Selfish Doesn’t Have To Be A Bad Thing

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It was Monday night of last week, when I finally, after weeks of procrastinating, got to writing my very belated New Year’s blog post about all of my resolutions for 2013. My list is more or less a carbon copy of last year’s, but I did tweak it a little, maybe in hopes that by putting an interesting spin on each of my ambitions, I’d have a better chance of successfully tackling them this time around. For my fitness goal… I’d kick my workout efforts up a few notches and simply work on a pair of killer legs. (Wouldn’t that be lovely?) For my financial goal…for every little treat I buy myself, I’ll not buy the next two I want and instead, save the money. (Easier said than done, I’m sure.) And for my creative goals (because for me, just one artistic endeavor is not enough)…I will write something everyday no matter how long or short it is—just as long as it’s something—and I will try to paint one thing every month and be happy with that, instead of worrying that I’m not painting every week.

The next morning, the draft complete, there I was, standing in front of the mirror, trying my damnedest to doctor my festoons, thinking about last minute changes I should make before publishing the post, and out of the cold winter air, it came to me that I had it all wrong. As if the sight of the puffy crescent moons under my otherwise bright eyes wasn’t bad enough, there out of my peripheral vision I could see my oversized duffel bag, packed and ready to go, the sight of it angering me. I let out a weighty sigh thinking about my looming commute, and how I was going to have to squeeze into a crowded train with this behemoth bag and then spend four days away from home, away from my routine, away from focusing on things I wanted to be doing. And for what? To dogsit for someone I barely know… as a favor. It was then that I realized that my list was missing the most important resolution of all. What was worse, was that, by having said “yes” days before, and packing this bag, I had already failed at it.

Of course the fitness goal and the financial goal and the creative goals are all important, but when I think about last year and what I did and did not accomplish in the twelve-month window I had to conquer my 2012 X, Y and Z, it’s very clear, the issue here— I say “yes” too much. Can you dogsit for Squeaky this week? “Sure!” Can you babysit tomorrow night? “Yes!” Can you help me move? “Yeah, I can!” Want to help plan so-and-so’s bachelorette party? “Well yes, of course I do. In fact I’ll cater it myself!”

I know, I know, I know that it is appreciated when I show up at a friend’s (heck, or friend of friend of friend’s) door, ready with hands or head or heart, to help with whatever task is pressing. We learn this in life: What goes around comes around. Be good to others and they will be good to you in return. Sure. There is however, in this day in age, when a week is over and done with in what feels like a flash of lightening, something to be said for being selfish. It sounds ugly to say: the word selfish, like shallow or materialistic or cold-hearted. But… if we think of it as just putting our self first, or, really making it a priority to take better care of our self, show our self some love, it shouldn’t be seen as negative. As Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project says, “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided.” And didn’t someone once sing about loving our self, being in fact, the greatest love of all? Cheese-city here I know, but isn’t it true? (We’ll never forget you Whitney!)

So to be selfish…  I have a few friends who are very good at this. Really I should say, they are very good at being good to their selves. They have no problem saying “no” in favor of doing something for the betterment of their own lives. There have been plenty of times throughout my relationships with these friends, where I’ve felt annoyed asking one of them for something, and getting a “no” in reply, even to something as simple and I would assume as pleasant as meeting for a drink after a long day at work. The “Sorry babe, but I’m really not feeling up for it,” kind of stings. But looking at it now, with a clear head, while I’m having a fine day, I’ll admit, I am a little envious of those friends and their ability to not say yes so nonchalantly.

In New York City, where the 9-5 workday is more like 9-7, and after that, what’s left after the trek home via two trains and a walk, and dinner (whether cooked or reheated), and a call to the friend on the other side of the country or home to the folks, and catching up an emails and paying bills, and eradicating dust bunnies and managing the laundry heap, there’s only a sliver of day left for the real goals—the X, Y, Z. So when do they get paid attention to?

I realize, the older I get, and the more I question what it is I am really wanting out of life, that me time, or time for my self is really important. I feel better knowing that I’m not alone in this thought; that it is indeed ok to say no sometimes. Though I never want to be the one that shakes my head to a friend in need, and hope I’m never seen as someone who is really selfish, I’m making it a goal to better balance saying “yes” to saying “no” in favor of that more important something (or someone) that needs tending to.

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3 thoughts on “Selfish Doesn’t Have To Be A Bad Thing

  1. M says:

    Great lesson learned at this time in your life. Go girl!

  2. Jodi says:

    I think my no phobia comes from the fear of not being liked or perceived as a stick in the mud or something. Realizing that you don’t need everyone’s approval ALL the time is a huge breakthrough

  3. John Michnya says:

    “…to thine own self be true…”

    Cousin John in California, a retired investor living on a pension.

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