#4 When is being selfish not being selfish?

[NOTE: I previously posted this on BLOGGER on June 20, 2010.]

In his book, Choices That Change Lives, Hal Urban presents a powerful activity that I have adapted and used in many of my workshops. There are three steps:

  • First, write the three (or five, or ten, or fifteen) things that are the most important in your life.  These could be people, things, processes—whatever you place a priority upon. 
  • Next, list the three (or five, or ten, or fifteen) things that take most of your time each week.  (Do not count the time you sleep.) 
  • The final step is to compare the two lists, do they match; do they connect? 

 In every audience I have used this activity with, I see heads shaking as if to say, “What I say I value is NOT where I am investing my time.”  It is a quick activity that can be an effective reality check. At the very least, it provides pause for thought.

  Recently, I did this activity with an added twist.  After the audience compared their two lists, I asked, “How many of you listed yourself at the top of either list?”

 In a professional grouping of approximately 75 people, very few people put themselves first. I asked them to think about that.  How could they be good for anyone else if they were not taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually?  I suggested they think about being “selfish”—that is, spend time strengthening and maintaining balance in their lives.

 Later that day I received an email from one of the participants: “If you are spending time on the things you value, is that not putting yourself first?  One’s own name wouldn’t need to be on either of the lists!”

 It was (and is) a great question that stimulated an energizing email exchange. We can renew ourselves by “spending time on the things we value.”

 This same participant also wrote: “I believe what bothers me is the ‘taking care of me.’ This ‘taking care of yourself’ philosophy is being interpreted into ‘It is totally ok for you to be selfish at whatever costs.’  We make choices in life.  Choices to have a family. Choices to own a home. Choices to work outside the home. Choices to strive for a particular income level. All these choices come with it responsibility of time and demands on oneself.  To bail on any of it because ‘you deserve to take care of yourself’ shows lack of character and responsibility and commitment to something you made a choice to do.”

 Again, good points.  But I do not believe that “taking care of yourself” has to equate with a “lack of character, responsibility, and commitment.”

  What I am suggesting is that we take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I am NOT saying we should shirk responsibilities because I deserve “it” (whatever “it” may be). Yes, we do make choices—and we have to live with those choices. 

 For instance, parents have an all-encompassing job that, at times, does take every waking moment. The same happens from time to time in the workplace. And the parent and worker can very well value what they are doing. That is, they love their children; find their work exciting.  However, if that person collapses physically, emotionally, intellectually, or spiritually, will that person be any good to those he/she has made a choice to provide for (for example, children, spouse, employees). If I make sure to carve out time each day for physical conditioning, I know that I will be a better person for those I work with and live with. And, with discipline, I can do that and not “bail” on any of my responsibilities.

 Perhaps “selfish” is too harsh a word; carries too much baggage.  Whatever we call it (“selfish” or “investment” or “…”) this does not give us license to disregard our responsibilities. In one of my books, I write, “Think of balance as being in a condition of contentment when you feel intellectually alert, emotionally stable, and physically strong.” This is living in a healthy, respectful, and responsible manner. 

 Is this selfish? Does this show a lack of character? What do you think?

© Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog, 2010.

About stevepiscitelli

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29 Responses to #4 When is being selfish not being selfish?

  1. Celeste says:

    In my opinion this is not selfish! And, if we as a nation take the time to do “us”, we as a society would probably see a decrease in premature and self induced health conditions. Such as, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes. The problem is, we are sometimes made to feel guilty when it comes to self gratification, self indulgence or merly simple pleasures for ones self.


  2. Charnekia E. says:

    I think that we should take care of “us” first because when you think about it nothings going to get done unless you do it. For example the saying “Treat someone like you want to be treated”. If you don’t know how to treat yourself than how do you treat someone else? When you think about other people all the time you’ll never have time to do things for yourself.


  3. Aundriea says:

    I agree with both sides but to simplfy it I feel there is a positive and negative “selfish”. Everything discussed in the blog I would consider a positive selfish and necessary for a sucessful life. If we can balance ourselves spirtually,financially, mentally,ect.. then you leave no space or time for negative slefishness.


  4. Mylien P. says:

    I believe that you have to be selfish to get what you want in life. Being selfish wouldn’t result in a happy outcome all of the time though. You pointed out a great point when you mentioned that the word “selfish” is looked at as a “harsh” word. Sometimes being selfish is just a survival skill.


  5. Arnisha P says:

    It is very hard to look at things from a different angle when it comes to selfishness. Like why do you feel bad after you buy something for yourself? If I know I need a new shirt, why would I feel badly about purchasing it? Only because I promised my son ice cream later, and now ice cream isnt in the budget. In the end everyone is in it for self. You can say I did this to make YOU happy, or did I do this to make YOU happy because it makes ME happy? So are you good selfish or bad selfish?


