• Xin Marshall

Pouring from an empty cup

There’s a saying that’s been on my mind lately: “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”

We often talk about self-care, but it can be difficult in a world that values hard work and productivity. While it’s true that sometimes pushing ourselves can be a good for us, most of the time we tend to lean the other way. How often do our friends cheer for us when we cancel our catch ups with them to stay home and sleep instead? How often do you hear about people excitedly sharing how they said no to an interesting (but exhausting) opportunity?

As a culture, we tend to celebrate the idea of “soldiering on”, pushing through whatever challenges face us. And so often this means expending more energy than what we take in. It’s simple mathematics: if energy out is greater than energy in, there’s going to be a problem somewhere down the line.

And that’s the thing: we tend to think “Well I’m coping right now, I can just get through the day and deal with it later.” But so often we put it off again, and again, and again, until one day we reach for our cup and find that it is completely and totally empty. We ask ourselves how it got this bad, and we wonder why we didn’t do anything about it sooner.

And the answer is that it happened by degrees. Burnout doesn’t happen over night: it’s a sliding scale that gets worse the more we continue to neglect ourselves. A small energy deficit here or there can eventually snowball into a crisis if we don’t nip it in the bud.

It’s a tricky paradox, but the busier you are, the more important it is to take time out for yourself. When your schedule is packed, you probably won’t “find” time to look after yourself; more often you’ll have to value yourself enough to “make” time for it.

And this isn’t something that can afford to wait: if you keep putting others first, you’ll soon find that you don’t have anything left to give them. Sometimes looking after yourself is the best gift you can give to others, because sharing from the overflowing bounty of your cup is way than sharing the dregs.

What things can you step back from in your life at the moment so that you can fill up your cup today?

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