Why Selfish Is Not Always a Dirty Word
Most of us would probably be uncomfortable if someone described us as selfish. It’s not usually a word that gets tossed around as a compliment. Instead, people who behave selfishly on a regular basis are usually seen as self-centered, thoughtless, and immoral. However, it turns out being selfish from time to time might not be that bad. Believe it or not, prioritizing our needs can actually be good for our well-being, professional goals, and even our relationships.
Why is it important to be selfish from time to time?
Self-care is important for our well-being
Taking the time to listen to our needs and do nice things for ourselves is so important. Self-care isn’t a fad and it definitely isn’t selfish, at least not in the typical negative way. Putting ourselves first and indulging in some much-needed self-care, like taking a rain check with friends to have that relaxing evening at home we’ve been craving, is often the best thing we can do for our health and well-being.
Self-care isn’t a fad and it definitely isn’t selfish, at least not in the typical negative way.
Making sure we get enough sleep, prepping meals on Sundays, exercising regularly, relaxing, and pursuing our need for creativity helps us manage our stress and can drastically improve our mood and physical health. At times, we can also practice self-care in unexpected ways, like choosing to leave an unhappy relationship, even though it might hurt or disappoint others, like our partner or our family. Regardless of what form it takes, prioritizing our needs sends a really powerful message to ourselves that we think we’re worth it.
Unsurprisingly, this can really benefit our overall self-esteem and self-worth.
Being selfish helps us reach our professional goals
It’s easy to feel like we need to put our own needs aside to reach our professional goals. In a roundabout way, taking a step back and prioritizing our personal needs can actually help us be more productive and effective at work. Not only are we better equipped to handle the stress that inevitably comes up, we’re less resentful of all the things we have to do when they don't interfere with our ability to take care of ourselves. It’s also easier to stay motivated and productive when we feel like we’re choosing to work, instead of feeling like we have to.
While we might worry that acting out of self-interest will negatively affect our reputation and opportunities for growth, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our careers is to put our needs first, like quitting our job for a better opportunity, even if it’s inconvenient for those around us. People are often far more understanding than we expect them to be and our boss might even respect our desire for professional growth. Plus, if they aren’t supportive, then it probably isn’t the right environment for us to thrive in anyway. If that’s not enough, there’s even some research suggesting that we’re more likely to be seen as a leader when we prioritize our needs at work.
Like anything, it’s about balance. Taking time out of our schedule to help a colleague or agreeing to an extra project can go a long way toward being seen a team player and maybe even securing that promotion we’ve been eyeing. But the reality is, we’re of no use to anyone when we overlook our needs and run ourselves into the ground.
Prioritizing ourselves can actually help our relationships
You’re probably already familiar with the sayings: “You can’t pour from an empty cup," and “Secure your own oxygen mask before helping someone else." The truth is, we’re in a much better position to help someone else when we take care of our own needs first. We’re also less likely to take out our stress on the people closest to us when we’ve prioritized our own well-being. In this way, being selfish from time to time can actually help us to be a kinder and more supportive friend or partner. Being selfish also shows others that self-care is important and can help empower our friends, colleagues, or family members who might be struggling to take care of themselves.
We’re in a much better position to help someone else when we take care of our own needs first.
Sometimes, the thing holding us back from making big life decisions, like choosing to move to a new city, is the fear of upsetting the people we’re closest with. Even though maintaining long-distance friendships is never easy, prioritizing our needs isn’t the end of our social life. Changes in friendships are very common as we go through young adulthood. And putting ourselves first, like deciding to take that leap and change cities, can actually be a good way to sort out which friends are genuinely supportive and are in it for the long haul. It also forces us to do a better job of keeping in touch with the people that matter and can push us to be a better friend.
Instead of selfishness only being seen as prioritizing ourselves so we can get ahead of others, there's room to look at selfishness as putting our needs first so we can get along better with others and have more meaningful connections.
How can we learn to put ourselves first when it counts?
Focus on where the balance is shifted
When things get busy or tough, our physical and psychological health, hobbies or passions, and need for social connection are usually the first to go. If we want to feel more comfortable being selfish, a good place to start is with the things we so easily neglect. Having trouble coming up with ideas? It’s helpful to ask the people we’re closest with. Our friends, partners, and family members often have great insight into the areas where we can be a little more selfish and the things we can do to meet our needs.
Learn to say no (and feel okay about it)
As long we’re not hurting someone else, taking care of ourselves isn’t something we should feel badly about.
Agreeing to do things we don't always feel like doing, whether it’s attending yet another family get-together or working late, is a big part of adulting. However, there are moments when we could all benefit from putting our own needs first and saying no. While it’s really tempting to apologize when turning someone down, saying we’re sorry communicates that we’ve done something wrong, which often leads to our own guilt (that ultimately takes away from the benefits of being selfish in the first place). As long we’re not hurting someone else, taking care of ourselves isn’t something we should feel badly about. Try sharing your self-care plans with a few people you trust so they can encourage you along the way. Seeing how easily our friends and family let us off the hook can sometimes make it easier for us to do the same thing for ourselves.
Get in touch with your resistance
We all have different reasons why we’re uncomfortable prioritizing our own needs. Maybe we’re worried about what others will think or that we’ll come across as self-centered or inconsiderate. There might even be a part of us that feels like we’re too busy to prioritize our well-being or that we don't deserve it. These are, in fact, the moments when being selfish and engaging in self-care is actually most important. Getting in touch with our resistance is the best way to begin to challenge it. Re-visiting our assumptions after we’ve committed to self-care is also really important. Chances are, most of us have overestimated how harmful and underestimated how helpful it will be.
Ultimately, selfishness isn’t just about caring for ourselves at the expense of everyone around us. It can also be choosing to care for ourselves in the same way that we care for the people around us. So go ahead and give yourself permission to skip out on that extra family commitment from time to time, treat yourself to a massage, or take that extra long break. You just might be surprised with how helpful being selfish can be, not just for you but also for the people you’re closest with.