I was eavesdropping on a conversation recently, and one of the two ladies was talking about a new set of bedsheets she’d bought herself. ‘At least I buy something that is just for me. Something I don’t have to share with anyone’. From their conversation, I gathered that the speaker shared a house with family, and was probably one of the key breadwinners. She looked young, and not badly off financially, considering where they were shopping. So I wondered, why is she never getting anything for herself, really?
Let me tell you a story. I have lived a big part of my life feeling indebted to people. And this is only fair, considering I have been under the care of the larger family since my parents rested. I have had an okay life, I would say. So naturally, the moment I got my first job, and my second, and third, my focus was giving back to everyone, but me. I thought this was the right thing to do. Adding to the fact that I am naturally a giver, it felt right that the moment I make any money, I should immediately think of what I can do for another.
This felt right for years, until it didn’t. I started hating the constant demands and unending requests and messages and I was getting tired and I was shutting down and I was just- DONE. My breakdown was largely triggered by the fact that I had not been having the best of luck with work, something that no one seemed to understand. Sometimes it would get so bad that I could barely feed myself. I wanted to continue giving, but I was not able to. I needed a helping hand myself! Explaining this over and over to people I truly cared for was exhausting. It was maddening. I hated it. So I shut down and shut everyone out (still haven’t revived most of those relationships as at the time of writing this article).
I am not completely out of the turbulence, seeing as I am yet to get a solid job where I do the work and get paid ON TIME, or ever, as agreed. Good jobs exist and I will get one.
When I started getting stable-ish, the old me would have gone back to being the go-to person for everyone’s problems. Something inside me wanted me to, but every other spirit stopped me. I looked at my life, and asked myself a question I think the lady in the conversation was asking herself, ‘what have I done that is just for me?’. What is it that I can look at, be it a commodity or an investment, anything, that I can say I have done for my own good? Nothing.
Not something as basic as a nice dress, or a fresh pair of bedsheets. Not a getaway to even just here Nakuru, not a nice bottle of perfume. Not even a new hairdo to celebrate myself. Nothing, really. And my excuse was always that I don’t really have the money. Aaaah, yet I have money to be dishing out to others? HA. Funny.
I am only beginning to learn and embrace the art of loving myself. Seeing myself, knowing myself, and acknowledging that I too, in the grand scheme of things, matter. In fact, I should matter to myself more than anyone else matters to me. You know, I have never bought myself a new book, fresh from the bookshop, but I did very easily for someone else. I haven’t bought myself a bottle of wine in the longest of time, but I would not hesitate to get one for a friend on their birthday. I haven’t taken myself out for a nice brunch, just to spend time with me and sit in silence and breathe out, yet if a friend called and asked if we can hang out I would be willing to spend the money. Who am I to me? Am I not as important? Do I not matter to myself?
I call giving to yourself an art, because it is something you learn to do, and master over time. I think because of all the communism practiced in African homes, and how us girls are raised as givers, -never takers, we grow up to always put others above ourselves. We think we should come second. We grow up into our mothers, really. Black tax is also on our backs, yet we are the generation with the highest unemployment rates, and very susceptible to depression. We are exhausted, but no one is giving us a break. No one cares to give us time to just figure this life thing out.
The art of giving to yourself is not really about shutting everyone out, but finding a balance that ensure your cup stays full. You cannot pour from an empty cup. You keep giving and giving to everyone but you, because you say you love them. Watch as that love turns into resentment. Watch as you and I become that lady who says, ‘At least I buy something that is just for me. Something I don’t have to share with anyone’.
Look, you got them something last Christmas. You did well. Can they all just be grateful and shut up.
Give to yourself today.