Selfishness: The Pros and Cons
In a collectivist society selfishness is treated as the antithesis of civilization. It easy to find articles on the evils of selfishness, but harder to find resources addressing the benefits. In fact, it is almost impossible to find many resources on it at all–apart from Ayn Rand quotes.
But she was right about the upside of selfishness. It is important to understand when to be selfish.
If society was filled with the type of selfishness that exploits and victimizes, clearly that would be bad. But positive selfishness can actually make society healthier.
What does good selfishness looks like compared to negative selfishness?
Negative Selfishness can be characterized by breaking the golden rule. If you use people for personal gain in a way that harms them; in a way that you would not like to be treated, that is negative selfishness. Think about the hypocritical politicians who make financial laws, but are exempt from insider trading rules. Or the ones who increase taxes, but do everything they can to avoid paying their own tax bill.
Positive Selfishness is making sure you take care of yourself. Making it a priority to eat right, exercise, maintain emotional health, and doing things you love that make you feel satisfied. And this means knowing when to draw the line with people who want something from you. People will drain you dry if you let them. Being the positive kind of selfish just means that you know when and how to break off from those who are just using you–whether they realize it or not.
Being selfish means knowing how to put your own needs first and only accept mutually beneficial opportunities. You don’t have to see everyone else’s needs as more important than your own.
Helping People is Important, so consider this: How many more people could you help if you were able to reach your goals and become wildly successful?
Is Self-Sacrifice Worth It?
From an early age, it is ingrained that selfishness is bad and that selflessness is good.
The problem is that the core concept here is a little warped. If you are constantly self-sacrificing is it a priority to take care of yourself? Not just in a physical sense, but on the emotional and mental levels too? What energy do you leave for yourself for your own fulfillment, satisfaction, happiness, and care?
Do you feel guilty for doing things for yourself? Or resentful when you sacrifice for others?
The truth is that there are a lot of people out there that work themselves to the bone for others while leaving very little for themselves. They don’t make their own life or wellbeing a priority and can often end up broke or sick.
How Do I Know This?
Because I have lived it, and have learned a lot about both sides of it. I used to be very self-sacrificing. I found it an honorable and respectable way to be. Being a good person and doing the ‘right’ thing was always important to me. I extended myself for the sake of others, but often beyond my means until I had almost nothing left.
This sometimes included going hungry, giving away the last of my money, doing favors I didn’t really have the resources to do, and failing to say ‘no’ when I needed too.
By failing to say ‘no’ to those who were using me, I ended up in bad situations that left me used, drained of my money, out a car, and the list goes on because it took me YEARS to snap out of it and reprogram myself.
I learned the value of doing things for myself, because I had too. Something as simple as having an experience that I wanted, without feeling that I needed ‘permission’. Or without feeling bad about it later for being so selfish!
In the end, I needed to pursue a life path that worked for me, even if it didn’t work for others. I HAD to be selfish to survive or there would have been times that I would have allowed myself to be used and drained until nothing was left, literally.
Even with my kids, friends, wife, and family. You HAVE to tell them ‘no’ sometimes. It’s something you will probably need to learn and practice, because selflessness can actually be a hard habit, and mindset, to break.
No, you are not a bad person for needing to be selfish sometimes!
It is not bad, but rather a necessary quality, to be selfish. Successful people understand this. Being selfish in the positive sense isn’t about only seeing yourself. Rather it’s more like a shift in how you see yourself fit into the whole of others.
For example, saying ‘yes’ more often to those who are in line with you and your goals, rather than wasting time by saying ‘yes’ to those who might just want to take advantage of you.
An article from Entrepreneur can help you put yourself first, in a good way. It’s about defining what is important to you, integrating your goals with others, and using your time effectively. If you do this, you will have plenty of time and energy left over for others. Then when you choose to be selfless, it will leave you invigorated and happy instead of drained and resentful.
