Nobody wants to be selfish. Selfish is one of the lowest of blows, reserved for only the nastiest of nasty people. As a result, we strive to be the complete opposite.
We’re taught our whole lives to be selfless but we’re never taught its dangers. When I think of ‘selflessness,’ I picture Mother Teresa, good karma and a fat check from Ellen for remarkable dedication to others. The reality is 18+ hour days, no good karma in sight and far too few ‘thank you’s.’ Not only are you not getting anything in return, but you end up with nothing left to give to yourself.
It’s far too easy to constantly give all of yourself to others without a second thought. We put others first even when they would never do the same. A genuine want to help others turns into chronic people-pleasing, and all for the sake of not being selfish.
But I’m here to tell you that not all selfishness is created equal. Actually, a lot of “selfish” acts are way more productive than the martyrdom you’re carrying on with now.
Obviously, there are bad selfish acts. These are actions that benefit you but harm other people in the process. Cutting in line, littering and stealing other people’s fries are all very selfish acts (and just plain rude). However, if you’re currently a people pleaser, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to jump to this side of the fence.
The goal is neutral or good acts of selfishness. The two easiest ways to start implementing healthy selfishness into your life is learning how to say ‘no’ and taking time for yourself.
How often are you asked to do something and your immediate gut thought is, “I would rather dive into a bath of toenail clippings?” Listen, if it’s not your responsibility, and nine times out of 10 it’s not, just say no. But we’ve grown to view ‘no’ as a dirty word and end up feeling like real scumbags when we have to whip it out.
Here’s the trick: saying ‘no’ stops being complicated when you stop justifying it. None of this, “Sorry, I have to play bridge with my grandma” or “I can’t make it, my cat is throwing up profusely and only my loving touch will soothe her.” No one believes that garbage and the excuses make you seem like more of a jerk than the simple ‘no.’ Just say “No, I can’t” and move on with your life. You’ll be surprised at how little people will question that response.
The thing is, you can say no sometimes and still be a good person, and all the no’s you give will make the yes’s more meaningful. Then you’re able to take the time you collect from turning down unnecessary tasks and events and put it back into yourself. Putting aside moments of completely selfish me-time is sometimes the most productive thing you can do.
It’s great to want to help others, but if you never give some of that love and energy to yourself, your well will dry. You’ll burn out and you won’t have anything left to give. Being selfish doesn’t make you a bad person. If anything, it just means you’re responsible with your resources, and we all know the world could use a little bit more of that.