Imagine you’re on a hiking trip with two friends. One of your friends slept well and did their favorite meditation before heading out for the hike. They ate food that nourishes them and spent the trip listening to music they love. They’re happy, relaxed, and full of energy. Your other friend didn’t sleep at all the night before. They were busy making sure that everyone else had a good sleep. They didn’t eat because they were feeding the others on the trip, and they haven’t taken time to do any of the things they love since the trip began. Now they’re in a bad mood because they’re tired, hungry, and a little resentful about all they’ve done for others.
Who would you rather be hiking with? I’d bet you’d choose the friend who is happy, rested, and focused on fun. Most of us choose to spend time with people who make us feel excited, happy, and enthusiastic.
Now imagine that you’re on that hike and you’ve come across difficult terrain. It’s hilly and steep and there’s a deadly drop-off on one side. As you walk, you start to lose your footing and slip. You twist your ankle and fall to the side, but fortunately, there is a plateau that stops you from falling to your death. However, now you’re stuck and hurt.
Who would you rather be hiking with now? You want the friend who’s been putting their needs first because now they can best serve yours. They’re rested, healthy, and energetic. You’d be glad that friend put their rest, their nourishment, and their joy first….even if it was selfish.
It’s time to embrace selfishness. I coach a lot of women on self advocacy-how to ask for what they want and get it. Most women struggle because they’re afraid of being seen as selfish. They think wanting what they want is selfish. They think asking for it is selfish. So they don’t own what they want. They don’t ask for it. Instead, they trade selfishness for resentment. And no one gets what they want.
The people around you don’t want your resentment. They don’t want a bitter, unhappy partner/parent/friend/employee. The people around you want and need you to be your best self. They want you to be happy, joyful, energetic, and purposeful. You get to be all of those things when you choose to be a little selfish.
I know what happens when you don’t. Years ago, I’d started seeing someone I really liked. We had been seeing each other for a short time when he had a heart attack. Suddenly, his needs became paramount. I put aside everything I wanted and needed in order to address what he wanted and needed. I cooked his meals and drove him to his appointments until he was able to drive. Over time, he started asking for more and more. We were long-distance, and he wanted me to spend more and more time where he lived and less and less time where I lived. I didn’t want to be selfish, so I did. He said he needed my help with some legal issues he was facing, and I didn’t want to be selfish, so I helped. But the more I gave, the more he took. Soon I was trading selfishness for resentment.
Resentment made me angry. Every time he’d ask me for something, even if it was something small, I’d be angry that he’d dare to ask. Hadn’t I given enough? It made me bitter. I liked him less for taking so much. And it made me tired. I didn’t want to go out and have fun together because I had no energy left to give.
At the time I saw this as all his fault. Now I know that we were both scared, and scared people are scary. He was scared because he’d had a heart attack. That’s scary. He was worried about his health, his son, and his work. I, too, was scared for his health and I didn’t want anything to happen to him. But I was also scared that if I chose to put my needs first people would think I was selfish. So for years, long after the heart attack, I put his needs first. I put his demands first. And it’s no surprise that we broke up.
We broke up because I wasn’t selfish enough.
Once he recovered from his heart attack I could have said no to his requests. I could have put my needs first, consistently and without guilt. I could have chosen selfishness over resentment. And had I done so, we both would have been far happier in that relationship. I would have been more fun. I would have had more patience, more rest, and more resources to give. Had I put myself first I would have been in the right headspace, heart-space, and energy space to serve myself, him, and our relationship. If I’d been comfortable enough wanting what I wanted and asking for it (or giving it to myself), the relationship likely still would have ended. But we would have been better for each other and have had much more fun along the way. Selfishness may not have saved that relationship, but it would have helped.
Selfishness might help your relationships as well. When your needs are met, you have more energy and creativity. You’re smarter, calmer, and much more fun. You have more to give, and everyone around you benefits.
If you doubt that this is true, try it. We overcome doubts with evidence, so collect some evidence about being selfish. Give yourself one week to be selfish and see what happens. I think you’ll love it and the people around you will love it too. If the evidence proves I’m wrong, then stop doing it. But if I’m right, it could change everything for you. It could mean that when you are selfish, you are actually happier. You’re more fun, you’re more abundant and you’re healthier. And everyone around you wins.
If you’re ready to try being a little more selfish, here are three steps that will help you.