  6. JaSeng says:

    I think you have to treat people like you would like to be treated. If would not like it, don’t do that to other too. Doing a thing you don’t even like yourself to other is absolutely selfish.


  7. Jasmine Barber says:

    i dint believe taking care of ones self is being selfish cause if you can’t or aren’t taking care of yourself how will you be able to take care and provide for your family if you have one. if your health isn’t up to par how can you be in the condition to do for someone else. if your not making the income you feel will help you maintain financially and mentally it’ll be harder for you to provide and give your family what they need and sometimes giving them the little things that they want, so i don’t believe putting yourself first in certain situations will make you selfish.


  8. shaneque m says:

    Being able to take care of yourself is not selfish. I t’s the responsible thing to do becaus if not gone to take care of yourself then who is. Looking out for yourself is the way to go in todays society. When i did my list I relize I spend most of my time watching tv, college, and at work. Also, thats what take up most of my time in the week. I don’t feel thats selfish. I believe thats me looking out for my future if you call that selfish so be.


  9. Renell says:

    Taking care of ones self is not an option, its a need. Without me being able to assure that i capable to take the task at hand need to be physically, mentally stable to perform. Yes were all guilty of selfish act, I have always came before you,there for making sure my enter and outer self is at peace is most important.


  10. A. Wesley says:

    I do not believe that taking care of ones self is in any way selfish. If you are constantly supporting everyone else but no one is supporting you it becomes exhausting. I have always been a giver however, if you are running on empty an nothing or no one is refilling you whats left for you to give. If one does not take care of ones self in some form how can you be there for anyone at all. We must all fing something that refills us. Whatever it maybe always make time for you. If you don not take care of you physicaly, emotionally, spiritually and intelectually what will you have to give anyone. Your presence may and will be missed if you depart this side but trust and believe the world keeps on turning.


  11. Rickisha says:

    I believe that being selfish gets you nowhere. If your choice of words are I, Me, Mine, or always in reference to yourself, then who will you have to depend on?


  12. sade says:

    I believe i was selfish towards myself for many years.I allowed myself to put others in front of my own wants and needs.I felt the word no could not exists.But that’s one way to put it.Another look was in class we had an assignment on what are your negotiable and non negotiable , and how we spent our time. I must say it opened my eyes to a lot and to what was getting my time and was it that important in my life.So i seen that i was being selfish to a lot of things that would better me as a person.


  13. Kaila McCall says:

    I think the focus was that we neglect ourselves, and that runs straight into neglecting our everyday responsiblities. Every responsibility that is done in one day sometimes becomes to stressful to complete in the day.. but if you take the time to work out, or read, or do any activity that makes you feel amazing physically and emotionally. I believe you will have a more balanced day and not be forced to neglect any responsibility for the days due to neglecting yourself.


    • You identify important correrlations. Balance is important.


      • Travon Griffin says:

        I do not believe that putting things you value in your life first is selfish outright but i believe it can grow into selfishness depending on how much you value those things or how much time,effort, and energy you put into them also I believe that when it comes to certain things like family, money, and health you must be selfish to a degree because if you don’t value or take care of those things you could end up in bad shape my saying is (never been can’t tell where to go how to get there) which means sometimes you must look out for you in order to look out for others


      • It’s about priorities and the right choices, isn’t it? 🙂


  14. carrie says:

    I like this! I dont think one should be selfish at whatever cost. I do think sometimes you should be selfish when it comes to taking care of your self. It can become too much if you only think of others. I think it is good to focus on just oneself at times.


  15. Kayla L. says:

    I believe that their is to sides to being selfish. I personally believe that wanting things for myself can be a bit of an motivator somewhat. It can push you to get what you want because its something you personally want. For example when you have kids you now have to share or invest everything into them; this will drive me to stay away from activities that may end up causing this to happen. It basically can go both ways.


  16. De'Trina says:

    I think no matter what you do in life or how you do it, somehow or another its considered selfish. One thing I’ve tried to keep in mind as a grow as a person is MYSELF, so I guess I am selfish lol


  17. Tia B. says:

    It is definitely important to be “selfish” at times! I feel as though no one is going to look out for YOU but YOU. Responsibilities and priorities of course is very important, but as said if you were to give out at any given minute then nothing at all can be accomplished. Becoming a mother I’ve learned the value of that selfishness although I have yet to fully accept it. Being a first time parent it is kind of hard putting anything before your child so rather me put myself before him i’ll list us side by side. 🙂


  18. Pingback: (Issue #610) Taking Ownership of Your Self-Care | The Growth and Resilience Network®

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