There are a few professions in which self-sacrifice is expected. Servant roles such as law enforcement, firefighting, and the military are some, and when one joins these professions they expect and even embrace a certain amount of sacrifice. There are few other reasons to ever sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others.
When I was a child I learned sacrifice and saw it everywhere. My parents demonstrated and preached it constantly, and I was also taught that it was the only way to be a “good person” through religion and religious education. It was taught in a very forceful way that appreciating yourself, accepting yourself, and desiring things for yourself was selfish. Because what we’re taught during our childhood creates our beliefs, I lived these beliefs daily, and they created a lot of pain in my life.
I carried these beliefs into my own family and wanted to be the example of self-sacrifice to my kids. I was going to teach them what I had learned; when you sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others you become a “good person.” Self-sacrifice eventually led to so much pain that I couldn’t handle the heavy burden of it any longer. Even though I hated my roles in corporate America I continued to wake up when I didn’t want to wake up, to go where I didn’t want to go to do what I didn’t want to do, for someone I didn’t want to work for. I also neglected my physical health because it would take time away from my family, and I ran myself ragged staying out late with my wife Angie when I had to wake up early the next day—because self-sacrifice was the right thing to do.
Who was I to want anything better for myself? Who was I to take control of my own life and potentially do what I wanted to do? How could I possibly take a step back and put my family’s above-average quality of life in jeopardy?
Looking from my current vantage point, who am I to not own my life and circumstances?
When the wheels finally fell off of my life because of my health, alcoholism, and how I performed in my family and my career, I was forced to reboot everything. I questioned everything I knew about life, and I began looking to understand how to live life at a fuller, more enriched state. Since I was suicidal, I had to realize that what I had done for 43 years didn’t work—so I needed to scrap the entire way I had lived and start over.
I had created a precedent in my family that I would drop everything in my own life for the benefit of everyone else. They struggled with the transition, but if I wanted to live I needed to create healthy patterns in my life. I created healthy habits in my life, and I would not allow anyone—even my wife and kids—to deter me from the critical physical, mental, and emotional healing activities that would improve my life. I was challenged by my kids that I was changing too fast. I was challenged by my wife that I was selfish and took time from the family. Regardless, I would not give in. They loved me and wanted the best for me, they just struggled with change in general. Change is not easy for those around us when everyone’s comfortable. I never forced anything on them. I just chose better for myself.
It took months, but as time went on instead of trying to get me to stop, they began cheering me on. All of them—the same resistance turned to praise and excitement. That excitement encouraged me even more. Then the magic really happened; as well as cheering on my workouts and healthier eating habits, they began to choose better for themselves too. My wife began working out and taking back control of her physical health, and when my children saw both of us practicing better choices, they began to do so as well. My younger child had struggled with her weight her whole life, and suddenly she began to slim down by implementing better choices.
Along with taking care of my health and habits, since I was unemployed I decided to never go to work for someone ever again. I also chose to never do anything I don’t want to do for the benefit of those around me. I began a coaching business because the only thing I ever loved doing was helping others develop in their lives and careers. When I made the choice to stop pursuing jobs like the ones I had lost, it also met with resistance. But I had learned how to choose for myself. I also learned that when I choose myself, everyone else benefits.
I have always heard that when one person gets better everyone gets better. I didn’t necessarily believe it until I saw it with my own two eyes. As I continued to make choices which benefitted me at no one else’s expense, my health continued to improve, my business continued to build, and in the first full year in business I exceeded any executive pay I ever received in corporate positions. As I thrived, so did everyone else in my life.
I have coached hundreds of people, and I have never seen anyone else suffer because someone puts themselves first. The next person will be the first. There is a saying that when someone creates boundaries and takes control of their life, the only people who will object are the people who benefitted from the lack of boundaries. But people who challenge your boundaries feel guilty for setting their own boundaries and taking care of themselves. When you stop self-sacrifice and put yourself first, they might fight you, but ultimately you will be the guide and teacher they need. They are starving to put themselves first without feeling guilty or shameful. When you teach them that it’s ok, it will help them grow and live life on their terms.
We’re all here to live life on our own terms. Sometimes we’re taught that it’s selfish to put ourselves first, and we sacrifice ourselves. Other times we do this because we don’t feel worthy and feel that sacrifice is the only way to become worthy. This is an outdated, painful belief and way to live.
Self-sacrifice creates pain. The myth is that self-sacrifice is enviable. It’s not. We can all thrive, and no one needs to suffer. Take control. Be the example for everyone else. They don’t need your sacrifice—they need your leadership.