A Lesson on Giving Back

By Lindsay Mensch

“‘you all have a little bit of “I want to save the world” in you, that’s why you’re here, in college. I want you to know that it’s okay if you only save one person, and it’s okay if that person is you'” –tahtahtahtia

Everyone wants to make a difference. If you look on the agenda of most Americans, being a force for change in the world is a nearly universal aspiration. We care about helping our families, our friends, the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the environment – and countless other peoples and causes. We focus on issues greater than ourselves, that impact us and others in profound, life-shaping ways. We care about making the world better through our kindness, careers, and activism; we care about leaving a mark of goodness on the planet by doing what we do best.

With all this focus on the world around us, we often neglect what’s within us.

There are enduring stories of the ambitious who neglect their families to pursue a distant, world-changing goal. There are stories of heroes who forget their roots in their desire to achieve lasting, worldly greatness. Where are the stories of people who abandon themselves for the sake of doing something good for the world?

I have one to share.

It’s always been hard for me to say “no” when people ask for my help. Whether it’s a friend that wants to talk, a student collaborator asking me to contribute more to an assignment, a manager asking me to stay late at work, or a student organization asking me to take the lead on a certain project – I almost always jump on it. Because of this, I’ve learned to live on three hours of sleep. I’ve started daydreaming about the next time I get to sleep in – which is usually about five days away. I’ve snapped at my friends for simply trying to talk to me, since all I wanted was to be alone. This behavior clearly is unhealthy, and reveals a deep unhappiness that I have been struggling to combat for some time now.

While it’s been repeated time and time again that the best way to be happy is to help others, this is solution is too simplistic. There’s a lot of fulfillment to be found in helping other people, don’t get me wrong; I am often my happiest when I am around others, pursuing goals and causes that I find deep value in. But once we set a precedent of never saying “no,” we sometimes say “yes,” to things we don’t truly care about or have time for. Sometimes, we can exhaust or overwork ourselves. We can forget that our interests, bodies, and minds matter.

While it can be hard to overcome the selfish feelings associated with taking the time for self-care, it is important to realize that our culture informs these feelings. What’s considered best by our society is not always what’s best for us. The busy, rushing, schedule-always-full mentality of many Americans is not necessarily conducive to mental health. When we stray from this societal norm, however, we end up feeling guilty for taking a break that is highly deserved.

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Let’s change the way we look at self-care. In light of the political climate in our country at the moment, there are many movements to take part in. Many of these are of personal importance, and working to solve societal problems can be satisfying and significant for personal well-being. But, as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” It’s okay to step away from the problems of the world, to retreat, to take a day to care for yourself. In order to make the world the best it can be, we have to be functioning at our best.

Let’s change the world – starting with ourselves.

 

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