Pay Yourself First, Part 1
Many years ago, just after my first book was published, I was reading the blog of another author in the wellness space. This person also had written a book, and was sharing how the process of writing and publishing had dug them into a major hole. They were sick, exhausted, and navigating serious health challenges as a result of the project.
Making yourself supremely unhealthy to help others get healthy is kind of missing the mark, but I understood exactly how that could happen. I understood because it happened to me, too… and I had to learn the hard way.
In 2010, when I quit my job and took Whole30 full-time, I picked up a shovel and started digging myself a hole. I worked day and night, because Hustle Culture told me I should be working harder today than I did yesterday. (Like, every day until you die? Admittedly, I didn’t stop to think about how this worked in practice.) I responded to every email or message ping as soon as it came in—even late at night—because Hustle Culture says entrepreneurs are successful because they work while other people sleep. I took that one to heart. I woke up and checked email right away, because Hustle Culture insisted other people would steal my opportunities if I slacked even a little.
I worked and worked and worked, and my business was incredibly successful. But as a human, I was exhausted, short-tempered, anxious as all get-out, and generally an unpleasant person to be around. Nothing was good enough, nothing happened fast enough, I never had enough. Enough time, enough money, enough praise, enough ideas.
I was a very tired hamster on a turbo-charged wheel, and I had no idea I even needed to get off.
Finally, my business partner staged an intervention. “You are working so hard now so you can have a good life at some point down the line. What if you had a good life while you worked NOW?” My business partner and I agreed on very little, but I’ll give him credit for this one. It prompted a mindset shift that changed EVERYTHING.
I gave up caffeine for good. I turned off email and message notifications. I stopped working first thing in the morning, committing to getting my workout and breakfast in before I began my workday. I began disconnecting from work completely every Tuesday. (To be fair, we were traveling almost every weekend for workshops, so it was really just reclaiming a day off. Still, I kept that up for a few years.) I closed my computer at a reasonable time of night, and began answering messages on my timeline. I stopped answering emails on the weekends.
In essence, I began paying myself first. And everything got better… including my business.
My stress levels plummeted. I began sleeping better. (Which means, I began actually sleeping.) My anxiety, which I thought was just a baked-in part of my personality, slowly trickled out of me. I was happier. I was more social. I was calmer. I was more optimistic.
I was working less, and accomplishing more. I was more selective about opportunities, choosing the ones I was excited about and saying no to what didn’t serve me or the community. I discovered no one ever actually expected me to respond to their email at 11 PM, and any backlash I imagined would happen when I implemented boundaries just… didn’t happen. Not only was I just as effective at my job—I was MORE effective, and I was reaping the business benefits while enjoying my life again.
My cup was starting to refill, which I discovered actually left me more to pour into others. I was paying myself first, and guess what? IT WASN’T SELFISH AT ALL. It was in the service of my business, my community, and my family. It was for me, sure, but also for them. I paid myself first so that I could feel abundant, recharged, and excited give to those I cared about. And the more abundant, recharged, and excited I felt, the more I wanted to give.
Over the next ten years, I kept aggressively paying myself first through all of life’s major hurdles. My first book (and second, and third, and eighth). The birth of my child. My divorce and business split. My concussion. In fact, the more stressful the time period, the more I conscientiously and deliberately carved out time, space, and nourishment for me. And even as I did so, my business continued to grow, my health and happiness continued to flourish, and I expanded my capacity to give, give, GIVE.
If there is one thing I want you to take away from this love letter, it’s this… paying yourself first is a radical act of generosity. It says you love the people and things that are important to you enough to take good care of yourself, for them. It demonstrates to your partner, children, and community that you are committed to taking responsibility for your own health and happiness. And most important, it gives others permission to do the same.
It’s essential to note that I keep my cup full not by taking month-long vacations, getting daily massages, or working four hour days. Hey, that would be sweet, but that’s not particularly realistic for a single mom running a business (or anyone who isn’t a Kardashian). No, the reason this has worked so well for me is that I’ve found a dozen small but meaningful actions throughout my day that effectively fill my own cup. Trust me, when you find the right things, no matter how small, they are more than enough.
Next week in part 2, I’ll share some of the small but meaningful ways I’ve found to pay myself first, and give you some prompts to help you discover how small changes in your own life can start rapidly refilling your personal bank account. For now, though, just sit in that third-to-last paragraph for a while. Paying yourself first isn’t selfish, it’s generous. You have to be able to see that first.
Are you starting to see it?