From a young age, we’re encouraged to embrace the concept of being selfless. In the earliest days of school we’re taught to share, to give up our toys so someone else can play with them. Growing up, we’re taught to think of others before ourselves, and to see beyond our own personal needs, wants, and desires. Selflessness is admirable, and the embrace of this ideal creates a world which is kind, generous, and just generally happier – all good things obviously.
What about being selfish though? As in, is it that awful (or narcissistic, or egocentric) to be a little selfish?
From how we’re taught, it’s a horrible thing to be selfish, akin to a sin. To many, the word selfish is dirty. It’s a label meant to be avoided, a word affixed to those who were completely self-absorbed in their own world. It’s a word slung with venom in arguments, used to validate the shortcomings of another.
I used to feel this way about selfishness, avoiding selfish acts and decisions in my life like I was avoiding the plague. I would constantly put others and their happiness ahead of my own. Gradually, I came to realize that this was exhausting, and the task never-ending. More importantly though, I realized that in trying to constantly put others first, I was neglecting myself and my own personal happiness, and others were suffering in the process. From this never-ending cycle I realized something, and my life hasn’t been the same since I accepted and adopted a very simple statement:
It’s okay to be selfish sometimes.
From accepting – then embracing – this very simple statement I freed myself to put myself first. It was liberating to truly believe that it’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes. From this, I believe there are three key areas in your life where you should always be a little selfish.
1. Your Time
I believe that time is our most valuable asset. It’s not the car we drive, the clothes we wear, or any materialistic item. It’s your time, and it’s limited. We have no control over the passing of time, but we do have control over how we spend our time, and whom we spend it with. There is no ambiguity in time – it’s here and present, and then it’s gone forever.
With something so valuable, why be so callous in who possesses your time?
The biggest change I made was to be more selfish in protecting my time. I started treating my time as the valuable asset it is, and became much more careful in its allocation.
Along the way, I learned two important lessons in time management:
1. The word “No” is powerful.
2. It’s okay to say no to others, even if they’re your family/friends.
Prior to this year, I didn’t grasp just how powerful the word “No” was, and certainly didn’t use it to my advantage. I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, or hesitant to say no for fear of missing that “can’t-miss” experience (the FOMO syndrome). So I said yes, a lot. But by starting to say no, I allowed myself to have complete power over my time again – opening myself to a world of possibilities previously unimaginable. I now had time to do what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it.
It was harder to learn to say no to my family/friends. Before, particularly with my friends, I would feel guilty saying no to them if they asked me to go somewhere, such as a bar and/or club. Some nights I’d love to go; other nights though, I’d agree to go when in fact I knew I’d much rather be doing something else with my time. This past year though I started saying no much more to these outings. And guess what: my friends are still my friends, even with me telling them no. Your friends should respect your time, and understand that you will spend it how you want – and if they don’t respect and understand this, doesn’t that say a lot there.
2. Your Relationships
The basic premise behind all relationships is that the relationship is beneficial towards your life in some capacity. Ideally mutually beneficial, but at the core you want all of the different relationships in your life to be enriching. Some relationships are formed organically at our choosing – friends and significant others. Others we’re forced into – family and coworkers. However the origin, all relationships require time and effort to be positive and enriching. This is where you have the choice to be selfish with your life. Take stock of all of your relationships, and ask yourself these questions:
Is the relationship positively impacting your life?
After you’re done interacting with the person, do you typically feel better or worse than before?
Do they exude positive or negative energy?
Is their energy and effort matching yours?
Answer these questions, and if you don’t like the answers, aren’t you just wasting your time then with the relationship?
In 2016 Kanye dropped The Life of Pablo, and on the album he had a song called “Real Friends” that contained this following line: “To be honest, dawg I ain’t feeling your energy.”
So eloquent, but that line, out of all the great music that was dropped in in the past couple years, has stuck with me more than any other. I never realized just how powerful the energy is someone gives off until I started taking stock of the relationships in my life. I started more closely observing just how I felt before, during, and after I was with someone. I began to notice who drained me, as opposed to who would uplift and inspire. And from there I began to be more selfish about who I spent time with. Oftentimes, we continue a relationship to spare another’s’ feelings – neglecting our own in the process. Life is too short though to be unhappy, or to be around people who are either unhappy themselves or continually make you unhappy. It’s your life, and you completely control whom spend your time with. Seek and cultivate relationships that exude positivity and ambition, and you’ll be surprised at the personal growth that accompanies these relationships.
3. Your Career
Fact: You’re going to work for a good majority of your life, at least in some capacity.
Knowing this, it makes sense then to take control of your career. Sure, you could just ride the wave, and see where your career takes you organically. Or, you can assume complete ownership, and dictate where you’re going to take your career. I’m a proponent of the latter.
Being selfish with your career doesn’t mean not being a team-player in the workspace. No, being selfish is simply about taking ownership and going after what you want. That means accepting that it’s your life, and your career, and where it takes you is completely up to you.
It’s easy to assume in your 20’s that the direction of your career is completely at the whim of others; others who are more experienced, more accomplished, and quite simple just older than we are. We’re told to be patient, and wait our turn in the pecking order. I’d argue otherwise; being selfish with your career means chasing that job/career which you really want, the one that sets your soul on fire. It means demanding to be compensated for what’s fairly yours, be it a promotion or a raise. Being selfish with your career means not settling for a mediocre job, just because it’s a job. It’s not selfish to know what you want, and then chase after it with the utmost intensity and conviction. For you to win in your career doesn’t necessarily mean someone has to lose – rather, it means you’re talented at what you do, and others recognize your talent. Being selfish with your career simply enables you to fully control what you do, who you do it for, and how well you’re compensated.
Being selfish isn’t a flaw, it’s a choice. A choice that when applied correctly can benefit your life tremendously. Allowing yourself to be selfish sometimes won’t make you a bad person, or hurt others you care about, unless you allow it to do so. It’s simply emphasizing your own self-development and growth. Most importantly, it’s accepting, embracing, and believing that you deserve to be happy, and that without your own personal happiness nothing else is possible. You’re important, and you deserve to treat yourself so. That’s all selfishness is.