I can’t remember which business book first told me to pay myself first. It was back in the beginning of my career when I was handling the finances with the skill of a stoned teenager with her mother’s credit card. Shortly after selling my Volkswagen van, the one that was parked on a grassy knoll with my hair salon’s name painted across the side (our official sign,) in order to pay rent, I figured that something would have to change if I wanted to stay in business.
Up until then, I thought we just needed to make more money to really get things moving. But what I needed was peace of mind and stability. And while on the surface, the entrepreneurial life doesn’t seem to award that too quickly, it’s something that we have the freedom to create and pursue.
So I started giving myself a paycheque. Up until that point I would scrape whatever was left, taking a few hundred bucks here and there to pay my bills or put a payment on my credit card that I’d used to buy shoes I didn’t need (because when you’re 20, you think that credit cards are magic money.)
Paying myself first, having a clear and specific monthly income was the beginning of feeling professionally stable. It’s a lot harder to navigate the ups and downs of running a company if those ups and downs impact your basic necessities. With this as my bottom line, knowing I’d have food in my fridge and my rent paid, it gave me a great capacity to roll with the wild times. When I’d review the expenses or look for what to cut, it wasn’t my paycheque. Paying myself first kept me rooted while I developed my resourcefulness and courage.
Being in survival mode undercuts the joy in coming up with creative solutions. We need the space to breathe and believe, to study and sit and ask and listen.
This lesson applies everywhere. If you’ve got yours, it’s easier to thrive. It’s not only the ‘pay yourself first’ policy, it’s also the ‘put your oxygen mask on first’ policy, or what I’m now changing to the ‘Make Sweet Love to Yourself First’ policy. I’m not referring to masturbation here. Although I could be. Let me ‘splain myself…
If I go too long without writing, I become up-tight and neurotic. If I go too long without meditating, the habitual flutters of my mind start to run the human and the quality of my presence diminishes. If I go too long without practicing yoga, I start to dissociate from my body and become overly identified with my mind. If I go too long without the company of trees, I ascribe meaning and significance to the superficial and lose the plot a little.
These are the primary ways I make sweet love to myself. If I’m writing, practicing and getting outside, the rest flows however it does and I have the resources to deal. But here’s the tricky part, the part that takes me out at the knees. When uncertainty arises, when change occurs, when life circumstances start to heat up, the mind says to leave these for now and attend to the urgencies before me.
Just like in the early days when money owed had one more zero than the coin coming in and it really, really felt like I should I shouldn’t pay myself, this fast-paced, distraction-rich world of ours will say there’s no time for what you love most. The voices in your head will back that up. Perhaps they’ll tell you that you don’t deserve it or you’re not good enough. They’ll tell you that you haven’t earned it yet, that you’ll be able to prioritize what nourishes you once you get through this time or that deadline. They’ll tell you that it’s frivolous or lazy or indulgent or won’t really get you to the rung of the ladder you’re supposed to care about.
Learning to love ourselves, to make it a priority, to be kind and create boundaries around ensuring that we really get what loves us up, turns us on and gets us off, on the deepest level, is a culturally underdeveloped life skill. It should have the same priority and be as automatic as brushing your teeth.
So what’s your love? Are you doing it? Are you allowing yourself what you most yearn to receive? Take the paycheque, breathe the oxygen, make sweet, sweet love to yourself. Then, and only then, can the rest of what you’re doing bring you the value you’re intending.