When you refer to someone as selfish, it’s meant to be an insult. However, being selfish isn’t always a bad thing. There are some benefits to taking a more self-centered – not necessarily narcissistic – approach to life. Yet, many of us take pride in being the polar opposite of selfish; the person who is doing a million things at once for everybody but themselves.(NEWS FLASH: This will end up making you physically sick, emotionally spent, and will age you just as quickly as too much sun, too many cocktails, and too little exercise.) YIKES!
So today, on National Women’s Day, I’d like to make a wish on behalf of all women around the world: I wish that we can all be a little bit more of what I call: “self-ish.” That is, look out a little more often for yourself… so that you can be at your best when you are sacrificing, taking care of, supporting, inspiring and comforting the others in your life. Now, I know that is easier said than done. We are women. Hello? I think the selfless gene is coded in our DNA!
We’ve all heard the airline announcements before take-off, highlighting the safety features of the aircraft. When my children were little, I would listen intently to the calm voice over the PA system, explaining “what to do in the event that the cabin loses pressure.” The smartly dressed steward or stewardess would demonstrate, as the announcer would say, “If you are traveling with someone who is in need of assistance, secure your oxygen mask first before assisting others.”
I would find myself repeating this particular instruction in my head a few times (“put your mask on first, put your mask on first…”) because I KNEW my instinct would be to attend to my children before thinking about my own needs. And if this instinct took over, someone would find me passed out in the aisle from oxygen deprivation. I don’t think I’m alone in this response. We are women. For many of us, taking care of those we love before we even consider taking care of our own needs is a knee-jerk reaction.
But what if taking care of someone else to the best of our ability meant that we needed to take care of ourselves FIRST? This alternate way of thinking is certainly not second-nature to many of us, but I’m telling you, it is a mind-set we need to adopt. Most of us, including me at times, are running around with our oxygen masks askew (or nowhere in sight), ready to pass out from exhaustion and lack of air. We don’t even realize how utterly depleted we are until something goes terribly wrong with our health, or we are nearing an emotional breaking point. Or both.
I’ve begun to realize that we need to learn to be a little bit more “selfish.” And if it makes us feel better that our selfishness is actually benefiting other people… well, whatever it takes. The truth is we need to act that way more often for our own good, as well as the good of those we care for. We are NO help to anyone else if we find ourselves face down on the floor from trying to juggle the world.
When we were younger (teenaged, most notably), being selfish was a natural instinct. Today, my kids live in a world of “selfies.” It’s a whole new level of narcissism. They capture every waking moment and post it for all the world to see. I look at my teenagers and remember my own versions of those days- days of little responsibility and a whole lot of scheduled fun. (Although I don’t have the “selfies” to prove it.) My teenagers’ lives consist of eating, sleeping, schoolwork, and “ME” time (certainly not in that particular order). If this seems a little self-centered, that’s because it IS. (Probably more than a “little.”) But as we grow up, we begin to accumulate responsibilities. We go from a position of being taken care of to becoming the care-takers of those around us. It’s part of the journey. However, it’s such a slow process (I call it the “slow boil”) that often times we don’t realize how thinly spread we are until we are totally overwhelmed and have completely lost track of who we once were as fun-seeking (and yes, self-centered) teenagers. But here’s the thing: if we want to Live Young, we have to regain a healthy bit of that selfishness we possessed in our youth.
So I challenge you to put on your metaphorical oxygen mask first. Find something (or multiple things) that helps you decompress. Whether it’s taking that exercise class you’ve been wanting to take, scheduling a much needed beauty treatment, or enrolling in a once-a-week cooking class with a friend, find something outside of your daily routine that’s just for YOU. Schedule your “me time” before there is no space on your calendar. You have to make it a priority.
By the way, here is my selfish pleasure. In addition to my 3-5 workouts per week and my always prioritized beauty treatments, I have a standing lunch every Tuesday with my best girlfriends. We tell each other what’s going on in our lives: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s our time to laugh, cry, and vent. Sometimes there is a cocktail shared. Sometimes not. But there is always laughter. And when I walk through the front door of my home after my Tuesday lunch with the girls, I feel like I’m a much more patient, more loving mother and partner. (How very UN-selfish of me!)