There was a woman who grew the most amazing things in her garden. She tended it regularly, putting effort and energy into helping it grow. When she had it all picked she gave much of it away to others, who were grateful and would say to her “You must enjoy gardening to be able to grow so much and share it with us!”; she would respond with a confused look. Others would express deep gratitude for her kindness; she simply shrugged and turned away. As time went on people could see that this talented, kind woman did not nourish herself from the abundance she grew, but stored some for seed, giving away the rest. She did not seem interested in eating any of it and over time she grew gaunt from the lack of nourishment.
Can you see yourself in this story? Parables are simple teaching devices, meant to put into stark terms what happens to us in everyday life. It’s also a way for us to say that we would never starve ourselves and not eat what we had grown; and yet in many ways this is exactly what is happening in our lives. We are often responsible for nurturing things that grow, our families, our work, our partners; but we don’t often let ourselves enjoy the fruits of our own labour. We deny ourselves this nourishment when we brush off a compliment, keep our opinions and thoughts to our self, ensure others have what they need without taking stock (or giving ourselves) what we need. This may not happen all the time in all parts of your life, but hold here a moment and look at your days…how often do you make something you do look effortless (when a lot of care and effort go into it)? How often do you put off time for yourself to get something done for someone else?
Obviously we are not expecting a parade every time we make a difference in the lives of others (seriously, that would be one hell of a parade) but denying our worth, not owning our gifts, remaining silent when we have something to say or refusing recognition are all ways we keep ourselves from enjoying all the things we work hard for…and undermine our own potential. Where are you starving yourself in life? At work? At home? Do you place last in the pecking order of things to attend to? When we are emotionally hungry we answer in the same ways we do when we need physical sustenance; we become irritable, sensitive, reactionary, anxious or fearful. This is not a coincidence; these are the warning signs of deprivation.
Our potential is fueled when we know what we need and plan for it. From taking courses to getting to the gym, planning time to be at home with loved ones and out with friends – these things are all important. The next time someone gives you a compliment, own it. Smile and say thank-you (this may take practice). Take the credit you deserve at work. Make time for yourself at home (yes, the children can do more things around the house…how do you think our great-grandmothers did it when they had 12 of them!). Plan for what you need and hold that time, whether it is professional development, a bubble bath or a yoga class; make it sacred space for whatever nourishes you.
Be mindful of the ways you may deprive yourself of well being that is fuel for your potential.