Merriam-Webster defines jerk as “a stupid person or a person who is not well-liked or who treats other people badly.”
But, today, I offer you a new definition of jerk: putting yourself first, regardless of what it may look like to others.
A woman putting her needs first gives society a reason to call her out of her name. But I believe it is not acceptable that a woman will sit quietly in the boardroom when it is time to negotiate her salary because she is afraid of being “too aggressive” and asking for what she is worth. If fact, it is actually sickening.
Putting my needs first and enforcing boundaries is something that I not only struggle with in the workplace, but in my personal life as well. I love my friends and family dearly and because of my strong affection, I often overstretch myself to make them happy. In the past, this is a quality that I’ve always cherished about myself. My ability to come through for them when they are in need is what has given me the title, “good friend.” It’s the reason why people invite me to come to their birthday party out-of-state, be apart of their wedding party, or host an extravagant baby shower for them. The Yaa Yaa my friends have come to love is nice — to a fault.
Interestingly enough, I hadn’t realized that my kindness was a weakness until last year when I agreed to do something that was clearly out of my league. Fulfilling this particular commitment caused a substantial strain on my finances, personal relationships, health, and overall well-being. Do you know that the person I was making such a huge sacrifice for actually asked me for MORE than I was already giving? I was angry, hurt, sad, and confused. How did I get myself entangled in such a situation?
“You should have been a jerk and said no,” my boyfriend to me said on many occasions.
“But he’s my favorite cousin,” I’d tell him, “I have to do this.”
What I know now and didn’t know back then is that I don’t have to do anything. Like Morgan Freeman said, in the movie, Lean On Me, “The only thing I have to do is stay Black and die!” Of course, his statement was a made for comedic purposes, but there is truth in that statement.
We don’t owe anyone anything. People make decisions all the time and expect others to drop what they’re doing and put them first. How is that our fault? We all have bills to pay, children to raise, a job to thrive at, and a health to maintain. What I know now is that, I have to put myself first.
The financial sacrifice that I made occurred one year ago, but do you know that I am still paying for it? The most ironic thing about this whole situation is that my cousin is living the life he always dreamt of. I would never ask him for money, but if I did, he would not hesitate to let me know how much of an inconvenience it is for him to give me money. Do you know that he would forget all the sacrifices I made so that he could do what he wanted?
Our relationship hasn’t been the same since the situation occurred, but I often wonder what would have happened if I had just told him, “no.” Perhaps he would have been angry, but one thing is for sure, I would not be still paying for the debt I incurred trying to make him happy. I would not have used up all my vacation days I had for the year trying to attend his event. I would not have been under so much emotional stress trying to execute something that was beyond what was feasible for me to give at that time.
I can only do what I can do. In order to thrive, in order to fulfill my own dreams, in order to lead the life that I always dreamed of, I have to put myself first. I have to enforce boundaries. “No” is a word I have to use more each day. Put simply, I have to be a jerk.