Me First!

Putting others' needs before your own can be hazardous to your career and your health

I allow these corporations to run my life or will I make some serious changes?” Harris asked herself after doctors attributed her high blood pressure to work-related stress.

“Many people put others’ needs first because they want to avoid conflict,” says Townes. “Others want to avoid saying no and looking like the bad person.”

African Americans are particularly vulnerable to putting others’ needs before their own, says Martin. As we climb the corporate ladder, we often believe that “we’re second class and don’t really belong there and have to work twice as hard to be there. That has us taking on extra work, doing all these extra hours, and working overtime to try to prove that we belong.”

For many professionals, living with stress and anxiety is the norm, so they pile on more demands without realizing that their stress levels are already nearing the breaking point. Before they can change, they must first remember how to relax. “Because people are so chronically stressed, it’s important that individuals realize when they’re feeling good and relaxed and notice what that feels like,” says Taylor. Once people can identify when they’re stressed, they can use activities such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to calm themselves “so that when their bodies feel tense they can get back to that relaxed state,” Taylor adds.

Others take on too many tasks because of a f
alse assumption that they have more control over their lives if they do everything themselves. Even if they acknowledge this assumption, the more difficult task is changing such beliefs, says Monica Blake, a career coach based in Pasadena, California. For example, “if you take on too many tasks as a method of maintaining control, you have to learn how to need less control over everything in your life,” says Blake.

The first step to changing a belief is acknowledging how that belief has hurt you in the past. For Milisits, that meant taking responsibility for the disqualified proposal. “Instead of me sulking and pointing the blame at others, I realized the role I played,” he says. The next step is to take a new action. Milisits says immediately following their proposal’s disqualification, the team looked into outsourcing. “I realized I couldn’t do it all myself,” he says. Asking others for help is a key way to stop overextending yourself, but in some situations, drastic change may be needed. Harris, for example, left her job for one that was more family-friendly and then ultimately opened her own marketing firm, Brand Boutique.

“If you can’t be the very best for yourself, then you don’t have much to offer anyone else,” says Blake. “So, in being the best that you can be for you, you ultimately add more value to the lives of others.”

While some stress is normal, here are signs that you may be overextending yourself:
Physical:You may experience headaches, backaches, a racing heart, shortness of breath, or sleeplessness. “If you don’t get enough sleep, everything is amplified,” says author Tyeese Gaines Reid. “You’re super stressed

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