Healthy Selfishness

Are You Last on the List?

When was the last time taking care of yourself or doing something just for fun made it to the top of your to do list? If your answer is a “long time ago” or “can’t remember” or even “never,” you’re not alone.

From the time we were children, many of us were taught “don’t be selfish” and “think of others.” We may have learned these lessons a little too well. Most of us spend all the hours of our day taking care of others, completing the to-do list, fulfilling obligations, and doing what we “should” do. Taking care of ourselves is last on the list – if it’s on the list at all.

The truth is this doesn’t work! If you ignore your own needs long enough you’re likely to become drained, dissatisfied, exhausted, and maybe even resentful. When you’re not refilling your own personal tank, it becomes increasingly difficult to give to others. Without recharging you won’t have the energy to be your best self at home or in the world.

Put Yourself First

Many of my clients come to me with empty tanks. While they may be searching for what is next in their lives or how to make a difference in the world, they often need to start with self-care. Only after refueling and recharging themselves are they fully ready to create their vision for a deeply satisfying future.

Remember how on an airplane you’re told to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then help others? In the event of an emergency on the plane, you must be both present and alive to assist and truly be of service to others. You must take care of yourself first. The same is true in all aspects of our lives.

If you want to be a happier person, a better spouse, a great parent . . . if you want to be a good employee, manager or friend . . . if you want to do what you’re called to do, what your purpose in life is . . . whatever it is you want to do with your life, begin with yourself. When you make choices that nourish you and fill you up, you’ll naturally be more generous with your time, energy, and resources. And you’ll be more able to create a life you love. This is healthy selfishness.

Make the Most of Your Self-Care

If this idea makes sense to you your next question might be “What do I do to take care of myself?” There are a lot of “shoulds” in the area of self-care – exercise, eat healthy, meditate. The list can be long. All of these would be good for us, so the question often is “Where to start?”

I recommend a different approach to self-care. To get the most impact and the best refueling from your self-care time, do something that “lights you up;” choose an activity that energizes, delights, soothes, or nurtures you. My clients’ “lights on” activities have included getting a massage, singing karaoke, reading trash magazines, having dinner with friends, practicing yoga, taking a ten minute walk in nature, and planning a vacation to a favorite place. The list is endless and different for each person.

What is it for you? Take a moment to visualize some things you love to do. Perhaps those things you never make time to enjoy. Get these ideas out of your head and onto paper. Better yet, add some of these to the top – yes, the top – of your to-do list. And then do some of them! Notice how your energy increases when you take a little bit of time to do something just for yourself, something that lights you up.

So go ahead- be selfish now and then. Put yourself at the top of your to do list. Healthy selfishness just may be the best thing you can do for yourself, the people around you, and the world.