Five Ways to Say ‘Me First’


Why is it that we take care of everyone and everything else before we take care of ourselves? Why do we neglect our needs in ways we would never tolerate from another person? Why do we accept this self-treatment? Perhaps it’s because no one is holding us accountable but ourselves, and we generally do a poor job of that. Or we think it’s selfish to prioritize our own well-being over everyone else’s.But it isn’t selfish. In fact, it is crucial to our well-being, and benefits our work and the people around us. We simply need to re-frame the conversation we have with ourselves. Instead of saying “Me first,” think of it as “I am as important as all the other people and things that are important to me.”

Do It for You

What you do for everyone else, you should do for yourself. Here are five actions to consider.

1. Be important to yourself. When you take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually, you become more balanced. When you are balanced, you are better — a better leader, a better lawyer, a better friend, parent, spouse. Focusing on yourself also creates space for respect — not just self-respect, but the respect of others, especially your family. When you make everyone and everything more important than yourself, you send a message that you have no desires or needs, and are unimportant. Soon, the people around you will no longer appreciate you, and may never develop respect for you.

Your health and relationships also depend on it. If you aren’t healthy, you won’t be able to help anyone else. If you are unhappy because you feel burnt out, will others want to spend time with you, the “grump”? When you are emotionally drained because you never take the time to rejuvenate, are you able to focus your attention on your loved ones — or your clients — when you are with them? You may be missing out on important moments even though you are physically present, because you are emotionally and intellectually absent.

2. Make the time, and make it work. Unfortunately, you can’t actually “make” time. But you can shift priorities and find time in what seems like a packed schedule. Which tasks can you delegate to colleagues or an assistant? Can you streamline some tasks so you spend less time doing them? Can you hire someone to do those things?

Raise your expectations for your spouse and kids, too. Think of chores like walking the dog, fixing breakfast, doing laundry or mowing — others can do those things. And can you share some responsibilities with a friend or neighbor, like picking the kids up from school, so you each have some extra “me” time? Or perhaps hire a service to make meals or shopping for clothes easier.

3. Just say no. Most people like to please others, and a great way to do that is by saying “yes” all the time. But it’s often to your own detriment, and ultimately, when you’ve taken on too much, it’s to everyone’s detriment. When we take on too much, we start from a place of generosity but often end at a place of martyrdom, a place where we are resentful toward ourselves for saying yes, and toward others for asking us to help. Learn how to say no without feeling guilty. It may be hard in the beginning, but focus on what’s important to you and say yes to those things.

4. Figure out what you need. If things have gotten really out of balance, you may not even remember what you enjoy. I’ve been there. If so, on your next commute or before you fall asleep at night, take 10 to 15 minutes to think about what you enjoyed in the past, and what you think about doing when you really want to “get away.” If you have trouble:

  • Try the “Happiness List” by Emily Williams to help figure out what to do for yourself.
  • Meditation — just three minutes a day — can do wonders in helping you evaluate your priorities and realign choices.
  • If you are goal-oriented, setting a personal goal might work. It could be training for a half-marathon, planning a weekend getaway just for yourself, planting a small herb garden, or reading one (or all) of the selections on a best-summer-books list.
  • Maybe achieving health and fitness goals is something that makes you happy. Enroll in a yoga class, or join a running club, or make the time to use your smartphone to help you get healthy.
  • If adding goals — even personal ones — would merely add to your stress, focus instead on setting aside a time for yourself each week. When the time comes, you can decide what you will do for yourself. Maybe you’ll take a long lunch one day next week and go for a walk in the park, or hang out in the bookstore or coffee shop — or go shopping for something you like.

5. Make it a habit. It should not be difficult to care for yourself and make your well-being a priority. But, like all things, it takes persistence and dedication. Make your “me” time nonnegotiable.

Remember, you are important and the time you take to take care of yourself will benefit not only you, but everyone and everything around you.

JAmie Jamie Spannhake is a lawyer and certified health coach. After working for a BigLaw firm in Manhattan for six years as a commercial litigator, she founded Spannhake Law LLC, serving clients in New York and Connecticut. She provides local counsel support and pre-trial litigation services to other lawyers. For her non-lawyer clients, she offers services in estate planning, residential real estate, and business transactions. She writes and speaks on issues of interest to lawyers, including time and stress management, health and wellness, work-life balance, and effective legal writing.

Previously posted on Attorney at Work.