Putting Yourself First: Why Selfishness isn't always a bad thing.

Putting Yourself First: Why Selfishness isn't always a bad thing.

By Max Hovey

Do you ever feel like you're doing everything for everyone else? You're constantly putting everyone else first in EVERY decision you make. Your priority isn’t your well-being, but how it will impact others or how they will perceive you. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad quality at all. It’s beautiful. But it can be to our detriment if we’re not careful. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll continue to put yourself in situations that negatively affect you. You’ll do all you can to make sure everyone is happy with you and to be a ‘good person’ but inadvertently make at least someone think you’re the opposite. Trying to please everyone is exhausting and quite frankly impossible.

One of the hardest pills to swallow is that not everyone will like you and not everyone will ‘get’ you. Whilst this is completely okay, it’s very hard to come to terms with. It’s not necessarily your fault, nor theirs. Sometimes it is simply mismatched personalities. Sometimes it’s poor communication or misunderstandings. But here’s the thing we need to learn, it’s not our responsibility. I’m an incredibly pragmatic person; for me, every problem has a solution. I will try to fix things, sometimes things that aren’t even mine to fix. I’ve spent my life thinking that every problem can be solved, but unfortunately this just isn’t the case. Sometimes the resolution doesn’t involve resolving anything. The resolution is this: it is what it is. 

With this in mind, I decided at the beginning of this year, that I am no longer trying to please everyone. I am no longer putting myself in situations that make me uncomfortable. I’m no longer doing all I can to resolve or fix things. I am letting life do what it will, and putting myself first in the process. 

So far, this probably sounds incredibly selfish and the truth is, it is. But that’s not always a bad thing. We’re brought up to be selfless and constantly think of others which we 100% should do. We need to consider the consequences of our actions and the way our actions affect others. But, sometimes difficult decisions need to be made for our sanity. Being selfish isn’t always a bad thing. So, this year I am being selfish. I am putting my well-being first and removing myself from environments that no longer help, motivate, encourage or benefit me. So far I am still learning to navigate this. Some decisions have been made without the consideration of others and I am aware of this and working on it. Being selfish is okay, so long as we don’t take it too far. 

Now let me define the phrase ‘benefit me’. I do not mean only physical or tangible benefits, I also mean emotional and mental benefits. Are these situations bringing you joy, happiness, motivation or inspiration? Or are they bringing you more anxiety, stress, worries and sadness? Most of the things that we invest in, we hope to benefit from. This is a simple fact. We don’t have friends for the sake of it, we want companionship, support, and laughter. From relationships, we want love, physical intimacy and care. From work, we want financial incentives, security and ambition. These are just a few examples of what I mean by ‘benefits’. If these are no longer bringing said benefits, they are no longer serving you. 

This is a hard and abrupt way of viewing it, so context must be a factor here. Life naturally goes through peaks and troughs, so sometimes the drawbacks will out-way the benefits. This is where it’s important to evaluate the length of these drawbacks, their severity and the possibility of them being rectified. Sometimes selfish decisions need to be made if we feel nothing more can be done. 

If any of this has resonated with you, the following tips may help. I’ve put a list of questions together to help you establish whether some selfish decisions need to be made:

Quick definition: when I say ’this’ in the following paragraphs, it can mean whatever you want it to. It can be a person, a relationship, a job, a location, a situation, or anything. If you are weighing up whether ‘this’ is worth keeping around, insert it into these scenarios and think about it. 

Will ‘this’ affect me in 5 years? - If not, don’t spend more than 5 minutes stressing about it. Now with this one, please don’t take me quite so literally. The premise of this mindset is that if you won’t be worrying about it in 5 years, then it’s probably not as dire as your brain is making you feel. 

Is ‘this’ hurting me more than it’s helping me? - When we take a step back to evaluate the impact things have on our lives, we need to assess whether they are benefitting us. As mentioned above, weigh up the impact the situation is having on you. For example, I recently decided to make my social media strictly work. This was because social media naturally gives me anxiety with FOMO etc, but I also get very distracted and suddenly 30 minutes have gone by aimlessly scrolling. Social media was no longer bringing me joy or ambition, it was bringing me anxiety and resentment. So I decided to only have connections for work on these platforms. Now when I log on, I feel inspired and excited to work and don’t at all regret my decision. 

Do I have a moral obligation to continue ‘this’? - Sometimes, even when things are no longer serving us, we are obligated to continue. This is when you can ensure selfishness doesn’t become a problem. Do you have a moral obligation to continue? This is a tricky one, so here’s an example. If you have someone in your life who has helped you through bad times, and now they’re struggling in a way that is negatively affecting you, morally speaking you should want to support them back. But please know, people supporting you in the past is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for treating you badly, especially if their poor treatment of you is more to do with their personality than anything they’re going through. So don’t let anyone guilt you into staying around.

Why did you start ‘this’ in the first place? - Think back to when this first started. What was your motivation? Is that same drive still there? Even if it’s not, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get this motivation back, so long as you follow the next point.

Have you already tried to resolve ‘this’? - My best advice has always been to communicate. Talk about the problem with whomever it concerns. You never know how the situation will pan out if you don’t try. If you have already tried to find several solutions to ‘this’ with no avail, that may be your answer.

How long have you been questioning ‘this’? - The length of time ‘this’ has been an issue is a big question. If it’s been 5 minutes, you likely need to spend a bit more time there. But if you have been questioning ‘this’ for quite some time; weeks, months, maybe even years, then it might be time to make some tough decisions.

I’m not saying we should all suddenly cut things out of our lives with no consideration for anyone else, that would make us entirely different people. What I’m saying is that there is nothing wrong with deciding to remove ourselves from environments that are no longer positively impacting us. I’m saying this as an ex-people-pleaser. It is impossible to please everyone, so you may as well be yourself and if people don’t like that narrative, then that’s on them. 


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