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If you look up the definition of the word “selfish” you will find “concerned chiefly or excessively with oneself.” You may even find “concerned chiefly with one’s own profit or pleasure.”

We’re taught to believe this is a bad thing, but is it really?

Experts in the field of psychology will tell you that when you do not focus on yourself and prioritize your own interests and pleasures, you will quickly burn out and struggle to operate as your “best self.” Depression, anxiety, and self-sabotaging behaviors may also result.

I work with a lot of successful, highly accomplished individuals, many of whom are women working hard to balance it all. They often share their feelings of overwhelm and even resentment for all of their obligations. When we assess their priorities, most often they list themselves at the bottom of their priority list. Why is that? A big part of it is because we are taught at an early age and often socialized as adults to believe that being “selfish” or focusing on one’s self is a bad thing.

Redefining “selfish”

Has this ever happened to you: you share a proud moment or give yourself a compliment and someone replies with “You’re so full of yourself”? Or, growing up, did you ever hear the words “Don’t get too big for your britches”? Well, I’m here to start the revolution and say YES, get too big for your britches! Be full of yourself! Full of self-prioritization, self-care and self-love.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating we all go out into the world simply to serve ourselves while completely disregarding others. Quite the opposite. I am advocating we each make ourselves a priority in our process of serving others so that we may operate at our best and have more energy and joy for everything that we do.

When our chief concern is striving, working, and serving those around us—whether that be family members, colleagues, or an organization—there is only so much we have to give. We eventually burn out and become of use to no one. We are all on this earth to contribute, and when our proverbial “tanks are empty” we simply have nothing to give.

Make yourself a priority with these three practices

1. Take YOU time

ALONE. Yikes! This may scare some of you extraverts but remember, solitude does not equal loneliness. Solitude allows our brains to take a rest from the external noise and pressures we experience on a daily basis. Studies show spending time alone on a regular basis improves creativity, productivity, and decision making abilities.

If you’re not doing this yet, start with one hour per week of YOU time doing something that makes you happy and allows you to disconnect from your typical everyday routine.

2. Reflect on your accomplishments and what you’re most proud of

We’re always in a build-build-build and do more-more-more state of mind. When we have a little downtime, we often focus on areas we want to improve upon. We don’t take enough time to step back, reflect and celebrate our accomplishments.

One of my areas of specialty is career coaching and helping clients take the next step in their career. An integral part of the process is updating the client’s resume and practicing interviewing skills. Many times this process begins with a big UGH from the client, but by the end they really start enjoying the process because I highlight the fact this is one of the few “socially sanctioned” opportunities we have to brag about our accomplishments and speak favorably of ourselves in a public forum. Think about it, when you go into an interview you have to talk about yourself, your accomplishments and what makes you unique. And that’s a fabulous thing! Don’t just wait for those few-and-far-between moments to highlight your accomplishments. Do it now!

This simple exercise will help: Go back in time 5-10 years and list your professional experience, then all of the successes you’ve had. This could include projects you’ve led, promotions, and significant accomplishments that came from those. The more specific the better.  Focus on what makes you unique, and what you do very well. When would someone call you to step in?

Now do the same on your personal side. Your family, your kids, your volunteer and social activities. How did you lead, contribute, or be of service to someone?  After completing this exercise, talk about it with someone. Do it with a friend or colleague and share with one another.  It is great practice and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you discover about yourself.

3. Talk about yourself in a positive light

In his book The Four Agreements Don Miguel Ruiz lists his #1 agreement as “be impeccable with your word,” not only when speaking about others but also for yourself. Be mindful of your self-talk – the words you use to speak to yourself and describe yourself to others.

Here’s a simple yet powerful way to start:  Do you ever find yourself deflecting a compliment? For example, someone might say, “You look great today” and you deflect and say “Oh gosh, I feel horrible, I just woke up.” Or “You did a great job with that presentation.” And you say “Oh, I didn’t feel prepared. There were things I wanted to say but didn’t.” From now on, when you receive a compliment, simply say “thank you,” and let the compliment settle in.

I need to revisit these practices myself on an ongoing basis to keep myself healthy, positive, and inspired for what’s next. Sometimes it’s a daily challenge to prioritize ME within my work and personal interests, but I’ve learned over the years that when I do make myself a priority the rewards are exponential! I encourage you to do the same.

Which of these strategies might you try this week as part of your commitment to redefine “selfish”? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.




*image courtesy of Kat…



One Response to “SELFish isn’t a Bad Thing”

  1. Anonymous

    This speaks volumes to me! In a world where I a constantly proving my value by taking care of everyone else’s needs personally and professionally, I suffer. These are excellent insights on how to take care of yourself first. As well, receiving compliments appropriately and absorbing them as truth! I am sharing this!!!!!!!!!!!!! So necessary! Thank you Whitney.


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