Putting Your Own Needs First

by Anja Uitdehaag

“Women lose sight of their goals by taking on extra responsibilities. We are virtual responsibility magnets. We don’t make these decisions consciously or deliberately but out of fear that if we don’t act on a need it will never get resolved. But we fail to realize that once we become responsible for something we might be responsible for it forever.” – Pat Heim; Hardball for Women

According to Pablo Picasso “There are only two types of women – goddesses and doormats”.

Let’s have a closer look at the differences:


  • Do whatever is asked of them
  • Tolerate mental and physical abuse
  • Believe it is their responsibility to care for others
  • Are disrespected
  • Never ask for anything for themselves
  • Can’t say no
  • Give others permission to walk on them


  • Get others to do what they ask
  • Banish abusers from their presence
  • Believe it is the responsibility of others to care for them
  • Are worshipped
  • Feel entitled to get what they want
  • Won’t take no for an answer
  • Walk away from people who walk on them

(Source: Lois P. Frankel; “Nice girls don’t get the corner office”)

In her book “Lean In”, Sheryl Sandberg talks about “office housework” – administrative tasks that help but don’t pay off.

Whether at home or at work, women are often the glue that keeps things together.

As such, they are expected to take care of such tasks, bringing in the cakes for a birthday, making coffee, training and mentoring junior staff or taking notes during a meeting.

In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, people expect help from women but not from men, so when women do favors at work, they earn no points for doing so—but when they say no, they are penalized. Men, on the other hand, gain points for saying yes and face minimal consequences for saying no.

A common pitfall for many women, though, is that they want to help anyone at any time. They enjoy providing the (emotional) support work. It makes them feel liked and valuable. Maybe they even believe that a strong “can-do” spirit will be noticed and appreciated. They don’t see that they put everybody’s needs above their own.

In fact, they believe that honoring their needs and desires first will make them selfish and unlikeable.

However, those additional tasks steal valuable time away from your core responsibilities and won’t get you where you want to be in the long term. You only have limited time, and it is better spent focusing on your real work!

There is a difference between hard work and smart work that gets you noticed. And of course you want to be known for whatever your job demands. Not as the office mom.

Part of being successful is learning to speak up for yourself and ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you don’t usually get.

It is not selfish to have your needs met even though it might inconvenience others. It does not make you unlikeable.

Make sure you manage expectations by clearly stating what you are willing to do and what not. Instead of simply saying “no”, provide, where possible, alternatives. By standing up for yourself, you will show others that you value yourself and your time.

If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will. Honour yourself!


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