As my boyfriend and I were playing tennis, an older gentleman no taller than me (a pleasant 5’2”) approached the gate of the court, offering to give us a few tips and tricks for seamless swings with a relaxed, Jamaican tone. Before we could graciously accept, he was through the gate and had my racket in his hand. We intently listened to his pointers and watched his demonstrations—I particularly enjoyed that he did not believe the continental grip made a world of a difference—and then I offered the gentleman my business card. I urged him to reach out should he ever want to meet-up to volley for a few rounds or set up a doubles match.
Much like a player will shift their spot on the court to receive a serve, so we shifted our perspective as the conversation transferred to a more philosophical undertone. With a steady wisdom in his stance and voice, he replied, “I will most likely not call you, yet I am here most of the time. If I see you again, we will play.” He explained that he did not spend much time on his phone—especially since he retired from his job in New York. He was here, closer to family, to enjoy his time.
“Let me share something with you,” he smiled, “I treat you just like I would treat him [gesturing toward my boyfriend with an open palm]. I treat him with the same respect I give my wife. I treat my wife with the same respect I give to you. I do not treat one person with more respect than another. I do not have a best friend – I do not believe in that. You should always treat everyone the same, but also remember that those people are not the people who can be your source of happiness. In this world, one of the most important things you can do is to invest in yourself. Only you are in control of your happiness. You cannot give your focus to others if you have not focused first on yourself.”
My eyes and my cheeks were sharing a smile as I glanced at my boyfriend who wore the same expression on his face. He continued, “When you have a family, you cannot focus on your children before you. There is a reason that first responders give oxygen to parents before the children. It is because the parents cannot help the children if they, as parents, are not okay.” He continued, stating that health and well-being is the most precious gift you have as a person—“we only get one body.” Too many people spend their time focusing on accumulating worldly possessions when those possessions are not what will keep us healthy or happy in this life.
He shared an example, “There is a man who lives near me. Every single day, he is outside washing and waxing his car. The man himself is overweight. That car is not going to save his life someday. Only he has the power to do that. But he chooses to invest his time, every day, in that car instead of himself. A car is something that simply gets you from point A to point B. Once you get to your destination, the car does not follow you.”
He continued a little while longer and left his mark on us before leaving the court.
In a day and age where society is expected to be consistently connected with each other, one of the hardest things to do is build time into the day in order to invest in the most important thing: ourselves. Too often, I notice acquaintances, family, and friends adjust their plans in order to please others—even if that adjustment does not fully accommodate their own needs.
My mission for you today, and every day thereafter, is this: clear your mind of hesitations. Consider yourself first – what do you need to be your best self for you, and then for others today? Have you wanted to indulge in a pizza? Go for it. Have you wanted to try yoga? Sign up for a class this minute. Have you been putting off a book or your education? Set a time during the day to read 20 pages, or set-up a phone call with your local university. Do you feel like you are always focused on everyone else but yourself? Wake up earlier, stay up later, or talk to your loved ones about this struggle. No matter if you are an acquaintance, stranger, friend or family, we all need to support each other in the adventure to support ourselves.
“Self-care is not selfish. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brown