An Open Letter on Being Unapologetic for Putting Myself First

After my first TEDxFortWayne talk. (I’m second to the left)

Day to day I talk to a lot of people about “balance” and not taking on too much. We hyperextend ourselves and cause a lot of unnecessary stress in our lives. Our relationships with loved ones suffer and those we were once close to quickly grow distant. Not to mention we become grouchy and can even suffer physically from doing too much and not finding enough time to rest. For those who are freelancers or own their own business, this can also translate to taking on too many clients at one time or offering such a large range of services you don’t really specialize in anything. This can also hurt us if we’re forcing ourselves to jump around to a lot of places all at once. We aren’t able to focus and can become scatterbrained, frustrated, and overwhelmed.

I turned 28 this past week and similar to most birthdays, I spent that time reflecting on how far I’d come from the previous year and focused on the direction I was heading. After a very active and eventful last few years, there was a lot of information to process and reflect on.

One of my biggest findings was just how busy I had become once again in the last year. Busy is distinctly different than “productive” as the wise Marshall White puts it. Busy doesn’t guarantee we make any progress or get things done. It doesn’t focus on the essential. I’m currently in a position where there is more “busy” than “productive” in my life. I’m all too familiar with this place as it’s somewhere I always end up due to my excessive excitement of new projects and inability to think and really strategize before beginning new endeavors.

Although there is excitement and even money when these endeavors begin, those fall quickly to the wayside when it comes down to finding the time to balance all of these things on an already tight schedule. The emotional toll that it takes on me (an eternal people pleaser) is heavy and is the source of a lot of stress in my life because I want to do my best work and come through every time for those I’m working with. But there’s only so much you can do before you drop all of the balls you’re trying to juggle.

As I turned 28 and thought about what the next five, ten, or even thirty years looked like I realized I didn’t want to keep living this way. In order to live the life you want to live you must behave in ways that are conducive to that life, something I wasn’t practicing. Stressed on the outcome of projects that went from bringing me excitement to showering me with dread, the emotional toll of feeling as if I’ve let other people down that I was committed to helping, not to mention feeling as if I’m always working overtime simply to “catch up” rather than to get ahead (what’s that even look like?). It’s easy for me to prioritize the needs of others over my own, even if they cost me my well-being.

The truth is I haven’t been prioritizing myself as I should be. I haven’t taken the time to breathe and make sure I’m okay before going out into the world and seeing how I can impact it best. Not to mention my personal endeavors such as Founders Spark have been suffering from my lack of focus on what’s important. Endeavors that can change my life forever.

So as a commitment to prioritizing myself and putting myself in the best situation to help others, I am stripping away any client or project that is non-essential in helping me achieve the goals I have set forth for myself. I am refocusing my energy on investing in my future and becoming who I have worked so hard the better part of 12 years to become since my career started. Projects that help move my career forward, give me the financial benefits that are essential to living a full life, and opportunities that allow me to grow into the best person that I can be. As a recovering people pleaser who still relapses from time to time, I try really hard to please others and help them achieve their dreams. However, in doing this my own dreams quickly fall to the wayside.

This is so that I can focus more time on those things that make me happy. So that I can focus more of my energy on living the life I want to live now rather than postponing it in the future. It means more kayaking with friends, barbeques with family, and less stress about where money or time will come from. It means more time to work out and eat right and less time sitting around feeling sorry for myself. It is for the sake of less stress and anxiety and more laughs and appreciation of the little things in life.

Through letting myself slip as a priority, I not only do a disservice to myself but also all of those I claim to want to help. The lack of focus and overextension translates to missed deadlines, quality of work that is below my capabilities, and subpar communication that results in me being seen as flaky. They say you are defined by your actions and these are not the actions that I want to define me. My frustration lies within the potential I see within myself but rarely achieve and it’s my responsibility to put myself in a position to finally reach that potential I deserve.

I hope those affected by this understand that this is not due to a reflection on how I feel about them or the project, but rather ensuring that my own life is balanced and that I am making headway on the ambitious goals that I have planned for myself and my future. You cannot pour from an empty cup, and focusing on filling up my own cup will empower me to help others fill theirs in the future. This is a commitment I’m making to myself for myself in hopes of finding that true happiness and balance I always speak of.

My hope is that this open letter will explain to those out there what I am doing and why. I hope that it will bring understanding to where I am in life and where I want to go. It is also my hope that someone out there who is in the position I’m in will also prioritize themselves first and follow suit in spending their limited time and energy wisely. That they’ll drop those things that keep them busy and focus on those things that will keep them productive and on a fast track to fulfilling their wildest dreams. Because we all owe it to ourselves to become the best versions of us. It is what the world deserves and it is what we deserve.