1-Write down 5 things you want every day.
Every morning, write down five things you want in the day ahead. This is a challenge for many of my clients. Most of the women I serve are not used to saying what they want. They’re not used to wanting what they want. They’re not even sure what they want because they’ve never become accustomed to actually wanting what they want. When you start your day writing down five things that you want, you’ll realize it’s harder than you think but it does get easier.
Let me give you the example of one of the women that I serve as a coach. She took on this exercise and started writing down five things that she wanted each day. Here’s an example of her list.
-Have Barry (her husband) make breakfast for the kids.
-Attend work meeting with Javier. (her boss, who was attending a meeting with a big client)
-Time for a twenty-minute workout
-Connection with Barry about his day before bed
That’s all you have to do for your first step. Simply documenting what you want may make you feel more aware of what you want and why. My client found a huge benefit from just this step.
2-Make the case that your wants serve others.
Now you want to go through each thing that you want and make the case that it actually serves the people around you. This is an important step, as it’s going to help you to look at being selfish differently. It will allow you to see that getting what you want helps others.
Let’s use my client’s list as an example. The first thing she wanted was for her husband to make breakfast for the kids which was normally something she did. How does that serve her husband and her children? It gives them time together. He usually rushes out the door in the morning on his way to work and he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with the kids in the morning. That would change if he made breakfast. He’s also the “fun” parent and he makes better pancakes than she does. It will give the kids a little bit of morning levity that they weren’t getting with her because she was often throwing cereal at them and rushing out the door. It would also give her the time to do that workout. The workout would make her healthier, mentally and physically. Her entire family benefits from that.
Then she wanted the opportunity to attend the meeting with Javier, her boss. If she could attend that meeting, she could find out more about the client, and build relationships that would allow her to better serve the client. She could support her boss during the meeting by answering questions that he might have and providing her insight. It would also allow her to report back to her team about what she’d learned directly instead of secondhand through her boss.
Next, she wanted flowers. Having flowers in the house would make the house more beautiful for the children. It would make the house prettier, smell better and bring in a little bit of nature to the house. It would make her feel surrounded by beauty which calms her nervous system and makes her a little bit more patient. Finally, she wanted time at the end of the day to connect with her husband. This time serves her, her husband, and the children. The whole family benefits when parents are connected. In many ways, this time would serve the children the most.
My client saw that the five things she wanted actually served other people as much if not more than they served her. Once she saw that and really believed it, everything changed for her. It allowed her to feel comfortable with what she wanted. Then we could move on to the third step-asking for it.
3-Ask for what you want.
When I teach people to advocate, I teach them to know what they want, ask for it, and ask for it well. Here, you want to ask for what you want and do it well. You ask for it out loud, directly addressing the person who can give it to you. And you ask in a way that resonates with the person you are asking. See the ask from their perspective, and speak to what they want.
My client got very good at advocating during our time together. She was able to ask her husband to make breakfast and take time with her in the evening. She asked her boss if she could go to the meeting. And she asked herself to buy herself flowers and to take time for a workout. On this particular day, she got everything she wanted. And that was great evidence that it was possible. Some days she didn’t get everything she wanted. That was great evidence that she could want things, ask for them out loud, not get them and try again the next day. It wasn’t fatal.
You can collect and create similar evidence. I suggest you do these three steps for one week because that will allow you to start to collect and create evidence that choosing selfishness actually works. You’ll have evidence that it makes you better, makes your family better, makes your work better, and makes your life better. Your selfishness serves everyone.
Some of you are comfortable with the idea of being selfish. I recently polled my social media following and asked “How would it feel to choose to be selfish?” 55% of those who answered said “It feels great. I do it all the time”. 27% said, “Horrible. People would hate me”. 18% said, “Not sure, but I’m willing to try”. And every single man that follows me answered: “Great. I do it all the time”. I think that that’s interesting. It shows the way women have been socialized to think about selfishness. And it made me even more determined to share the power of choosing it. Those men are right. Choosing selfishness is great and it does serve the people around us. When you are happy, the people around you are happier as well.
It’s time for you to choose yourself. It’s time to put your needs and your wants first. As you do, you’ll be happier and healthier. The people around you will love it. They’ll start taking responsibility for their own needs and wants as well. And that’s the best way to ensure that everyone gets what they want.