Listening To Everyone: How Do You Make It Stop?

“You’re such a good listener.”

I literally cannot tell you how many times people have told me this. Friends, family members, strangers—countless people in countless situations after telling me countless stories. I used to think this was a good thing. I was the one people went to when they needed to vent. I was someone they trusted. If something was weighing on their mind, they knew they could come to me and unload without judgment. It’s a good feeling, to be seen that way. I reached out to friends, to friends-of-friends, to strangers on the Internet, letting them know that I was always there if they needed anything. Day or night, big or small, my ears were always open.

There was just one problem.

When you tell people you’re there for them, what you’re really saying is let me carry some of your weight for you. Each person you listen to adds a little more, then a little more. Potential solutions to all of their problems loom in your head, spinning into a web that isn’t even made for you. Then when you need a break, you can’t even have one, because people are so used to depending on you. So you keep listening. Even when your shoulders cave and your back breaks, you listen.

When you are the “listener” in your group of friends, they get so used to coming to you for their problems, that they forget you have some of your own. Maybe they even delude themselves into thinking that you don’t have any, just so they don’t have to feel guilty when they don’t ask. Putting other people first is a lesson they drill into us our entire lives and I mean, it’s a nice sentiment and all, don’t get me wrong. But it’s total bullshit. We can’t possibly take care of someone else if we don’t take care of ourselves first, and we shouldn’t be expected to. You have to take care of your own broken hands before you can fix someone else’s broken legs.

Let me ask you this: When was the last time you listened to yourself?

I really want you to think about it. Was it a long time ago? Was it too long ago? Do you even remember? Since we’re talking about give and take, I’ll tell you what I realized recently—before a few months ago, I hadn’t done anything for myself in about five years.

Five. Years. I wish I were kidding.

I should clarify; I don’t mean things like facials or manicures or buying a new outfit. I’m talking about the big stuff. Life-decisions-that-have-bearing-on-your-future kind of stuff. Back in 2009, I dropped out of community college before I even finished my first semester because I just knew that it wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I clearly remember getting into my car after it was officially done—how relieved I was, how open the world felt. It put me on a high. And, apparently, I rode that high for five years. I coasted. There was new love and new heartbreak, new hobbies and new trinkets to buy, but I wasn’t challenging myself. I wasn’t growing.

When you listen to everyone but yourself, the only thing you grow is tired.

That person you wish you could talk to? Talk to them. That place you wish you could go? GO there. That big, crazy thing you want to do? Go do it. Don’t let anyone hold you back.