Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm, my friends. Moderation is the key to making it through any situation and you have it in you.
Don’t Set Yourself On Fire To Keep Others Warm
I am irritable these days. It has been a full year of dealing with Covid and I feel like I’ve reached the end of my tank. No matter how much I try to keep myself in good spirits, this feeling seems to be there, bubbling underneath. I know I’m not alone in this, so I’m sharing with you to let you know that you aren’t either.
There is hope on the horizon though and hopefully we only need to wait a little bit longer before we see the path realized fully in front of us. But for now, we are all doing our best to wait patiently. I know it. I see it.
That said, there will always be times where you spend too much of your energy and can’t fully recover when you need. When your empty cup is full of the needs of others and there is no way to fill it or truly focus on your own needs. Those moments won’t end in 2021 – they are something we will all encounter throughout the rest of our lives.
It is in these moments that I try to remind myself – and now you – don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm. You have to have enough flame within yourself to keep on going. And when you have nothing left to give and the fire extinguisher is getting heavy, you have to go back to the basics.
Driving On Empty
When I was in high-school, I used to borrow my dad’s car. It was big and could fit many of my friends inside (one of them liked to ride in the trunk, but that is a different story that my father is just learning about as he reads this. Sorry dad!), but I was 16 and more aware of myself than anyone else. I have always been a caretaker and a people pleaser, but I was 16, so let’s be honest. It was probably mostly about me.
I thought this car was cool because the display was digital. This was a newer thing in the early ’90s and I thought it was awesome. I would go out with my friends and return the car unharmed, but my friends and I didn’t have a lot of money. And almost every time I brought the car back to him, that digital gas display that originally said “6” and showed how many gallons were left? It would say “Lo.” I quickly learned that when it said “Lo,” it meant that there were less than 2 gallons left in the tank. You never knew how many exactly, but it was time to fill up the car.
I brought the car back that way at least five times before my dad said, this can’t be the thing. If you take the car out, you have to bring it back with more gallons than that. If I don’t know how many gallons are left in the tank, I can’t be sure I’ll be able to drive it to get to the gas station.
He was very generous to let me get away with this five times before saying something. And looking back on those moments now, I can’t stop thinking about that “Lo” display. That is exactly how I feel. Some days there is a little more gas in there (I hope), but most days I really don’t know how much – I only know that it is “Lo.”
Put Your Oxygen Mask On First
So many of us try to be so many things for so many people. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend, and many, many more descriptors. I am a very lucky woman to have so many people that I love and who love me. But these relationships also come with responsibilities.
We have a responsibility to make sure that those we love are safe, healthy, and fed. And when we love people, we want to do those things. We want to check in on them and give of ourselves to make them a little more comfortable. But it is incredibly important to remember that you can’t spend everything you have in one instance or on one person. Not if you hope to continue to take care of anyone or anything else.
If you have nothing left to give, call yourself out on it. You are the only one who can decide what your boundaries have to look like, so you need to be the one to police yourself.
Your energy is finite. Your patience is finite. I promise you, your idols and mentors also run out of energy, just as anyone else does. But they have learned clear boundaries and you have to too.
It is okay to take care of others in small ways when you have very little to give. Decide what your “go zones” are. Can’t see people or Zoom? Send a text or like a social media post. Decide what your safe space looks like and be your own friend. In the long run, your own happiness is the only thing that you can control.
And let me be clear – if there was a lion charging at my children, I would set myself on fire to keep them safe. That is an instance worth sacrificing my whole self for. But until there is that kind of emergency, and while we continue to find ourselves at “Lo,” we all have to find some moderation. Good luck, my friends.