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Service before Self

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

In South Africa, as multicultural and diverse as we are, there seems to be a commonality in culture around serving others before ourselves.

It has been my personal experience as a female, a girl and a woman, that there are certain expectations placed on how we should show up in our lives; what makes us 'good' and what makes us 'bad'. And through my work I've noticed that this seems to be really common with almost every womxn I work with, no matter their race, ethnicity or religious background. If they grew up as a girl child in SA, there seem to have been certain expectations placed on them and strong gender roles which place them in a position of needing to take care of others and serve others first.

I went to an all-girls Anglican private school in Natal from Grade 1 to Matric and our school motto was 'Service before self, God before all'. While at first glance, there doesn't seem to be anything inherently 'wrong' with this statement and the intentions of it may be good, the way my child mind interpreted this was that I needed to be selfless (always) and that my needs should come last.

I believe we need to teach our girls how to take care of themselves, to see their needs as equal to others, to value themselves highly and to practice compassion and care with themselves (AND others).

We have a responsibility to change the narrative. To make sure young girl-children are learning self-care, self-respect and boundaries. We need to teach them that people pleasing is not the way to be 'good'; that they are allowed to have their own feelings and opinions and that they should listen to their inner voice of intuition.

For me, I internalized a lot of what was drilled into us at school as the 'moral high ground'. The 'right' way to be. And while there were many lessons that were very valuable, the way in which they were taught were not always as valuable.

As the wise Charlie Mackesy puts it: "I wonder if there is a school for unlearning?" And the answer is yes, there is. Unlearning takes place when we begin to practice self-reflection and choose a conscious path to navigate our lives.

Our children deserve to learn how to take care of their minds. They deserve to learn tools that will set them up for the future. They may not learn this at school (one can only hope) but they can learn them at home and it starts with us. It starts with our generation starting to unlearn and forge a new path and to teach by: showing rather than by telling; leading by example.

It is important for each individual to work through societal and familial conditioning that has been placed on them growing up. It is important to know the difference between what you've been taught and what you have chosen. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


There is normally room for choice when we find some physical and emotional distance from our family of birth, our schools, our social bubbles and our comfort zones. There is room for growth when we are open-minded enough to think past what we have always taken for granted as truth and begin to see other perspectives, to notice other ways and to become a curious observer. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


Often there are so many ideas, ideals and expectations placed on us (often by us too), that we don't get in touch with the true essence of who we are underneath these layers - underneath the expectations that we place on ourselves due to various influences.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


Unlearning and unbecoming can be a beautiful unveiling process. Unveiling the beauty that was always there, beneath the pressures and expectations placed on top.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


When you can differentiate between what is 'learnt' behaviour and what is your intuitive choice of how to be and show up, you begin to unveil your true nature. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀


It can be incredibly liberating to begin to realise what you have been carrying is not yours but has been inherited from another source. That you can let go and breathe.

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