Emerging Confidence Blog

Weekly inspiration to help you learn to trust yourself so you can build the life and career you want and earn the salary you deserve.

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Why is being selfish a bad thing?

November 07, 20225 min read

I’ve been accused of being selfish—spoiled even. 

I’m an only child.  I’m an only grandchild. Was I spoiled growing up?  Yes!  Am I still spoiled now?  Also, yes! And you know what? I’m okay with that.

But being called selfish when I’m doing something for myself—well, I’m NOT okay with that. 

What does it mean to be selfish?

The word selfish means “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.”.  But so often, when we try to do something nice for ourselves, we label ourselves as selfish.  Lacking consideration for others is not okay, but when we do something for ourselves, that’s called self-care, not selfish. 

Why don't we take care of ourselves?

And why SHOULD we?

One of the main reasons women fail to take care of themselves is because they feel it’s selfish. Most of us have been taught to take care of others before we take care of ourselves.  If you’re a mom, who comes first? Your kids! If you’re a caregiver for a spouse or parent, who comes first? The person being cared for. At work, when your boss comes to you at 4 pm with a project that will take 2 hours after you agreed to dinner with friends, who comes first? Guess you're canceling your plans, right?

Did you say YOU come first in any of those scenarios? If you’re not saying YOU, then consider this.

Think about all the people in your life that rely on you in one way or another.  This might be your spouse or significant other, your kids, your community, your coworkers, your clients, and many others I’m not thinking of.  Take a moment to write all these names down. 

Now count them up.  That number gets big really fast, doesn't it?  And what do all these people have in common?  It’s YOU!

What happens if you’re not at your best—if you’re overly tired or not feeling well?  What happens if you’re feeling run down and not able to be there for them? What are the consequences of not taking time for your own personal development at work?  How would your coworkers or clients benefit from you becoming a better version of yourself?  The most selfless thing you can do for the people in your life is to take care of yourself first.

Putting on your oxygen mask

How often have you heard that you should “put your oxygen mask on before helping others?

If you don’t, and your oxygen level drops, you might lose consciousness and can’t help those around you. It’s a metaphor I’ve used countless times--until recently.

I've started to think about the fact that needing to put on your oxygen mask means the plane is in trouble…it’s an EMERGENCY!

Why do you have to wait until an emergency to take care of yourself first?

I prefer the quote, “You can’t pour from an empty glass.”, meaning you need to fill your own cup first. Only then can you be nourished enough to care for others.

In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People®, habit seven is “Sharpen the Saw.” Here’s the parable that goes along with it. 

Imagine you are going for a walk in the forest when you come upon a man sawing down a tree. “What are you doing?” you ask. “I’m sawing down a tree,” he says. “How long have you been at it?” You ask. “Two or three hours so far,” he says, sweat dripping from his chin. “Your saw looks dull,” you say. “Why don’t you take a break and sharpen it?” “I can’t. I’m too busy sawing,” is his reply.  Sound insane?  Well, be honest—how often have you driven around with a near-empty gas tank because you did have time to get gas? 

How can YOU be selfish?

Think about all the people you named earlier.  What can you do for yourself right now that will help them down the road?  Here are a couple of ideas.

  1. Protect your time - This is all about boundaries. Know when you are available to others and when you're not. And learn to say no when people try to infringe on those boundaries. Keep in mind, whenever you say yes to someone, you're saying no to someone else--and that someone else may be YOU!

  2. Start a joy list - It's hard to do things you love if you don't know what they are. Don't overthink this. Grab a sheet of paper, write the word joy at the top, and start listing things that make you happy. It could be going out in nature, walking, running, reading, playing with your pets, a hobby, or anything! This is YOUR list. Think about what you loved doing as a child. Envision what your dream day would look like.

  3. Start a self-care list - Similar and different from a joy list, a self-care list is everything you can do for yourself that's considered self-care. I have therapy on my self-care list because it is self-care for my mental health, but it's not necessarily on my joy list. My dog Bronx is on both!

  4. Stop feeling guilty about it - This is definitely an "easier said than done" recommendation. Brené Brown says, “...guilt is a focus on behavior.” Guilt is, “I did something bad.” Taking care of yourself is not "doing something bad".

Think about how you can start to be "selfish" and do something for YOU today. And if you need a reminder of why it's important, go back and reread the list of people who rely on you! While you're there, put your own name on the list. ♥️

Have feedback or comments? Send me an email at sandy@emergingconfidence.com, and thanks for reading!


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Sandy Stricker

Sandy Stricker is the CEO of Emerging Confidence, empowering women to listen to their inner voice and live in confidence while achieving their personal and professional goals. She helps women learn to lose the doubt so they can build a career they love and get the salary they deserve. She has more than 30 years of experience coaching high-performing women.

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