Being selfish is part of the job.
They are certain types of clients who hire me to help them become more selfish. There are certain types of clients who, when I start talking about how they’re going to have to become selfish to achieve their goals, become almost orgasmic regarding my use of the word, “selfish.” They move in close, lock their eyes upon me and say, “Um, what do you mean, ‘selfish?’ Talk more about being selfish. I want to be selfish! What does it even mean?”
I don’t know; maybe it’s because in my family, I was an only child, but while I was being praised for my empathy as far back as kindergarten, I never had a problem being selfish. (Before you feel sorry for my “sad,” “lonely” childhood of suffering…yeah, don’t you wish. You had to share your toys. I didn’t. )
Nowadays, I don’t wander around saying, “Hey, I’m Carlota, I’m selfish, and yes I will have a double vodka martini, thanks for asking,” but on the other hand, I’ve never had a problem understanding that, in this world, if you want to really achieve your goals, you have to be selfish. You have to put your goals, your journey, ahead of other people’s needs. You have to decide that your dreams are worthy of your time, your commitment, and that you don’t need other people’s permission or acceptance.
This is, in my opinion, especially difficult for many women, who are conditioned, from day one, to put others first, and to be appalled by others who don’t knowingly martyr themselves for the greater good. And yet, I’d argue that people who are selfish enough to believe in their goals, and fight for them, really aren’t selfish in the long run. How many of the men and women, in all walks of life, whom you admire were, more than likely, extremely selfish with their time, in order to bring forth their dreams? Dreams that contributed to us today, enjoying everything from penicillin to flush toilets to Netflix to the plays of Tennessee Williams? On the other hand, how many of us know these people who are (pathologically) compelled to put others ahead of themselves…even as they’re not-so-secretly filled with rage and frustration?
If you’re reading this, and starting to get a romantic look in your eyes, thinking about how glorious it would be to be selfish, and not take on one more project, or be called “amazing” by people who really don’t care about you, even as your own dreams die of malnutrition and neglect…you’re not the only one, Champ. A great way to get started is to go through your monthly calendar, and identify as many as possible of the chores, projects, promises you’ve given to other people. And just realize that every time you say, “yes,” to someone else, you have to say “no” to yourself. You have to say “yes” to your dreams, whether it’s writing, finally, that TV script, or learning how to paint, or learning Chinese. You have to say “yes,” to the realization that you can have dreams that others won’t like or understand…and that’s okay. You have to say “yes,” to taking your dreams seriously. If you’re going to do the things inside you, you must give yourself the time, and energy, and the focus to do these things. Add up all the time you’re spending helping others. You’ll probably be (mildly) horrified.
Now, you’re going to have to start saying no. Choose even 2 projects, every week, that you can, politely, graciously, leave. I know, Sunshine: if you’re a die-hard people-pleaser, you’re going to be sick to your stomach saying no; you’re going to feel like a serial killer. But you aren’t. You are a good person. I promise. (This might also be a good time to think about why it’s so easy for you to negate your own hopes and dreams….) Pick up the phone, apologize, and be firm. Don’t negotiate, don’t make excuses, don’t get sucked into doing anything else, simply apologize in a polite manner and move on. You really can do this. You might also consider what it says about how you may see yourself, if you believe that you have to please the whole world, in order to prove to yourself that you’re worthy.
Now that you have some free time, start thinking about your own goals. Relax. I didn’t say “achieve” your goals, I said, “start thinking.” Start taking your goals seriously. Start being selfish.
(Want some help? Leave me a note in the comments, or you can always shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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