"I drank too much coffee this morning," said Julia, a 40-year-old media executive, holding her hand over her heart.
"Why did you do that?" I asked.
"I ordered a small coffee, and they gave me a large coffee."
"Tell me more," I said.
"The barista recognized her mistake when she handed me the coffee. She said to me, 'This is a large one, but you ordered a small one, right?' I said yes, and she said, 'Are you okay with that?' And I said yes."
"But really you meant no," I said.
"In my language, yes means yes, and it can also mean no," Julia said.
"And then you drank all of the coffee," I said.
"Yes," Julia said.
Unhealthy sacrifice is inauthentic. It means you are not really being true to yourself. When you are not true to yourself, you get confused about what is real and unreal, what is important and not and what is a yes and what is a no. This lack of clarity in you creates pain and conflict in your relationships and your work. People don't know where they stand with you. You give out mixed messages. You are ambivalent. You try not to make decisions. You procrastinate. No one knows what you really feel or what you really want.
Letting Go Exercise: The desire to be more authentic, and to be more real with yourself and others, will help you to give up unhealthy sacrifice. One way to do this is to focus on the word "yes." Get out a pen and a blank piece of paper and write down on the top of the page: "My Sacred Yes." Now list everything that is a sacred yes for you, for your life, for your work and then for one important relationship (you can do it with other relationships later). The clearer you are about a sacred yes, the easier it will be to say yes when you mean yes and no when you mean no.
"Hi, Robert. Sorry, but I can't make our session this afternoon. I'm too tired to get out of bed. I'm too tired to drive anywhere. I'm too tired to do anything. I'm taking a duvet day." That is a message left by my client Tina, a 41-year-old senior personnel manager.
Exhaustion forces you to stop, and above all it wants you to stop being in unhealthy sacrifice. Unhealthy sacrifice is exhausting: you lose touch with your original energy; you override your real feelings; you don't listen to your wisdom; and you end up feeling out of sync with yourself. More symptoms of unhealthy sacrifice include scattering yourself, wasting your energy, chronic busyness, overcrowding your schedule, feeling overstretched and overcommitting yourself. The last thing you want to do is let people down, but that is exactly what eventually happens.
Letting Go Exercise: Exhaustion is a sure sign that you are in sacrifice somewhere in your life. Exhaustion is an internal memo that is asking you to stop trying to do everything, for everyone, all the time. Exhaustion is telling you that you have to sacrifice what isn't important for what is. One of my favorite mantras is: "You can always do one thing less than you think you can." Yes, you'll probably feel a bit guilty about doing less, but the guilt will wear off fast if you hold your nerve. Be wise, be courageous, remember your sacred yes" and prioritize accordingly.
Next: Do you find it easy or difficult to put yourself first?