Take Care of Others by Taking Care of Yourself First

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Vlad Dolezal from Fun Life Development.

It was the beginning of spring. The snow had just melted, and Agatha the Spider had gone outside after hiding in an old barn all winter, to find a nice convenient spot to place her first spring spider web.

After walking around for a bit, she found a tree to place her web on. But no sooner did she start spinning her first strand than a bear comes along.

“Hello Agatha!”

“Hi Bear! How was your winter?”

“Wonderful! I’ve slept like a bear the whole time. In fact, I just woke up today for the first time.”

“It’s my first time outside today too. Great minds think alike, eh?” she said, winking.

(And mind you, it’s quite something when a spider winks.)

“Yeah. Say, Agatha… is there any chance I could have a bit of your string? I’m ravenous after my winter slumber and I’m off to catch loads of animals to replenish my strength. And I could really use a bit of string to floss afterwards, to keep my teeth healthy and strong.”

“Why, certainly, Bear! Just come back in a few hours, and I’ll have your floss all ready for you.”

“Awesome, thanks Agatha! You’re ace!”

“No problem. See you around, Bear!”

“Bye!”

And Agatha happily got to working on the bear’s floss. She was thinking about how much she was looking forward to meeting all her old forest friends again, and how much she enjoyed helping them out when she could.

No sooner did she finish making the bear’s floss and putting it aside for him to pick it up later when two doves landed next to her.

“Hello Agatha! Great to see you around and about again! How was your winter?”

“Hello Mr. and Mrs. Dove! How are you two?”

“We’re doing great! In fact we just started building our nest, only a few hundred metres from here. Say, is there any chance we could use some of your string to tie our nest together? It would really help us make it nice and strong for when we have children.”

“Sure! Come by around sunset and I’ll have some ready for you.”

“Fantastic! Have a lovely day, Agatha.”

“Bye Doves!”

And Agatha left building her own web for later, and started preparing some string for the Doves.

Her next few days followed a similar pattern. As soon as she got finished preparing some string for one of her friends, another one showed up and could use a bit of string.

From making little string bags for squirrels so they could carry several nuts at once, instead of dragging them to their hideout one by one, to giving hedgehogs a bit of string so they could pull impaled apples off each other’s backs, to giving some string to mice because they wanted to organize a water-skiing competition (being pulled by beavers), Agatha was more than happy to help out each and every one of them.

But as a result, after several days, she had barely a few perimeter strands outlining her new web, because she spent almost all her string helping other animals. Her stomach was growling, and she was starting to feel a bit light-headed.

She was resting in the shade, and a songbird landed next to her.

“Happy coming of spring, Agatha!”

“Hello songbird! It’s lovely to see you again, I was just listening to your singing yesterday. Are you practising a new piece?”

“Yes. In fact, I wanted to talk to you about that. I had this wild idea over the winter… I was thinking I could craft a lute and accompany my singing with a bit of string music. So I wanted to ask – is there any way I could have a bit of your string for my lute?”

“I would love to give you some, Songbird, but I’ve been having a bit of a hard time producing string since last night. It’s just… not really coming out.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Well, I hope you get better soon, Agatha! Have a nice day.”

“You too, Songbird!”

And Songbird flew off while Agatha kept sitting in the shade, wondering what she was going to do. She’d used up all her string helping other animals, and now she was too hungry to make any more. But at the same time she couldn’t catch any food, because she hadn’t build a proper web yet.

And so she just sat there in the shade for a day a night, progressively growing weaker and hungrier.

The next day, Bear came along again.

“Hello Agatha. Say, are you okay? You look pale.”

“Hello Bear…” she mumbled weakly. “You… look lovely and plump yourself. Had a good few days?”

“Yes, thank you very much, but never mind about me. What’s up with you?”

“Well, I do have this small problem…”

And she explained the whole situation to him.

“Hmm, I see.” Said Bear. “Too hungry to make any more string, eh? Well, I can’t help you catch any prey, unfortunately, these paws here are too clumsy to catch anything you could eat. But I know of an old spider at the sycamore tree by the lake. Maybe he can help you. If you want, I can take you there.”

“Hmmm… okay. That’s very nice of you, Bear.”

“No worries. Hop on my back, Agatha!”

And she did. And they set off towards the sycamore tree by the lake.

