This is a letter to my oldest as she approaches her high school graduation.
Thank you for inviting me to your baccalaureate service. I’m delighted to support and celebrate you and your accomplishments. The ceremony included lovely talks and music (that choir was AMAZING!).
The talk by the youth leader stuck out in a way that won’t leave me alone even a few days later; I feel the sort of discomfort that I’ve learned (and continue to learn) means that I need to speak up and offer another perspective. So, here goes: I didn’t and don’t agree with the message of sacrificing oneself for others.
Being in and of service to others can be amazing and a gift to both us, another person, and the world, absolutely. Though to believe that’s the gold standard, a way to purpose and happiness in life, without first acknowledging the importance of taking care of oneself? I don’t think that’s noble. I find that dangerous.
When our own well is dry, it’s hard to give anything to anyone else (besides the dust, dirt, and stones they already have and don’t need more of). And when we’re coming from empty and looking outward, we’re on a slippery slope toward fitting in/comparison/external validation land. Thriving, health, happiness don’t live here; we’ll find them in learning to belong to ourselves, first and foremost.
What I’ve found to be the gold standard for myself: Doing my best to practice looking and listening inward (and there is no perfect here — it’s messy and that’s just fine). Ditch the idea of “selfish” — you can’t give what you don’t have. And to try and do so can leave you in a hard to get out of pit.
Practice listening for your inner voice, what your gut is saying, what you know you know though maybe can’t explain — and then dare to trust it. (And I’ll note that hoping you do this is kind of scary as a parent — what you know and need may be different than what I know and need. However, pushing my view/needs/shoulds on you is simply that — pushing you towards fitting in. And it’s about me rather than you, which is not helpful to you.)
My greatest hope for you and your siblings is that you (re)learn to belong to yourselves, to truly and fully belong to yourselves in any and every situation, and then live from this space. Even if it doesn’t always make sense to me or anyone else. What’s important is that it makes sense and feels good/right/expansive TO YOU.
Belonging to yourself is the bedrock of a happy, joyful, satisfying, all good things life. And then from this place, you can actually be of service to others.