Losing Yourself While Serving Others


“There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over — and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity of its past importance in our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on, rather than out. The trick of retiring well may be the trick of living well. It’s hard to learn that we don’t leave the best parts of ourselves behind, back in the dugout of the office. We own what we learned back there. The experiences and the growth are grafted onto our lives. And when we exit, we can take ourselves along — quite gracefully.”
Ellen Goodman, columnist

My life has included several “graceful exits”. While change is unsettling when it occurs, every transition for me has been a significant learning experience worth the initial disorientation.

Over twenty years ago my marriage of seventeen years came apart. In those days wives stayed home and everything centered on the husband’s success. My needs were put on hold to insure that his were satisfied. The very first week-end that I was alone after our separation I went to the supermarket. Standing in the aisles I realized I knew exactly what to buy for everyone else in the family but I had no idea what I liked! My life had been so directed toward others I had in fact lost my self.

Losing your “self” can happen to anyone. It happens to people who work for an employer for many years, to people struggling to make their own business successful, or to someone who is caring for a sick relative. It is so easy to put your “self” off while serving someone or something else. Not a great recipe for being happy at work or at home.

Even those whose transitions are less traumatic can find themselves imprisoned by a long list of “to do”‘s with no feeling of satisfaction when it is completed. Our world today is changing at a speed never before experienced. How do we ensure that we have the energy necessary to keep up with that pace? How can we be sure that we do not lose our “self” as we move forward?

Now I am in the midst of another transition. My responsibilities as caretaker of my 102 year old mother have increased considerably.  Learning from the past I know I must take care of myself too.  Otherwise I will become resentful.  One technique I use is to try to do something(s) for myself every day.  Whether it is reading, writing, exercising, gardening or getting a massage, I do something that pleases me! When there is time I do several of these! Not the things my friends have told me I should do but the things that I want to do because they make me feel better when I do them.  Doing at least one of these activities daily is a priority for me.

At first it seemed I was just adding one more burden to my already busy life. Now however I look forward to doing this and set aside time for at least one activity. The result is a peaceful happy feeling that gives me more energy and excitement in my approach to whatever else I do during the day.

Is it selfish for me to put myself first in this way? Sure it is. But I have learned if I do not care about myself first and foremost it is very hard to be giving to others. When I satisfy my own needs and desires then it so much easier to be generous with others. Rather than feeling deprived and resentful, I feel good about myself and the world around me. That positive attitude translates into a happier healthier person.

My daily “self-care” habit eases me forward and makes life and work happier. As I bring my “self” to this new level, I know I have the energy to eagerly face other transitions. Since transitions or exits will continue to be a part of all our lives, it is important to learn to move through them gracefully, with excitement and anticipation.


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