Filled to Fill

I need to be

A career woman who excels in her job.
An excellent mum to her kids.
A filial daughter to her parents.
A good wife to her husband.
Able to keep fit and maintain her looks.
Smart and independent.
The main caregiver and emotional support for family and friends.

Expected to give

The ability to juggle between work, life, and family is often seen as a trait of independent, empowered, and strong women. What’s more, women are also expected to have the emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy to care for the people around them. 

Being the giver, I am always the first to rush and attend to any work/life emergencies. Even when I am sick, I need to make sure that everyone else is well taken care of.

These thoughts constantly linger in mind:

What if something bad happens if I don't respond in time? Why did she not respond promptly, is she sick?"

Putting myself before others

When I was younger and more naive, I held the belief that during turbulence on an airplane, the right thing to do would be to put the oxygen mask on others before myself. I remember being corrected during a safety briefing when the airline informed us that we were to put on our own oxygen masks before taking care of others. The rationale behind this is that if we don’t have a mask on ourselves, we would likely black out due to low cabin pressure and lose the ability to help others. 

This made me question the sustainability of my “giving” efforts. 

Like everyone, I only have 24 hours in a day. There is only so much I can do for everyone. 

How could I fill other's cups when I was half-filled (or almost empty) myself?

With that in mind, I decided that I needed to start prioritising and focusing more on myself and my own self-care.

Some ways I am slowly learning to practice this art of self-care are: 

#1: Learning to say 'No'

If you’re like me and saying “no” outright is a challenge, I suggest saying “no” by holding off your response instead. Eventually, the other party will try to sort out the issue themselves, especially if it’s super important or urgent.

#2: Finding what makes me genuinely happy

It could be as short as a one-hour massage session, reading a book, or painting. As long as I make sure I’m distraction-free and present with the activity at hand. I definitely miss travelling (especially during this pandemic) as it would have given me the opportunity to get off the grid for 2 weeks.

#3: Being able to empower the people around me

I’ve learnt that the more you can teach the people around you to help themselves, the more time you will have for yourself. It does not mean that you aren’t important to them anymore, it just means that you are giving them an opportunity to try on their own. 

Keep working on yourself

All that said, I’m still a work-in-progress in learning to prioritise me. I am often still tempted to check on my mobile devices to make sure everyone else is doing well.

But note to self: You can only fill others cups when your own cup is filled.

Picture of Lim Shan Shan

Lim Shan Shan

Shan Shan is a strong advocate for mental well-being at the workplace, and trying to normalise therapy and women empowerment. She has recently completed her Certificate in Basics of Practical Counselling. The views and opinions expressed are solely based on her personal experiences and do not represent the views of her current/previous company.

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