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Putting yourself first, unapologetically

I was raised in a small village that is set in the heart of Zululand, steeped in Zulu heritage and culture. An African ethos was inculcated in our psyche from a very tender age, and this happened organically without any formalities and one common value we were raised to know, is Ubuntu. Most of the heads of households and homesteads in our community worked in sugar cane farms and only a few individuals were well-to-do (bedla izambane likapondo thina sidla imbuya ngothi), this meant that the majority of households were poverty-stricken. All we had was each other and we shared all that we had, and the concept of self” didn’t exist. Without making this article too legalistic, but I would like to adopt a definition of Ubuntu which was shared by the Late Chief Justice Mohammed, who notably remarked that

Ubuntu expresses the ethos of an instinctive capacity for and enjoyment of love towards our fellow men and women; the joy and the fulfillment involved in recognizing their innate humanity”

As a young man growing up, especially as a firstborn, I have always had external and self-imposed pressure to carry those that come after me “at all cost”-which meant that I had to eliminate any idea of “self”. This meant that I could not cry in front of my younger brother because it didn’t just make me seem weak but it would make him lose hope, this meant that I have to serve at whatever cost and not complain even if the load is too much to bear, in the elders’ words “be strong for others”. I have had to make consistent sacrifices, and those who read this, especially those hailing from the rural areas and townships can affirm that there is nothing such as“putting yourself first”and this has been associated with narcissism and selfishness.

Let me digress a bit: by the way, I have not flown using an aeroplane before because of many factors, but it’s something I am looking forward to — but I have heard from those who has flown habitually that you are told before the aeroplane takes off that “In the event of a sudden drop in pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from above. Secure your own mask first before assisting others.” I relate this phrase to the idea of self-care. Many times I have been told “you have to fill your cup first, you cannot pour from an empty cup”but what does is it really mean to put yourself first?

I am currently in the beginning phase of my profession, which is extremely demanding, I am a part-time correspondent student, I have many youngsters I am mentoring, I have my family whom I must still be their son, the cousin, the nephew, and the grandchild who is present. Furthermore, I have my own relationships with people that I need to maintain, I still have to look very nice, I still have to motivate and empower others and I have always had the struggle of drawing the line between putting myself first and being there for others — there seems to be not enough time for self.

In an article by Heather Moulder, J.D., ACC, it said that;

 If you want to excel in life, then you need to start from within. Because true success means happiness and fulfillment.”

In pursuit of happiness, I see fulfillment and joy being elusive if we are still trying so hard to live up to everyone’s expectations. There are a lot of people we are trying to impress, if not your company executives, it’s your loved ones or people in general.

This is what putting myself first means to me:

· It means being able to walk away from toxic situations and knowing that you are worthy and deserving of peace and freedom.

· It means putting your mental and physical health first by eliminating everything that is pulling you backward.

· Setting boundaries for yourself and others who may overstep the mark.

· Being assertive in some of your decisions which may be at times viewed as self-serving.

· It means being there for yourself and showing up for yourself when you need yourself the most.

· Enjoying the little things in life, alone, such as taking walks, buying yourself some ice cream, or even watching that movie you have been postponing.

· It means being honest about your limitations and be not scared to say “I am unable to help right now” “This is how far I can go with helping you”.

· It means being able to take a break where necessary for you to recollect your thoughts, pivot, and re-evaluate.

· It means walking away gracefully from relationships that are no longer serving your soul well.

· It means not being scared to change your mind, because yesterday and today are not the same, our mental state changes every second.

· It means to encourage independence in people around you because we also teach people how to treat us, especially as we unaware enable the culture of co-dependency and we teach people that we can always show up or be there them which is unrealistic.

· It means stopping being a martyr — trying so hard to stay in people’s lives and helping them because we are scared that they won’t cope without us.

It is said that The more effort you invest in saving others, the less time you spend assessing your own life and analysing how your own actions led you to end up in this situation”.

· It means not prioritising people who do not see my value in their life. Most of the time we expect that when we show love and sacrifice that others will reciprocate, which is echoed by the Late Dr. Maya Angelou who once said:

Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option”.

· Mostly putting yourself first means loving yourself unconditionally without fail.


HIMONGA, C; TAYLOR, M and POPE, A. Reflections on judicial views of ubuntu.PER[online]. 2013, vol.16, n.5 [cited 2021–10–20], pp.01–61. Available from: <>. ISSN 1727–3781.

Written by Mbuyiselo Vilakazi, YCAP alumnus and support team ambassador and leader. He is also a candidate legal practitioner at the University of Zululand Law Clinic and holds a LLB Degree. He is the founder of Enable South Africa NPC.

HIMONGA, C; TAYLOR, M and POPE, A. Reflections on judicial views of ubuntu.PER[online]. 2013, vol.16, n.5 [cited 2021–10–20], pp.01–61. Available from: <>. ISSN 1727–3781.


Written by Mbuyiselo Vilakazi, LLB (UKZN), candidate attorney, author of “Primed Up”, founder of Enable NPC and Y`CAP alumnus and support team ambassador and leader.

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