How do we stop putting ourselves in second place, once and for all?

Q: Isn’t there always some need greater than your own? How do you change that or break that cycle? 

A: What’s the pithy phrase? We teach best what we most need to learn

Your question, Greater Than, comes when I am actively working to change this very cycle. 

But before I share that story, let me acknowledge the challenge. 

Most of us have been told and taught that our needs are not valid. 

It’s how our parents told us that what we wanted to do didn’t matter enough and that we should get a “safe” degree. Parental desires trumped our own. The teachers who couldn’t or wouldn’t teach us what we were curious about but instead taught what was needed to pass a particular standardized test. The test is prioritized vs. personal development. It’s the way our bosses will say, “there is no budget” when we ask for a  well-deserved raise; We might have done everything the business asked of us, but other things mattered more than our needs being met.

There is always someone saying their needs matter > our own, in stereo. 


When we accept the idea of someone’s needs as “greater” than someone else’s, we have bought into and reinforced the illusion of human hierarchy. Because if we buy the idea that someone’s needs are higher than, better than, greater than, we’ve also accepted that someone else is worse than, lesser than, or lower than. 

Yet,  any construct that makes someone “small” and others “on top” limits Onlyness.

When you stand in the spot where only one stands, you realize that you can’t live into your fullness, your Onlyness, and disregard your own needs at the same time. 


Today, I can see how my research and study of Onlyness since I first coined the term in 2012 has led me to where I am today. 

Just as the calendar year flipped into 2022, my hubster and I said to one another words that had been years in the making: “let’s start a trial separation.” 

And ever since, I’ve been asking how something that started so good changed.

And I think it comes down to this: It didn’t change, I did. 

I used to think that love was about me taking care of someone, and they, in turn, would take care of me. That was how I understood mutuality back when. 

And that’s why, during a recent joint counseling session, we learned how I know his entire life story minus one detail he had never shared before. I know, too, his related coping tools and how they affect our relationship dynamic. After we were done with our session, he remarked on my degree of observation. He said it was amazing to see how much his interior life I knew, yet he barely knew mine. 

I had, by my actions, taught him that his interior life was more important than mine. 

We both cared about his interior life. So, two votes. 

But who was advocating for my life to be understood? Not me, not him. No votes. 

And gosh darn it if now, many years later, I find myself in second place and wondering how I got here. I had not picked myself. I was hoping to be picked. 

My earlier understanding of mutuality was flawed: it doesn’t come through what I do for you or you for me, but what we can do with one another.  

With one another. I can see now how we could have voted for ourselves and each other—growing what we can do because we’re doing it together.

Four votes. 

(And if this is too personal and not enough about work stuff, that last hyperlink is to a previous column where we cover this exact topic. In it, we pierce the veil of servant leadership to see how it fails us.)


So how do you change that, you ask? 

You simply do. 

Change is not actually simple. But it is about the doing. 

That which animates each of us, our Onlyness, is to be honored. That is your job, a job that can never be delegated and never outsourced. Therefore, it’s your job to advocate for your needs, see yourself, and name what you want in the world. Because this is how you manifest your Onlyness into the world. Again, you cannot ask someone else to do that. Well, you can, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen. It’s not their job. It’s yours. (which is not to say you do it alone).

And the old me trying to get him to take care of me by caring for him? That’s not right, it’s co-dependency or well, something, but it’s not honoring my Onlyness. Nor was it honoring his Onlyness, so he chooses if he cares about my interior life. 


There’s a great book title that captures how hard this is:

The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!

And that’s kinda how I feel about the Onlyness journey some days. When I see how I have been complicit in believing in anything other than the fullness, wholeness of Onlyness. Our value is not earned; it just is. It is never in comparison to another, it is always true. But it does require us to occupy our own space.

Today, I wouldn’t ask someone to love me by taking care of me. I’d want emotional support as I care for myself. As Liz Plank and her crew call it, that would get me off the patriarchal ladder and grounded. 

How about you? Ready for that? 


And our Editor is sharing You & I by Local Natives. This pensive-sounding song is about a relationship ending because one person has grown, and the other has not. “In all this light, all I feel is dark.” (Onlyness is accepting both your light darkness.)

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