The Importance of Being Selfish

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Selflessness is a much extolled virtue, and selfishness a much maligned trait.  But these perspectives seem simplistic.  Because I have found that to be truly selfless, I must be selfish first.  This is why.

Not selfish.

As a little girl, I learned that it was noble to sacrifice my needs for the needs of others.  I learned that I should aspire to live at least parts of my life selflessly.  And that the more selfless I was, the more worthy my life was.

So as a child, I shared my stationery, lunch, and candy; and played whatever everyone else wanted to play.  And as an adult, I did things for others that I didn’t have the time, desire, or energy to do.  Because I thought that I should be selfless.

It wasn’t a terrible way to live.  I didn’t  always mind going along with others preferences.  Or putting their needs ahead of my own.  But I didn’t realize that my choices had consequences.


The first consequence was that I constantly felt unfulfilled.  Something in me believed that having needs and preferences was selfish, that my needs and preferences would inconvenience others, and that they weren’t important anyway.  So, I suppressed them.  But they didn’t go away.  They lived inside me, and bubbled to the surface every so often where I denied them.  Again.  And again.  And again.  And I felt unfulfilled.

Feeling unfulfilled made me resentful.  I thought I was doing good.  But I didn’t feel good.  So, I looked for someone or something to blame.  And the people or situations that had “caused” me to feel unfulfilled were my easiest targets.  So, I blamed them.  And over the years, I started to resent them.

Finally, I infested my “selfless actions” with negativity.  Doing things for others when I didn’t have the time, desire, or energy to do them felt arduous and draining.  And was resentment-inducing.  I didn’t know how to deal with those negative feelings.  So I directed them towards the “selfless actions” that were causing them.  And doing that made those actions feel inauthentic.

My feelings felt messy.  I didn’t understand how being selfless could make me feel bad.  But I didn’t know how to fix anything.  So I stayed unhappy.  Until eventually, I learned a few things that helped.


I learned to love and respect myself.  I learned that truly loving and respecting myself meant that I had to accept who I was.  I had to accept my needs and preferences.  And realize that they were no more and no less important than the needs and preferences of others.

I learned to be kind to myself.  I saw that when I denied my needs, I was unkind to myself.   And that I deserved my kindness and selflessness just like everyone else did.

And I learned that I was responsible for my happiness.  If I wanted to feel fulfilled, it was my job to make sure that I did.  It was my responsibility to ensure that my needs were met.  If they weren’t, it was my fault and no one else’s.

So, I changed my ways.

More selfish.

I became “more selfish.”  I asked myself whether my needs or preferences were more important to me than the needs or preferences of others.  Often they were not.  And I went along with what others wanted.  But sometimes, they were.  And at those times, I did what I could to ensure that my needs were met.  Not from a defensive place.  But more from a place of wanting my needs to be met along with the needs of others.

Ironically, the more selfish I became, the more selfless I felt.  Because my needs were taken care of, I could more often and easily put the needs of others first.  Because I didn’t need anything, I could give without expectation.  And because I felt fulfilled, I could give with abandon.

Finally, instead of giving with resentment and negativity, I could give with joy, love, and well-meaning.

A well.

And so I learned that it was important to be fulfilled.  If my well was dry, I would have no water to share.  And if I gave from a dry well, I would have a cost to contend with – the negativity I generated.  But if I kept my well full by being “selfish,” I could give more freely, and more honestly.

So I started to choose my actions based on whether my well was full or needed filling.  As I did, I became both more selfish and more selfless.  And above all, I started to feel less messy, more peaceful, more fulfilled, and so much happier.

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