“Save your own life,” I read, and that phrase streamed through my consciousness for days. Before Christmas, my dear friend the Late Bloomer Bride introduced me to a concept and gave me (and several other of her female friends) a copy of the book The Gift of a Year.
I began reading the book on Dec. 31 and finished it Jan. 3, 2010 and decided, somewhere in the middle that yes, I would give myself the gift of a year — this year, starting right now. This is the year I will turn 40 so for me, it has some significance chronologically but really, it doesn’t matter; there’s no time like the present.
What does the gift of a year mean? It means taking 12 months of your life to put yourself first instead of last. It means doing or not doing; accomplishing or resting; it means for each person something different from every other. After learning about how women (in particular) put themselves last over and over, how we let go of our dreams and desires because other responsibilities, commitments and lack of time gets in the way, I learned that I’m part of that camp, and don’t really want to be. I’d rather set the example for my daughter, my friends and the colleagues I mentor and supervise of someone who is happy and healthy because I recognize the importance of putting myself first so that I can better care for others.
The book, which I highly recommend you read, too, takes the reader through the whole process of defining the year, choosing what you will do with it, planning for success, getting the support you need and getting started. Reading the stories of what other women did with their year helped me figure out what I wanted — no — needed to do with my gift of a year.
Saving My Own Life
I spent part of last year meeting with a friend who is a career coach. I learned a lot about time management, focus, goal-setting and prioritization. Going through this exercise helped me pare down some of the extracurricular activities that were taking too much of my time and my energy. When we talked about work/life balance and health and wellness I had an epiphany: I don’t take care of myself. Working with my friend, we came up with a self-affirming question I was to ask myself each and every morning, “How will I take care of myself today?” My friend, a wonderful supporter, would send me e-mails or leave voicemail messages asking me, “how are you taking care of yourself today?” It was a good start to thinking about myself in a different way; as a person who needs and deserves to be taken care of. I won’t go into all of the ways that I haven’t taken care of myself, those will become evident over time, if you continue reading this blog as I embark on this journey of my gift.
Now, that revelation and the work with my friend didn’t exactly get me moving in the right direction. Because I still wasn’t putting myself first, in fact it depressed me further. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. Then on Labor Day, 2009, I got sick with the flu. I was sick for most of September and spiraled down into a place I’d rather not return.
When the Late Bloomer Bride introduced the gift of a year idea to a group of friends, I felt granted permission. At first I thought of several ways to spend my year — and one great thing about the book is that it really helps you narrow down to exactly the right choice for you. I thought big; about writing a book, or writing every day on the three blogs I maintain. I thought about focusing on exercise. I thought about taking classes or learning something new. I thought about my job, and how I want to grow in my career. Ultimately, before I finished the book I’d landed on the most important gift I can give myself in my Year of 40 and that is . . .
To take really good care of myself every day.
Now, to some that might not seem like a big deal. That’s OK. Maybe you are someone who already takes good care of yourself. Good for you! But I’m not. I don’t make doctors’ appointments when I should, or I don’t keep them. I fail to take my medicine regularly. I forget, intentionally, to take my vitamins because I really, really don’t like taking vitamins. I don’t eat well all the time. I don’t exercise. I don’t take time off from work when I am sick. I could go on, but I won’t because it’s really awful . . . the point is, that’s over. In this gift of a year, I will take care of myself every day.
It will not be easy. There will be times when I’ll just want to give up and slide back into all my bad habits. I will have to employ what I learned from my friend about time management and actually schedule in the time needed to care for myself appropriately. I’ll have to make appointments and keep them. I’ll have to find ways to exercise and eat better.
I will also need the support of my family and friends. I will have to ask for help when I need it. I will have to say no now and again.
I’m hoping, of course, that you all will be here for me as this Year of 40 goes on. That I can report in and let you know how it’s going; what I’ve learned and how I’ve made it through the challenges. If you decide to give yourself the gift of a year (and I would love, love, love it if you joined me on this journey) I’d like to know how it’s going for you, too.
Think about it; what would you do with the gift of one year?