(This month is “Gravity Month” at Free of Gravity, where we’re delving into some of the most common—and most powerful—types of Gravity that keep us from escaping our comfort zones and achieving our heroic potential.)
When I ask the question “What is one thing is keeping you from discovering, embracing, or unleashing your most heroic self?” one of the answers I get consistently is something on the order of “My family needs me” or “I need to be there for my family.”
Which I distill down to “I need to put my family first, ahead of my personal needs.”
I’ve been there. For a long time I felt like I could not focus on myself and my personal improvement—or had to squeeze it in during those small, in-between times—because I feared it would take away from the time I should be devoting to my wife and children.
And the times I did focus on my own work? I felt guilty for taking that time away from my family to do self-improvement work, or to pursue a side-hustle that wasn’t bringing in much money for the household.
Or I felt guilty in pursuing that calling that was right for me, because it didn’t pay as well as the soul-sucking job with the nice “incentive plan,” and I was taking money away from my family, not providing for them or seeing to their needs.
Perhaps you, like me, suffer from that fear and guilt, and those twin Gravities are keeping you from doing the important work you know you need to do, on yourself and for yourself. Because you feel like the right thing—the proper thing, the selfless thing—is to put family first always.
I’m going to offer an alternative viewpoint on the whole “family first” argument. And the core of it is this:
Becoming your best, most powerful, most heroic self, is your top priority as a human being. Before your spouse, before your kids, before your family, before your friends.
I know some of you are probably saying “No way!” right now. “I’m a good spouse/parent, and that means putting my spouse/kids first.”
To that I say, “Nope.”
I’m not saying your spouse, your kids, your marriage, your family… all of them… aren’t important. They are. Very important.
What I am saying is this: You do your family a disservice when you don’t put forth the effort and time to become your best self. You can’t be the best spouse/parent/child/sibling/friend when you aren’t the best you that you can be.
Which Serves Your Family Best?
Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.
- Scenario 1: You come home totally exhausted after working all day at a job you hate, so you only have energy to sit in front of the TV and watch sitcoms or the latest CSI/NCIS/Criminal Minds clone…
- Scenario 2: You finish a hard workday (whether in your office or home office), but are so jazzed because you’re doing work you love—work that suits your strengths, and that’s genuinely serving people—that your energy and excitement carries into the evening, and you’re able to spend time with your kids playing games and listening about their days, and then close the evening with great conversation and private time with your spouse…
Which of these serves your family—and you—better?
- Scenario 1: You attend every one of your son’s baseball games, but you spend the whole time with your nose buried in your smartphone checking work emails… or distracted and musing about how you could otherwise be spending this time to get more done…
- Scenario 2: You can only schedule to attend four of his games, but for those four games, you are there and present for every minute, cheering him on, loud enough that he can hear you, and every time he looks up to the bleachers, your eyes meet and you wave to him…
How do you think your son will remember those experiences? Which do you think will matter to him more?
- You give up your regular workouts so you can spend more time taking care of your young daughter, and you gradually begin to feel the effects: gaining weight, feeling more tired, more irritable, less confident…
- You set aside the early morning as “you” time, for running or yoga or kickboxing or weight training. You feel tired after, but energized, and your good health allows you to keep up with your kids, to run and play with them—because you have both the physical stamina and mental energy to do so…
Do I even need to ask a question for this one?
In each of these examples, are you closer to Scenario 1 than Scenario 2? What affect do you think that’s having on your family… never mind on yourself?
Setting an Example
Not enough to convince you? How about this one:
If you’re not striving to be your best self (whatever the reason), if you are depressed and exhausted and empty and from doing work that saps your strength, from always giving when your family wants it (but not necessarily needs it), and from not taking time to take care of yourself and build yourself up, what are your kids going to learn?
They learn by your actions and they will model that same behavior. They will take jobs they hate just for the money, because their family “needs to be taken care of.” They will sacrifice their mental and physical and emotional health, believing that ignoring their own needs is putting their family’s needs first. They will give up on or back-burner their own dreams.
And they will perpetuate the same cycle with their own kids…
Is that what you really want? Or do you want your family to take your example, learn from you, and do better than you did, not because you sacrificed everything of yourself for them, but because you showed them your best, most heroic self as an example of what’s possible?
Be Your Best Self FOR Your Family
Don’t use your family as an excuse to keep you from becoming your most heroic self, because you are becoming that heroic self for them.
Don’t let fear or guilt of not being involved in your kids’ lives keep you from doing the things that will allow you to be most present in them.
Be a heroic example to your kids, because they learn from your actions, not your words. They see the truth of you in ways that would probably scare you. Give them the right truths to emulate.
Earn the right to be—and take seriously the work of becoming—the hero your kids want and need you to be.
If you’d like additional resources and encouragement to help you become your most heroic self, for you and for your family, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.
[photo courtesy of Kristina Alexanderson (cc)]