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The Drowning Lifeguard

I know I can't afford it, but he's really hungry again. At this point, it's not even worth mentioning the job he was supposed to be getting. It will only cause us to argue and leave me feeling like perhaps I'm being a little too hard on him. Besides, there needs to be at least one person in his life who won't abandon him like everyone else. I didn't realize it at first, but I had begun fighting to prove to him what unconditional love felt like. I was determined. Even if it meant I had to go without a few things every now and then, I wanted him to know that someone was willing to put him before themselves.  My behavior, however, was not unique to him. I thought like this about everyone. I help people. I heal people.  I save people. It's a beautiful gift to be able to make peoples' burdens lighter. So I break and I bend for people who never even notice, or notice just in time to take advantage. Still, I lean on my crutch that taught me to put others before myself, even at the expense of my own wellbeing. Where they are weak, I must be strong, and where they lack, I must provide. I'll do it, as long as it means I can go on neglecting the work I'm supposed to be doing on myself. After all, I simply don't have the mental capacity, or time, to take care of myself because...well... They need me. Unfortunately, I neglected to consider that the more of other people's luggage I choose to carry, the longer and more difficult my own journey will be.


One of the best feelings in the world is the satisfaction that comes from helping someone. Whether it's your neighbor, your child, or an old lady trying to cross the street, instances where you are able to assist someone can be impactful far beyond the surface. These instances provide space to experience the beauty of human connection, and vulnerability. By being willing to meet someone where they're at, it exercises one's ability to be patient. By being willing to ask for help when necessary, it exercises one's ability to be humble. However, like everything else in life, "helping" must be done in moderation, and in a way that is not detrimental to a person's own wellbeing.


Although this idea may seem quite obvious, many people simply are unable to find the appropriate balance between self-care and self-sacrifice. In fact, for some, being the person that everyone goes to for help and support is the one thing that affords them the validation they seek. With that being the silver lining, there are few positive outcomes for the individual who chooses to pour into the world without ever refilling their own cup. As a woman of color, I grew up watching the women around me rise to the occasion and handle things. Regardless of their needs, personal goals, or ambitions, they handled every obstacle that was thrown their way. Not only did they take care of things for themselves, but these strong women helped everyone around them handle their afflictions as well. All the while praying and believing that one day they would be rewarded for their efforts.

Photographer: Karen Alfaro

From a Christian perspective, I understand that this doctrine stems from the idea that people should strive to be like Christ. Since Jesus is portrayed as providing the ultimate sacrifice, followers of his should also strive to be selfless. As beautiful and romantic as this idea is in theory, in practice, it can actually be extremely harmful if gone unchecked. There is an important distinction between helping someone because you're able to, and helping someone because you feel morally obligated to, and will feel extremely guilty if you do not. The issue is in the latter. The subconscious avoidance of guilt can cause people to overextend themselves in ways contrary to their own best interests. Furthermore, by the time most people realize they have given too much of themselves, and have nothing left to offer at the moment, the time for them to pursue their own dreams and interests has passed them by. Although it is never too late to actualize your dreams, in most cases it's only a matter of time before someone else, that you simply must save, takes you off course again. Often times the hardest battles are within. Therefore, we look to the outside world for distractions, and to deflect the spotlight away from our own challenges.


In this case, the focus must be placed on creating balance in one's life on all fronts. Keep in mind that having a "well-balanced life" will look different for everyone. Nevertheless, a good place to start is by being intentional about which situations you intervene in, and understanding that not every battle is yours to fight. Sometimes balance can mean simply sharing resources with someone, rather than trying to provide what they need on your own. In addition, balance can also look like pouring into others, as you simultaneously pour into yourself. However, the minute that delicate equilibrium is disturbed, the risk that someone will either overburden themselves or act out of selfishness, becomes far greater. Lastly, balance can also be achieved by setting and enforcing clear boundaries with the people in your life. Be aware though, you may encounter some pushback when you begin prioritizing yourself. This is not something to be taken lightly. Pay close attention to the people that become cold when they lose access to you in some way. In most cases, those people were hoping to continue benefiting off of your desire to help, with no intention of offering anything in return.


With this in mind, please take one thing to heart. YOU ARE ENOUGH! You do not need to go around extending yourself to every person or solving every problem. You don't need to go around fighting everyone's battles just to prove that you are a warrior. You are worthy of love and acceptance. So today I challenge you to be more mindful and intentional about who you're giving your effort and energy to in the name of "helping". Take a moment to consider the ways in which you are working to fill your own cup on a regular basis. If after your evaluation you find that you are giving more of yourself than you can afford to, know that no regret is greater than the life you could have lived... If you had only put on your own life vest before trying to save someone else.


All Power And Love To The People,

Shani

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