One of my favorite children’s stories is “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”
If you’re not familiar with it, it starts with a boy giving a cookie to a cute little mouse.
Then the mouse wants a glass of milk…
Then a straw…
Then a napkin…
Until, eventually, the boy is enslaved by this mouse – catering to the mouse’s every whim.
It’s a cute story, but it teaches a very important life lesson.
A lesson that the child won’t fully understand until they meet their first, real life “mouse.”
Because these “mice” aren’t so cute in real life.
In real life it’s the roommate that never pays their share of rent and never helps out with chores.
Or it’s the romantic partner that drains you dry mentally, emotionally, and financially, only to kick you to the curb and replace you with a fresh, unwitting victim.
Or it’s the coworker that always needs you to cover for them, only to keep taking credit for your work.
Or that one friend that always needs help out of another jam (that definitely wasn’t his fault this time and it will never happen again).
No, in real life, if you give a mouse a cookie you can end up completely broke and destroyed. And if you happen to be a naturally compassionate and helpful person, it can be hard to learn how to stop giving away everything you have to every “mouse” that wanders by.
I was well into my 30’s before I finally figured out that some people just can’t be helped. I spent most of my life up until that point giving all my time, attention, and money to people who would just throw it all away, while continuing to demand more from me.
I was blinded by the false belief that it’s selfish to refuse help in those cases.
It’s really not though.
It eventually became clear to me that I couldn’t help the people that would actually benefit from my kindness if I was always too distracted, broke and exhausted from feeding the “mice” in my life.
And, more importantly, I realized that there’s a damn good reason the flight attendant tells the passengers on an airplane to put on their own air masks before helping the person next to them…
Because you can’t help other people if you’re dead.
There’s nothing selfish about wanting to stay alive and healthy so that you can help the people who truly need you.
And it’s a lot easier to do that when you learn to say no to all the mice in your life.