This is an email we received:
I’m in my early forties and facing a troubling reality. I’m a nurse by profession and literally spend 90% of my time every day helping others, but somehow I’ve completely neglected myself in the process, and I’m feeling the pain for doing so. I feel like a siren has sounded inside my mind that I just haven’t responded to. I’m often anxious and miserable, especially on my days off. What should I do? How do I motivate myself during these hard times? Any insight at all would be greatly appreciated.
Sincerely, A Concerned Nurse Our reply (an open reply to all who put themselves last):
Dear Concerned Student,
Once upon a time, many moons ago, there was a village of people who lived in handcrafted wood houses. And like other villages in this era, fires were a very real and present danger at all times. One small flame could burn the whole village into ashes within a few short hours. So the villagers developed a clever fire fighting system.
A rotating group of volunteers kept watch over the village from a lookout tower at all times, day and night. At the first sight of smoke, a volunteer would turn on a loud siren that was only ever sounded when warning the villagers about a fire.
The moment the siren sounded, all villagers would drop everything and run to a pre-assigned location for firefighting.
Young, strong men and women would pump water as fast as possible from the village wells, teenage boys and girls would fill big buckets with water as it was pumped up from the well, and all the rest of the villagers would occupy designated locations and ultimately form human chains leading from the wells to the fire. The bravest men and women would stand next to the fire and heave buckets of water until the fire was extinguished.
One day a traveler from a distant village heard the siren and asked someone on the street about it. The woman – who was rushing toward her designated location – quickly explained, “Whenever there’s a fire, the siren is sounded and the fire is extinguished!”
The traveler was amazed, and decided to bring this remarkable siren technology back to his own village, which also had dreadful problems with fires. Days later, he returned to his village with a siren that perfectly matched the one he witness in action on the lookout tower. He gathered all his villagers together, and he said, “You don’t need to fear fire anymore, my friends. I have found a new way to extinguish it. Watch closely, and I shall demonstrate.”
The traveler lit a large bale of hay on fire that was sitting next to his own cottage. The flames quickly began to spread closer and closer to his home. Then he took out the siren he’d acquired and sounded it. The fire only grew in its intensity, so he sounded it again. The fire continued to grow rapidly.
“Just be patient, everyone! It should happen any moment now...”
An Open Letter to Those Who Put Themselves Last
In a panic he sounded the siren again and again, but still the fire grew and blazed with even more intensity. Within hours the entire village burned down to the ground ... because, of course, the traveler had misunderstood the purpose of the siren. It wasn’t used to put out fires. It was simply a signal that directed the villagers to take positive action.
There’s a lookout tower in your life too. In that lookout tower, the siren has sounded.
If you continue to do nothing when you hear the siren, your life, in many ways, will ultimately burn to the ground (dramatic, and true). For a siren extinguishes no fires on its own. But if you listen to the siren and let it motivate you to take positive action, you can save your own life ... and create a sense of purpose, peace and resolve for yourself and those who depend on you.
The steps you need to take next won’t be easy, but they will be worthy. You will be one of the strong ones who know what it takes to fight and extinguish even the hottest fires that burn from within.
Truth be told, sometimes we have to learn (or re-learn) to be our own best friends, because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies. We love the idea of being loved and listened to by others, but we forget to love and listen to ourselves.
It’s time to stop putting yourself last.
Make yourself a priority today.
Challenge yourself to listen to what your heart and mind is telling you.
Sincerely, Marc and Angel Afterthoughts ... On Making Yourself a Priority