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Put Yourself Last

Isn’t that typically what you do?

I do it too.

You’ve got clients or your boss, family, friends, and everyone else’s priorities.

You’ve got to get it all done first, right?

So, that big idea you’ve got…you’ll do it next week. If not next week, then definitely the following week, right? At least by the end of the month, or quarter. Worst case scenario, end of year…if you can find the time.

Also, don’t sweat it, there’s always time to catch up on your exercise this weekend. The weekends are also a good time to catch up on sleep, right? With so much going on during the week there’s really no time for a proper night’s sleep anyway. Hey, while you’re at it, make sure to set aside some time to visit your couch to catch up on Netflix…your couch misses you.

If you’re still thinking about the stuff from this week that you didn’t get done, maybe set aside a little time, maybe just a few hours this weekend to catch up on everything. Maybe after the gym.

Don’t forget to spend time with your partner and kids…and pets.

You’ll fit it all in, right?

How is this likely to play out?

Chances are you’ll go to bed late on Friday and Saturday. You’ll probably wake up too early too.

So much for sleep.

Maybe you’ll make it to the gym, maybe not.

So much for health.

You might catch up on work a bit over the weekend.

So much for recharging.

That big project is now months behind where you intended to be but you’ve got so many responsibilities that you can only deal with on the weekend. This laundry isn’t going to put itself away.

So much for making your mark.

Who does this story benefit?

This isn’t just my story, at times. Too many of us put ourselves last at the expensive of our mental and physical health. Too many of us are putting our own aspirations on the sidelines week after week in order to get our work done.

Who, exactly, is all of this for? Because it’s pretty obvious that it’s not for us.

We believe a story that this is the way it is, and more importantly, that this is the way it must be.

Why do we believe it?

Culture is Malleable

Things weren’t always this way. It wasn’t necessarily better, but it was different.

  • At some point, there were no child labor laws.
  • At some point, there was no 8-hour work day or 40-hour work week.
  • At some point, there was no employer-based healthcare.

All of these were changes in our culture. We can change it again. Can you imagine if…

  • you could move from job-to-job because you no longer fear losing your healthcare.
  • you could work 3 or 4 days per week, or only work half days, and still manage to afford a place to live and food on the table.
  • you could decide to change your career path and go get new training.
  • you could leave industries that are unethical or even dangerous to the survival of our species and not fear for your life because you lose your place to live, your healthcare, or your ability to avoid starvation.

Does all of that sound crazy?

Well, it’s not.

Culture Shifts in Response to Stimuli

If you look closely, you’ll see that the culture is always changing.

Stimuli: Pandemic

Remote work was already gaining momentum before COVID as new technology makes it easier for distributed teams to collaborate virtually. Pandemic or not, that was happening. The pandemic just accelerated it. Now, after more than 2 years of remote and hybrid work, people’s expectations have shifted with regard to “coming back to the office.”

Culture Shift: A little flexibility

More job postings are mentioning remote work, a greater share of employees expect to continue working from home, at least partially, and the 9-5 schedule is losing ground. The outlook for commercial real estate transactions is radically shifting, and even fuel consumption and traffic patterns are changing.

Stimuli: The Broken State of Work

Decades after Milton Friedman’s shareholder value rhetoric took hold over corporate America, along with taking on virtually insurmountable student loan debt to become the most education generations and most indebted generations in history, Millennials and Gen Z were already less enthusiastic about the American Dream than previous generations. Seeking the opportunity to do meaningful / purpose-driven work with ample opportunities to develop, the culture that failed to respond to that stimuli and exacerbated by the pandemic is experiencing a mass exodus from the workforce.

Culture Shift: Bandages

Companies are raising salaries, offering more flexible work arrangements, and investing in employee growth and development.

Stimuli: Protests & Awareness

Mass protests and direct action in response to highly publicized killing of unarmed black men and women have lead to increased attention about racism in America, and expanded to include a broader movement for civil rights of people marginalized by their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ability.

Culture Shift: Some meaningful attempts

Companies invest more heavily in DEI and unconscious bias training, and spend more promoting their initiatives in marketing, PR, and recruitment campaigns.

What would happen if we all put ourselves first?

To be clear, there is a difference between self-care and selfishness. I’m talking about self-care.

Our culture has convinced us put ourselves last. Our work to change it begins with all of us taking the steps to change it. It requires us to stand for our own health and well-being before the interests of the company.

  • That means not answering emails sometimes.
  • That means taking an appointment with your therapist in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, if that’s all you, or they, have available.
  • That means doing what you need to do for yourself.

This might sound scary. You might be worry whether “they” will fire you for not pledging total loyalty to the company. You might wonder if it’s ok for you to put yourself first.

You can and you should. So, here’s my suggestion: start with small steps.

  • Determine your boundaries.
  • Find one opportunity to enforce your boundaries and put yourself first. Then, try it again. Repeat until it’s a habit and the people around you expect it.
  • Communicate with your cohorts about it, encourage them to take time for themselves too. We need them too.

As we’ve seen with the pandemic, the great resignation, and the national conversation about social justice, culture responds to stimuli and change can happen. Sometimes it happens quickly, other times it’s a slow burn. But, if you ask me, it’s worth it.

You only have this life to live. Live it for you, and those you love. Work will still be there when you’re ready and it will adapt to us if we work together to change it.

Together we can all build a movement that puts us first instead of last.

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