Monday, March 7, 2011

Selfishness–A “Necessary Evil”

Selfishness is defined in one dictionary as “a stinginess resulting from a concern for your own welfare and a disregard for others”.

It sounds like a pretty negative judgment of someone, doesn’t it?  If someone were to refer to us as selfish, most of us would feel compelled to defend ourselves against what we perceive as an attack on our character.

It is for this reason that we can easily see why many people rarely take time for themselves.  Most of us have been taught from an early age that to do this is to be wrong or greedy, bringing negative connotations to mind that we would rather not be associated with.

But sometimes we have to be selfish.  For example, we are told by airlines that if the oxygen masks drop and someone beside us needs assistance putting one on, we should put ours on first and then help the other one.

In such a situation, a momentary act of perceived selfishness saves both our Life and the Life of the person sitting next to us.  If, on the other hand, we decide to do the perceived unselfish act of helping the other person first and we pass out while in the act, there’s a strong possibility that putting the other person’s needs first may cause the death of both people.

This is not to suggest that we have a license to be selfish most of the time.  However, a balanced individual understands when a little personal selfishness helps more people in the long run.

Calendar Management – Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Recently, I violated one of my own rules of calendar management – to “own my calendar, otherwise it owns me”.  I not only had a full plate, in fact I needed multiple plates to manage the obligations I had created personally and professionally. 

I not only “didn’t put my own oxygen mask on first”, I was walking the length of the plane to make sure that everyone else on the plane had put theirs on correctly first.

This serves no one well in the long run, including myself.

One of the things I have noticed in recent weeks is that my wish to keep as many people as happy as possible filled my plate to overflowing with not all of it being “productive” or “useful”.  Yes, it is very humbling to be in such demand and it is a noble gesture to try to live up to the expectations of so many.  However, while I constantly encourage others to never allow this to happen to them, my own “plate-loading” was so gradual that I didn’t notice what I was doing.

Dealing With Full-Plate-Syndrome

Once one finds one’s self in such a situation, only one of two options are available:

1. Take control of the situation

2. Melt

Option 2 for many people is the easiest.  In fact, no action is required on the part of the person whose plate is full.  Just keep doing what one is doing and eventually the mind and/or body will collapse.  Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?  The impact and pain resulting from such a decision is not felt until later and so it seems to be an easier option at the moment.

To take control of the situation, on the other hand, brings immediate pain and tension and therefore is often avoided.  The person who is overloaded must do things that the rest of the world may not want to hear or accept.

For example, I shut down my Facebook account in the first week of February and I’m not certain when I will return until I decide how I figure out how to use it more effectively.  In addition to a very busy Facebook wall, Facebook generates 7,000 emails per month to me, with people asking my opinion on a variety of things.

That doesn’t sound so bad, one might say – it’s great for the ego and you don’t have to read them if there are too many.  Well, if one doesn’t read them, that generates follow-ups (“in case you didn’t see the previous message”, “why wouldn’t you answer this message if you answered so-and-so”, etc.) that generate so much noise at some point that the load becomes unresolvable and removes my sense of perceived value from the various exchanges.

In fact, I took a month off from my social media persona completely.  I was serving the needs of so many people that I had neglected the needs of a very important person in my Life.


When we neglect the importance of taking care of our own needs in addition to the needs of others, our ability to help others is of reduced duration and diminished impact.  We can only carry so many people so far before we need to set them down in order to rest and recharge.

And besides, few of us are THAT important that the world can’t live without us for a little while.

Courage and Humility

When we use our strengths and talents, we have an opportunity to have a huge, positive impact on the world.

If we get overloaded trying to do too much for too many, we discover that the world will get along just fine without us.

It takes a mix of courage and humility to recognize this.

It takes courage to be able to put up one’s hand and call for silence so that one can take the time to clear one’s plate.  Sometimes this also means saying “no” to people, perhaps more often than we are accustomed to.

It takes humility to recognize that none of us are so important that we can’t take a little time off to restructure our own plate, to re-enable and strengthen our execution and our results.

Can You Do It?

When you feel that your plate is too full, do you have the courage to ask the world for a “30-second timeout” or do you just push through it, not wanting to disappoint others or allow the world to discover that it can exist without you for a little while.

If you feel the need to take some “selfish time”, I encourage you to go for it.  The strength you regain and the results you produce will more than compensate for the time you took off.

If you don’t have the courage or the will to do so, don’t worry.  You will eventually have an opportunity to clear your plate anyway.  However, it probably won’t be under your own terms and will probably be a lot more painful for you and others.

It’s ok to be selfish once in a while.

The world will be better for it.

And so will you.

In service and servanthood, with a hint of occasional selfishness. :-)


The same entry exists on my Musings-in-a-Minute blog and can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. It is very courageous to put yourself first. I'm proud of you.