It was going to be a very long walk, taking over a day even for Bear. He noticed Agatha getting weaker and fainter by the minute and decided that his own heavy steps just weren’t fast enough to get her there in time. So he looked around, and roared mightily:

“Hey, you two there! Yes, you, Doves. Come over here!”

And the Doves flew down and landed on a branch nearby.

“What’s up bear? Hey, is that Agatha? She looks awfully scrawny, what’s happened to her?”

“She hasn’t eaten in days. Is there any chance you could take her to the Old Spider of the sycamore tree by the lake?”

“Certainly, Bear. We’re on it!”

And the Doves took Agatha and flew with her as fast as they could. As a result, before the sun even touched the horizon in the evening, they arrived at the sycamore tree.

“Here you go Agatha, the Old Spider’s web. We’ve got to fly back now, we can’t leave our nest abandoned for too long. We’ve done all we could to help you, let’s hope the Old Spider can take it from here.

Agatha nodded and smiled at them weakly. The Doves flew off. Then nothing moved for a while.

Eventually, Agatha realized that Old Spider probably wasn’t aware of her presence. And so she started slowly crawling, dragging herself towards the web with the last bits of her strength.

As she dragged herself closer and Old Spider’s web started looming over her, she realized it was a huge web, at least a dozen times as big as any she had ever built. After what seemed like eternity, she finally managed to drag herself to the web, and strummed one of the perimeter strings, which is the spider equivalent of ringing a doorbell.

An old spider looked out, scowling at her.

“Yes?” he said, in a get-off-my-lawn-you-young-whippersnapper tone.

“Hello! I… Agatha and… are you… Old Spider…” she mumbled, and fainted.

When she awoke, she was lying comfortably on a rocking net woven from spiderweb, and had a juicy meal ready right next to her. After starving so long, she didn’t even look around, and immediately buried her mandibles in the meal, sucking out the juices. She felt strength flowing back into her with every gulp.

She soon finished the meal and waited. Old Spider appeared, eyeing her disapprovingly.

“Agatha, is it?” he said.

“Yes.”

“What happened to you?”

And she told him. She told the whole story from the beginning, stressing how much she enjoys helping out other animals and how much she wishes she could do more for them, but just doesn’t have the strength right now. The old spider just frowned at her throughout the story, listening.

“So you enjoy helping out other animals, is that right?” He said.

“Yes.”

“You’re not helping them much right now, are you?”

“Well… no.”

“Fool!”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re a fool. In your eagerness to help others, you have completely forgotten to take care of yourself. And while I’m sure you had very noble intentions, it was stupid. As you may have noticed, you’re no good to others when you nearly starve yourself to death, as you don’t have enough nutrients to produce any string for them. And so in your short-sighted eagerness to help them immediately, you have done less for them than you could have if you turned down a few requests for help and first took care of yourself before helping others.”

“Yes, I see that now. Will you help me recover my strength so I can get back? I promise that I will take better care of myself.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I have plenty of prey landing in my web, but I will not give you enough to travel all the way back to your corner of the forest. Instead, I will give you only another meal or two, barely enough to build a small web of your own.

“You think you’ve learned the lesson, but I’m not convinced yet. If I just let you go back to your own web, you would fall right back into the same old pattern. Instead, I’ll give you enough food to build a small web of your own and let you have a part of my tree. There’s a section overhanging the lake where you can build your web, and catch plenty of insects to live and thrive. And only when you have caught enough food yourself to travel all the way back will I be convinced that you have learned to take care of yourself first and others second.”

Agatha tried pleading and arguing, because this would mean several more weeks when she wouldn’t be able to help other animals. But Old Spider was adamant in his decision.

So she accepted.

He nodded, then turned away and limped off. She thought she heard him mumble something about “young whippersnapper”, but she wasn’t sure. She stood there, watching him disappear behind a corner, and then climbed towards the part of the tree he had indicated.

And she did as he told her – she built her own little web, caught her own meals and slowly regained her strength.

Then she set off to travel back home. It was a long journey, but she made it, getting back some two months after getting to Old Spider’s tree.

All her old friends welcomed her with open arms, rejoicing that she’s alive and well. Seeing that she looked healthy and stronger than ever before, they asked for some string for various uses.

