When I was growing up, my parents never spoke to me about what I “deserved.” They spoke to me a lot about what was “expected.” They were very clear about that.
They expected me to be tough, hard-working, well-read, and smart. They expected me to help others, especially those struggling on the margins. They sent me to work in impoverished parts of the world, so I would realize I was very lucky and really had nothing to complain about. They expected me to go to church every week, to be honest, to help my brothers, my cousins, my community. They expected me to hold my head up and keep walking forward no matter what.
They expected me to stand up when they walked into a room, something I continued through their dying days. The list of their expectations went on and on. And along the way, their expectations of me slowly became my own.
But over time, another word crept into my life. Slowly at first, even timidly, because for me the word and the concept felt foreign, maybe even embarrassing.
That word was deserve. To think you “deserve” something when others have so little felt arrogant and selfish—as in, Who do you think you are? I got that message from my parents.
But I’ve come to understand that there is power in the idea of deserving.
For example, if you’re a hard worker, you deserve to be appreciated and respected by those you work with. That’s not asking too much. And if you work a lot, you deserve rest. My parents wouldn’t like me saying that, but it’s true. Resting your body and your mind isn’t lazy, it’s being smart. You and your body deserve to rest, so you can be healthy. Emotionally and physically—and then work some more! (That’s the part my parents would like!)
You deserve to be treated kindly by your friends, family, and significant others. As I say to my kids over and over, “Your siblings deserve your respect.” And as I say to their friends, “So do I. So stand up when I come into the room, look me in the eye when you talk to me, and don’t you dare text at the dinner table!” I realize that if we don’t treat ourselves as if we deserve these things, it’s hard for others to see that actions like those are important.
So what do you deserve? That’s up to you. I can only answer with what I have come to believe I deserve.
I deserve to be happy. Much of that is in my control, but just knowing that I deserve it has helped me be happier. And being treated kindly and respectfully starts with how I treat myself.
I deserve to rest and take breaks. That’s why I go to Cape Cod every now and then for a few days. I’m not yet at the place where I can say I deserve a really long vacation, but I’m working toward that “deserve.”
I’m no longer embarrassed to admit I deserve these things, too: I deserve to live in a safe place. I deserve to love and be loved. I deserve the right to dream again. Yes, I do. Dreams are not just for twenty-somethings. Dreams are for all of us at any age.
I deserve to grieve in the manner that works for me. If that’s longer than others would like, so be it. I deserve to have people around me who tell me the truth, lift me up, want the best for me. I deserve to take time for myself. If that’s to read, take a nap, go out to lunch with friends, that’s fine.
I deserve to laugh as much as I want.
I deserve to not know. That’s right. Until I know, I deserve to be unsure or uncertain of how I feel about something or someone. It’s okay. I deserve to express my opinions, and I don’t deserve (nor, by the way, does anyone else) to be attacked for what I said, for who I am, for what I believe. I deserve the right to change my beliefs once I’ve seen they hurt me or hold me down, or when I discover a better way.
The list goes on, and it can also grow and change. In fact, I expect it to. I hope it will. I deserve that.
I write all this in the hope that you will think about what you deserve. I hope you will allow space in your life and your mind to have this conversation with yourself way earlier than I had mine. It’s not selfish or arrogant. It’s a way to be kind and loving to yourself.
This thing called life is a magical journey. I find it doesn’t always make sense. It’s filled with uncertainty, joy, struggle, surprises, disappointments, and rewards. It isn’t always fair or clean and neat. You deserve to design it the way it works for you and then redesign it if you want to.
That’s what I’ve come to expect. That’s what I’ve learned I deserve.
Now go have a great day. You deserve it!
From I’VE BEEN THINKING… by Maria Shriver Reprinted by arrangement with Pamela Dorman Books / Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Maria Shriver
About Maria Shriver
Maria Shriver is the mother of four, a Peabody Award-winning and Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, the author of seven New York Times bestselling books, an NBC News Special Anchor, and founder of The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. The essays from Maria’s NY Times bestselling new book I’ve Been Thinking… originated in her popular digital newsletter, The Sunday Paper, which is curated “for people with passion and purpose” and delivered free every Sunday.