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Best Therapist in Portland

my musings

A selfish rebrand

The word selfish has a bad rap. If I ask you to describe a person you don’t like, chances are you will list “selfish” up there among the top ten traits. We throw the word around pretty willy-nilly and it has come to represent one of the most TERRIBLE things we can be, especially women, but for now let’s leave gender out of it because “selfishness” is an equal opportunity offender. 

Let's really shine some light on the subject. What we mean when we call someone selfish is usually somewhere in the ballpark of “they didn’t prioritize my needs.” That friend is selfish, because they never pay for dinner. That ex-boyfriend is selfish because he ignored my feelings. That child is selfish because they didn’t clean up their room. We have attached the word selfish to so many things it would be impossible to list. The problem is that when we boil down something into a word so polarizing as selfish (I’m full of self) the only way to not be selfish is to be self-less. Which has unfortunately become a good thing. 

But is it? Self-less means that I don’t matter in the equation. It means that you are more important than me. It means I shouldn’t have any boundaries with my resources, because in order to not be selfish, I need to be willing to give them all to you. I know what you are thinking, “no Darci, there MUST be a middle ground.” 

And indeed there should be. But it’s hard to find. Most of us respond to the idea of selfishness as the worst thing I can be. And act accordingly, at all costs, giving our resources out like candy at 9 pm on halloween night (take 32 pieces kid...). But of course, the cost is carried by the person being selfless. Me. But that’s a good thing? Right? 

Is it actually good? For anybody? 

I want to suggest that we give selfishness a new start. Pull it out of the muddy quagmire of shame that it lives in, clean it off, and take a good hard look at it. A rebrand of sorts. 

What if selfish meant being oriented to myself?  True to myself. Knowing myself and my boundaries and being willing to hold them. Knowing I deserve to take up equal space in a relationship. Knowing when/where/how I want to spend my resources (time, money, and energy) and being willing to stand up for myself. What if being selfish meant giving to myself the thing that being selfless meant I would give to other people? What if it meant being kind, generous, loving, supportive, and respectful TO MYSELF. What if it meant prioritizing myself. What if it meant making sure I am my healthiest self and that I bring that healthy self fully into relationships with others. And what if it also meant I want everyone else to do the same for themselves? 

YES! I want EVERYONE to do all that. 

I like this version of selfish. 

In this version of selfish I get to understand that everything I do, every expenditure of my resources (time, money, energy) is one of three things. It is an INVESTMENT in myself and who I want to be, a necessary or desired SPEND of resources  or a WASTE of resources. It’s important to know that all three buckets are important. Spending resources is a fact of human existence and sometimes feels good and sometimes feels bad. And WASTING resources can be fun and satisfying (I’m looking at you, Netflix). We are going to spend and waste resources everyday. And that is okay. 

But there is a catch. It’s okay to waste my resources as long as I understand it’s a waste and I make an informed decision. And I can only know what is an investment, spend, or waste if I understand what my values and goals are. So I have to start with MYSELF…selfishly…and know who I am and what I want my life to be like. 

A few weeks ago I wrote about how much our friends impact our experience of ourselves. (link to read it here). So consider the following. If I know that my goal is to get straight A’s and get into the college of my choice, then I know that hanging out with friends who have similar goals is an INVESTMENT. We will bring each other up. Similarly, I know that if I hang out with people who encourage me to quit school and join the Peace Corps, this would be a waste of my resources in terms of MY GOALS. Both are totally valid paths. Both can be absolutely wonderful goals and experiences. I can love my friends in both groups, but if I understand my goals, then spending time and energy with each of these groups will have different impacts on my life.  

Another example. Imagine that my goal is to have more memorable family experiences. Make memories. We have the option to do a clown-led-belly-dancing-class. Sounds pretty memorable. We also have the opportunity to go out to dinner at our favorite restaurant that we go to once a week. It will cost the same amount of money and take the same amount of time. Which one is an investment in our family goals? Which one is a waste of our resources? 

When we think about our time, money, and energy resources in light of our goals, a magic thing happens. It suddenly becomes CLEAR to me, what I want to say ‘yes’ to and what I want to say ‘no’ to. It becomes easy to decide, Yes, I want to hang out with my Peace Corps friends sometimes, but they won’t be my inner circle right now. Belly dancing…obviously. Same old favorite restaurant? Let’s bank the money and watch Netflix instead. 

It becomes not only clear, but FUN. Is it selfish to wisely spend your resources on things that matter to you? YES! And is that okay? IT’S FREAKING AMAZING.


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