Being selfish doesn’t make you a bad person. It might actually make you a more stable and put together one. When you put yourself together first, you are more likely to be able to help others get themselves together. You are also less likely to allow distractions to set you off course.
Doing Things For You Instead of Other People
Ok, so why is figuring this out for yourself so important? We’re not here to bring you the latest in sunshine and roses. There is actually science and psychology behind all of this. And a lot of this is common sense:
What does doing things for yourself look like? It means doing the things that make you feel good, engaging with your passions, keeping up with self-care, and making sure that the things you choose to invest yourself in are just as much in your self interest as those of others. It can also mean going for a job or career track that you really want, and not one that you feel pressured into. Choosing your life partner because of how you feel and not because of the opinions of others.
And sometimes it simply means not needing permission to live your own life!
When you take care of yourself and you succeed on your terms, others will benefit. Whether it is family or your community, your success has a ripple effect on those around you.
Avoiding and Escaping Auto-Pilot Syndrome
“In the field of psychology, the concept of autopilot refers to when you go about your business without the cognitive awareness of self or choice. This can mean something as simple as zoning out while driving home from work, and can extend to encompass years of living life without a particular direction beyond getting through each day, or making enough money to pay your basic bills.” @CAMMYPEDROJA
When you are miserable, devoting your life to the will and whims of others you are more likely to fall into auto-pilot. It is easy to put almost every facet of your life on auto-pilot when you do not truly want to be engaged in the routine you are forcing yourself to live in.
On the other end, living for yourself you will be more aware and present in your life, the choices you make, and the experiences you have. Self awareness and self orientation can help clear the fog of autopilot. It’s like coming suddenly awake from a long dream.
It’s also important to be aware that society trains us on what our routine should be, what we should consider important. Some of your auto-pilots are an effect of your environment.
Government, politics, social & religious influences, as well as family and community pressure all influence us like pinballs.
When you choose to live for yourself, and not submit to the auto-pilots society tries to place you in, you are more likely to break free of the repressive governmental and social controls that are might be holding you back.
Personal Freedom Means Learning to Say ‘NO’
It is too easy to become completely entangled in the net of other people’s needs if you don’t know how to say ‘no’.
We are often taught that it is the polite thing to do to help others, whether they are friends, family, or strangers. However, saying ‘yes’ to everyone and not knowing how to put a limit on what you are able to extend to others will quickly drain you of time, money, or other resources that are valuable to you.
It is good to help others if it makes you feel good, but you have to learn how to stop extending yourself for all things that you don’t have time or resources to do. Be honest with yourself and be honest with them so that they can find the help they really need.
And guess what, that best-fit helper for them might not be you. By trying to help everyone you just drain yourself from being able to take care of what, and who, is most important to you.
There Is a Line That Can Be Crossed
Selfishness can go too far. It generally happens when you cross the line to take advantage of someone else’s selflessness.
There is a reason that a number of species of animal evolved to stick in groups, packs, herds, etc. There is a greater chance of survival when you stick with others and contribute to the group. Being selfish isn’t about excluding others from your life, just not neglecting yourself in the process.
It also means finding your ‘tribe’ of those who believe in and support you when you need it.
And in that sense, even being selfless should be selfish to some extent. Help people who you are confident would help you in a similar situation. I’m not saying only help those who you can get something out of. But only help those who you know would help you if they could.
Or just do good for the joy you get, the karma points. Otherwise, selflessness can quickly turn to resentment, and poison the well so to speak.
It is still a favorable quality to want to help where you can. It is more important to learn your limits instead of extending yourself beyond your means for everyone and anyone. Knowing when to say ‘no’ is important, but that doesn’t mean you never say ‘yes’ either.
You don’t want to turn your new focus on yourself into a reason to treat others badly or to exclude yourself from other people altogether. We are all on this planet and in this together in some way. By first maintaining your own balance, you will be free on a deeper internal level.
From this harmony with your world and the universe, your impact can be even greater.