March 16, 2010

Selfishness As A Virtue

by

Growing up I was taught to share, help others, be considerate of other people. You were too, I’m sure. Being selfish was not a good thing. I was told that being selfish was something looked down upon. I was made to feel bad for being selfish, for doing things for me. Selfishness was a character flaw, something for which punishment was a sure thing. I was to think of others before me.

And I grew up following the rules. But now that I’m 40, I’ve decided that maybe being selfish is a good thing. Possibly, selfishness is a virtue. I’ve come to learn that being selfish might be good for my personal happiness and self-growth. That being selfish may give me the opportunity to give more of myself to my friends and family. To be a better person to others, I need to be a better person to myself.

The definition of selfish is bound in shame. Webster’s dictionary defines selfish as “…concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” Although, one of the most basic feelings is very selfish – love. And no one has ever told me I shouldn’t love.

I think now, though, that selfish is mis-defined. The word ‘self’ means of our about me; –‘ish’ means of, or relating to. That would mean selfish would really mean ‘of, or relating to me.’ There is nothing pejorative or shameful in that definition.

Being selfish really doesn’t have to be about choosing me over others. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Selfishness can imply that I am choosing to do for me so that I can be at my best. Self-care, possibly? Putting myself and my needs ahead of others so that I can be present, both physically and emotionally.

As a wife and mother, my days are filled with meeting the needs and wants of others. Often, to my own detriment. I recall the sleepless nights of my daughter’s infancy. I know too well the need to stay up late organizing and planning, doing laundry, cleaning, and tending to the growing TO-DO list. And I feel the toll it takes not only on me but also on those I love.

I contend that if I am selfish I can refuel myself, become balanced and feel more centered. By being selfish I can give more to those I love. That being selfish is good for my own physical, emotional and mental health. And good for everyone in my life.

I’ve read about ‘me time’, ‘mom time’ and ‘alone time’. I’ve even tried it. Although it often ends up being more about me being by myself yet still doing something for someone else. Doing things for myself does not come easy or naturally. Thirty-plus years of being told that doing things with my own self interest at the core is bad can not quickly be erased.

I’m realizing that self-care is essential to my being at my best. By taking care of me first – being selfish – gives me the opportunity to do my best not only for myself but also for my family. By doing what is necessary to renew myself, I can perform better at my job, be fully committed to the task in front of me, focus clearly on what is being asked of me.

Being selfish isn’t about being hedonistic, a diva or even high-maintenance. Selfish, in the way I’m defining it, is not about the me, me, me. I’m not asking you to serve me or my needs. I saying that I need to be true to myself, love myself and allow my heart, my mind and my soul to once again fill with those things that are necessary to carry me forward with joy, energy and passion.

It is with great courage that I stand up for myself and finally say, after 40 years, that I count too! My dreams count. My hopes are important. If I don’t take care of myself, who can I take care of. And before I am any of these things – wife, mother, friend, sister, colleague, volunteer, etc. – I am me.

Have you ever felt guilty for doing something for yourself? Have you wanted to do something but decided against it because you put another persons needs ahead of yours? I know I have. But now I think I’m more cognizant of it, and work hard to ensure that I take care of myself too. And I know it’s OK to do that.

Sara

{ 5 comments }

Allissa Emslie March 16, 2010 at 9:04 am

You make an excellent point…If our motive is self-focused (meaning, our continual motives of for our own gain and happiness thoughtless of others) we are self-ish, but in taking care of ourselves so we can take care of those we love I don’t see the selfishness in that. What I do see is WISDOM : ) Thanks for another great article.

Carlton March 16, 2010 at 12:42 pm

What an interesting day. I think this espn.com article speaks to what you are saying, this player is going to finish his degree which everyone will now say he is selfish, which it is, but for the right reason! http://sports.espn.go.com/boston/nfl/news/story?id=4999283

Sara March 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Only in this distorted world would we see self-improvement as a negative. That needs to changed!

Marsha March 16, 2010 at 3:16 pm

“Although it often ends up being more about me being by myself yet still doing something for someone else”

This is my favorite part because it is so true. On my days off, I am expected to clean house, do laundry, go grocery shopping, pay the bills, and whatever else needs to be done. Then my husband gets home from work and asks why I’m tired if I had the whole “day off”… HA!!!!!! I feel like throwing what ever is closer to me right at him 🙂

I do believe a little selfish needs to take place if only to retain your sanity 🙂

Sara March 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Marsha, thank you for stopping by and sharing. I’m glad that you agree there is a positive aspect of the world ‘selfish’. My movement to make selfish a good word is afoot!

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