Years ago, in the middle of an expat crisis (having gone in a short time from classic expat to embedded-foreign wife), I hired a coach. I had never been a fan of the coaching concept but, after all, I didn’t have enough time, will or money for therapy nor did I have enough friends determined to listen to my monologues for an entire hour a week AND give me valuable advices at the same time. So I hired. A coach.
We would talk on Skype in the early afternoon, while she was having breakfast in her Washington flat and I was already at my 5th coffee in my Brussels bureau. It lasted a few months before I realized I had started to regularly postpone sessions, making up excuses not to talk to her and cutting short our weekly 60 minutes. I don’t remember the details but at some point I figured out she kept dishing out nice-sounding phrases like those I receive on my Facebook newsfeed from Arianna Huffington. Stuff like “Live, Love, Laugh” or “Resentment is your first enemy in life”. First I stopped taking notes and then I stopped talking to her altogether.
There’s one thing I still remember, though. She talked me about famous people who had to disappoint their circle of friends and family in order to become who they were and to leave their mark. She cited Gandhi and, while reading his biography, I felt confused to learn that he practically obliged his wife and children to live in extreme poverty in order to conform to his own ideals.
What about selflessness?, I thought. Didn’t everybody tell me all the time that one should put others first, doing everything to procure happiness at every cost, even one’s own sorrow?
I have practiced selflessness as a mantra since I can remember. I was born with broad shoulders and a sense of humour, plus the intimate belief that anything in the world will look brighter after a brisk walk and a favourite drink. I am lucky for this. So lucky I always thought it was my mission to alleviate other people’s burdens. Boyfriend break-up? I am there. Monstrous boss? Come to see me tonight. Baby blues? There in 10 minutes with ice-cream. A row with your husband? You can stay the night, I’ll make you breakfast tomorrow.
In my twisted logic, other people’s issues and circumstances are definitely, always, more important than my everyday routine. At the age of 35, I start to ask myself when I will be able to put limits to this.
I was looking at my agenda the other day and I was scared. Beside my mother-and-wife usual duties my days are punctuated by meetings with people I don’t even like that much (let’s say, I like 50% of them), to talk and go over issues that don’t even have the slightest impact on my own life.
I can’t resist the opportunity to give out a hand, some of my time and a listening ear to people in distress. Unfortunately – and quite predictably – it seems to work only one way.
How one becomes selfish? Is there a way to learn to do that? Or to say NO? A clear, loud and unmistakable NO?
I am taking lessons here. Teach me how to get rid of selflessness and regain control of my time without the guilt. Please.