I was silent as the impassioned tone on the other end of the phone grew in volume. She named everything that overwhelmed her: the mounting bills and unyielding budget; the long afternoons with the young, napless kids; the at-home job that kept her working until the wee hours of the night; the lack of outside help and health issues creeping in. All of it was taking a massive toll on my friend. That place of feeling pulled, depleted, and drained was one in which I was familiar.
While we brainstormed ways she could create more margin in her life, I suggested she devote a few hours each week to exercise at the gym while she took advantage of onsite childcare. “You could use that time to work out, plus do some work during the day while your kids are being looked after,” I pointed out.
“Yeah…but that’d be totally selfish of me,” my friend quickly replied.
Her response struck me as the same sentiments had trickled from my lips before. I had lived the majority of my life with a strict “others-first” mentality and believed that any act of service done for myself was one done with vanity and selfishness. To me, these traits resided in the same camp with narcissism, self-absorption, and self-centeredness—none of which I had any desire to possess. I mean, in an age of endless selfies and a culture that constantly screams “Me! Me! Me!” I didn’t want to add any more skin to the self-promotion game.
But my “others-first” motto and continual pouring out at the expense of myself eventually led to burnout and collapse. I ended up learning the hard way because I held an incomplete view of selfishness. I had to learn it’s not bad to be selfish.
We can only stay on the treadmill of excessive productivity and busyness for so long before we fizzle out. If re-framed and pursued in a balanced way, learning how to be selfish with our time, energy, and resources can actually be an antidote to getting stuck on the treadmill, and in turn, become one of the healthiest ways to live.
I ended up learning the hard way because I held an incomplete view of selfishness.
It’s not always bad to be selfish. Here are four ways it can change you for the better:
1. You learn how to love and respect the woman in the mirror.
When you choose to elevate your well-being, you’ll honor and listen to your needs instead of ignoring or neglecting what’s good for you. (For the record, this is something I’m still in the trenches of discovering after years of living in an unbalanced state.) It’s not selfish or vain to prioritize your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. In fact, it’s smart: it balances and grounds you into the woman you are beneath all the hustle and roles you play. As you tend to your needs, you’ll develop a more loving relationship with yourself that in turn overflows to the world around you.
2. Your relationships with others improve.
As you slip on the metaphorical oxygen mask first, you can better care for others without burnout or resentment. Healthy selfishness doesn’t mean stampeding on or disregarding others. It simply means you prioritize your best interests and devote your energy and time to others from a position of fullness as opposed to depletion. This is one of the most loving things you can do for others.
It’s not selfish or vain to prioritize your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. In fact, it’s smart.
3. Your health will improve.
As you take time to care for your body, you’ll become more discerning about what type of foods you need, the amount of exercise that energizes you, and when you just need to take a break. In essence, you change the lens through which you view your body. As you engage more with your heart and mind, you’ll discover what relationships you thrive in and be more inclined to remove the toxic ones from your life. As you nourish your emotional needs, you might finally decide to talk with a therapist or trusted person. Cultivating your spiritual health may look like devoting more time to pray, meditate, or do journal reflections. Your self-awareness and self-esteem will grow stronger, which positively affects your overall health.
4. You may view your past, present, and future with a new lens.
When you grow in self-discovery—which transpires through practicing healthy selfishness—you may embrace more aspects of your past, present, and future by viewing them with a fresh lens. As you become healthier, you may release the harder aspects of your past with more ease. You may start to experience renewed vitality and energy that grounds you to the present, or you might allow yourself to dream big and take active steps to meet your goals.
Re-evaluating your perception of selfishness requires some grit and grace, but in the process, you’re sure to discover who you are beneath the myriad of hats you wear and the complex (and beautiful) layers of what makes you, you. As you practice healthy selfishness, everyone around you reaps the benefits—most importantly, you.
Article image by Hernan Sanchez.
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