And she turned down every single one of them, asking them to come back in a couple of days, once she’s had the chance to build a big, solid web of her own.

And as she learned to take care of herself first, she was able to help others far more than before, because she was able to produce stronger string, and larger amounts of it. And she lived and laughed with her forest friends for many, many happy years.

About the author: Vlad Dolezal writes Fun Life Development, a blog based on the idea that real personal development is as effortless and fun as riding a sled, instead of feeling like you’re struggling uphill in four feet of snow. With a lead ball chained to your foot. So if you liked this post, check out his blog, or follow him on twitter.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Vlad,
    Thanks for this story. I hadn’t heard it before. We do need to take care of ourselves first. We can’t be useful to others if we are depleated. It’s not selfish to put ourselves first. It’s smart! Thanks Vlad!

    • says

      Cheers, Dandy!

      Also, the reason you haven’t heard the story before is because you don’t have a time machine ;)

      (I wrote it myself and this is the first time it’s published anywhere.)

  2. says

    What a lovely story! A very effective way to telling this lesson we all must have heard before.
    It’s all too easy to forget ourselves, especially those of us who are Moms and wives. I know I’m a bear of a Mom when I haven’t taken care of myself. On the other hand, everyone’s better off when Mom has had enough sleep.
    Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading it :-)

  3. says

    Vlad, this story illustrates some great points. So many people today feel they must be a part of every school committee, church group, and civic organization that asks for their help. They also fill their kid’s lives with activities such as sports teams, music lessons, etc. In the process they can lose themselves and/or burn themselves out.
    Learning how and when to say no is an art everyone needs to master.

  4. says

    Love the story and message – it’s something I always need to remind myself… it’s not selfish to take care of yourself and your needs first – in fact it’s the most selfless thing you can do . If you aren’t happy, how can you help others?

    • Renee S says

      Caregiver fatigue is a real thing and is most recently making it’s way into the mainstream water-cooler buzz. I care for my elderly grandparents in addition to three dogs and working a full-time job. The one hour every month I give myself at Le Petite Retreat Day Spa near Paramount Studios is well worth the money and leaves me less stressed for weeks afterward. It is ME TIME that I certainly look forward to and reminisce in when things get stressful.

  5. says

    Great story.

    Funny how it reminded of something I wrote with the same moral and when I was looking for the link on my blog, I came up with 3 posts saying the same thing.

    Do Unto Yourself as You do to others:
    http://www.newdaynewlesson.com/?p=5189

    It’s Easier to do for others:
    http://www.newdaynewlesson.com/?p=4649

    Sometimes, The Right Thing Is to think about yourself:
    http://www.newdaynewlesson.com/?p=4531

    None though as eloquent or intriguing as your story.

  6. says

    Wonderful story Vlad, what an imaginative way to present your concepts. I totally relate to that spider, this is a lesson I’ve had to relearn a few times.

  7. says

    True, the best give that we’ll ever give others is ourselves as a whole person. Too many people being taugh that taking care of themselves is selfish…not so, it’s a gift to others and to you.

  8. Renee S says

    I used to think that taking time for myself every few weeks was selfish. Now I know that I am better able to handle everything that life throws my way and doing everything for everyone when I take time for me. I am more relaxed and it is like a reward for everything I do for everyone else all of the time when I book a spa treatment at Le Petite Retreat day spa near Paramount Studios.

  9. Arthur says

    I read the story and find it so familiar. I haven’t finished college work and haven’t had really enough to take care of me sufficiently and my kids. They are all grown now and I am still not where I want to be in Life. I will work harder now to take care of me first and then others second.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Changing the world can be a far-reaching global endeavour, touching thousands of lives, or it can be a very personal one, reaching just one person or one family. It can even be as simple as changing your world. Making more time for your family. Eating better and exercising more. Seeking fulfillment. Or just slowing down and appreciating the things around you. After all, taking care of yourself is the first step to caring for others. [...]

  2. [...] Changing the world can be a far-reaching global endeavour, touching thousands of lives, or it can be a very personal one, reaching just one person or one family. It can even be as simple as changing your world. Making more time for your family. Eating better and exercising more. Seeking fulfillment. Or just slowing down and appreciating the things around you. After all, taking care of yourself is the first step to caring for others. [...]

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