospital to help a loved one, and get into an accident in which I am injured or killed, how much help will I be when I arrive at the emergency room (or morgue) in an ambulance myself?

If I work eighty hours a week to support my family and die of a heart attack at midnight alone at my desk, how helpful will I be to them in the future?  Hopefully, I will be up-to-date on paying the premiums on a large life insurance policy.

If you are always helpful to your children and to your friends but suffer from hypertension, how effective will you be in five or ten years?

I know a few people who are always helpful and often put me first. While I deeply appreciate their help, I want to take care of them as well.  I feel uncomfortable, and unneeded, if they don’t let me reciprocate by taking care of them once in a while.  When I was eight years old I saved my allowance for three months to treat my family to dinner.  My father took his responsibility as the family breadwinner very seriously, and he was embarrassed at being “treated” to dinner by his young son.  But I was really happy that he let me help my family.  I felt needed.

A friend of mine just returned from a week-long bicycle vacation with his wife.

“We had such a wonderful time,” he said.  “We enjoyed the scenery, the food, and the wine.  It was the first time in five years my wife and I had taken a vacation by ourselves.  We decided to send our daughters to camp again next year and take another vacation – just the two of us.”

We can best take care of others when we remember that it is sometimes necessary to take care of ourselves first.

Angelina, thanks for the tip.  I hope you’re slightly more selfish in the future, so you can continue to be selfless with those you love.


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