This is part of my series on Mental Models to Understand Yourself
The perfect man of old looked after himself first before looking to help others.
— Chuang Tzu
When it comes to meeting people’s needs, you must start with yourself. You must dedicate time every day to meet your needs. I recommend scheduling a 2-hour block of time where you can work on yourself.
For example, if you need better relationships, you must make this a priority. You may read books, talk to a therapist, and model good relationships (I did all three). You may begin to take what you’ve learned and watch TV shows and movies with a critical eye. They are replete with examples of good and bad behaviors.
Or maybe you need a new career, better health, or financial stability. Or your needs may be wildly different.
Whatever your needs are, you have to figure out how to meet them. Everyone else is preoccupied with meeting their own needs. They have no time to make your needs their priority.
Now, when I talk to people about this, they often have objections.
But Stewie, this is selfish!
Yes. It is selfish. Saying, Yes, to yourself, means saying, No, to others. And that’s ok. You are important. You matter. And you deserve some focus and attention on improving your life.
Furthermore, meeting your needs will benefit the people closest to you, e.g., improved relationships, financial stability, or meeting existential needs.
Don’t use the but-this-is-selfish bit of reasoning as an excuse not to meet your own needs.
But Stewie, I don’t have any time to focus on my needs!
Our lives are busy, overflowing with work obligations, to-do lists, family commitments, and unfinished projects at home. The last thing you want is to be held responsible for one more thing.
So what can you do?
The obvious solution is to slash time spent on television, social media, and video games. After that, start saying, No, to other people, and get up earlier in the day.
But let’s go deeper: Is it possible that you fill every waking moment with activities and obligations as a way to avoid meeting your own needs? Perhaps you question your own value and if you really matter. Maybe the thought of doing something solely for yourself floods you with guilt and shame.
Or maybe some part of you knows how hard it is to meet your needs and fix your life. And that part of you fills your time with other stuff — anything it can find — so there’s no time for the taxing work of identifying your own needs and meeting them.
But Stewie, there are things I materially cannot do for myself!
Yes, you may be dependent on others physically or emotionally. But there are two things you can do that significantly improve your chances of getting your needs met:
- Speak up for what you need. Many people will help if you ask.
- Build your tribe. Improve relationships with the people around you. Treat them with respect. See the good in them. Look for ways to assist them. And they will move heaven and earth to help you.
Both of these are difficult. Number 1 requires patience and persistence. And Number 2 requires you to get out your own head and walk a mile in others’ shoes. And they both call for courage.
But Stewie, I have legitimate reasons for not being able to meet my needs!
I understand, I really do.
You may have some limitations that make it harder for you to get your needs met (I certainly do). You may suffer from fatigue, stress, or poor health.
You may be disabled. Suffer from the effects of poverty or abuse. Or be a victim of structural racism and bigotry. These are all very real hardships!
You may have grown up in a family that punished you for trying to meet your needs. Your brain may have marinated in television programming that taught you negative ways to connect with people.
In no way do I want to discount or diminish the struggles you face.
But the harsh reality is that no one is going to save you. The universe is indifferent to your existence, and no one else is going to meet your needs. Every other human feels overwhelmed with their obligations and responsibilities.
Only you can meet your needs.