Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Joy of Unselfish Selfishness

I'm a mom and a teacher and a wife, three roles that can make it difficult to find "me time." I was also raised with a particularly strong work ethic, one that makes it hard for me to relax sometimes. I feel like you have to earn the right to play by checking off everything on the list. And we know how realistic that is when it's a mom's list.  Most of the stuff on it is cyclical and cannot ever actually be completed. So, if the list is never all checked off, then I never get to that clean space where I feel like I can play.

It can be really difficult to get to the selfish moment you've promised yourself sometimes.

But sometimes the universe lines up right. You do something because it's really what you want to do:  make a cake, play a game, see a film, take a walk.  You invite someone to do it with you, because they are really the person you want to do that with. And, afterwards, your someone thanks you . . . like you've given them a gift in making them do what you wanted to do.  Selfishness was a virtue.

It makes me wonder. There's a theory that happiness is what makes a person beautiful. So, if I am taking care of me and making myself happy, then that makes me inherently more attractive to others. In that sense, a bit of selfishness is arguably good.

In my above scenario, the friend I invited feels the magnetism of my happiness in what I've selected for us to do, and that's why she enjoys it, apart from any inherent enjoyment of the activity itself.

It makes me feel like I should be selfish more often.

No, don't get me wrong, I'm no Ayn Rand, thinking that if we all just watch out for ourselves that somehow it will all work out. In fact, I'm a big believer in the Greater Good and our collective obligation to see to it. I also know that there are those in this world who would take advantage of those of us who feel that way. In fact, the entire teaching profession relies on it. Because teachers are motivated by a desire to help, they put up with things that, in other professions, would lead to mass walk outs.

Takers (whether they are individuals or systems) rely on givers continuing to give.  So, how do us givers protect ourselves without changing who we are? It seems as if a person moves into thinking that selfishness is good, the pendulum swings way to one side, and she becomes self-serving and opportunistic, losing sight completely of her role in any kind of Big Picture.

I don't think we have to stop giving. But, I do think we have to learn to look at the world a little more skeptically, to ask ourselves why we are being asked to do something. Is it because we are the person best suited to the job? Because we have talent or skill or training that others don't and it would be easier for us to accomplish the task? Or is it just that we are giving by nature, and a taker has noticed that we will do it for them?

It's a weird mind game I play with myself, protecting me from me. Not letting me give away every moment of the day, but keeping some for myself for whatever use I want. Because I love my children and my students, and children are self-centered until they learn a sense of perspective, I can give too much of myself.

If I do that too often, there's a toll on my spirit. I get cranky, irritable, easy to upset. That's no good for anyone.

Like everything, it's about balance. Balancing selfishness that allows you to rejuvenate and replenish yourself, with selflessness that allows you to give to others and make a meaningful life. I'm not there yet, but I think I'm starting to understand. Taking care of me is taking care of the people I love, too, being the best me I can be for them. If I'm being selfish because of my love for others, then arguably, that's unselfish, too. And that, my friends, is joy.


  1. Being a house husband in addition to a freelance writer is also a balancing act. There is always something that needs to be done around the house, so it's hard to justify leaving. Be that as it may, I try to find two days a week where I can go off to the Wake Forest Coffee Company and get some work done. It's easier here because domestic tasks aren't calling me and I like the atmosphere.

    Ever see one of those signs that say "If Mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? Truer words were never spoken. If you're not happy, it shows. Kids tend to take it to heart too, both students and your own,

  2. Hi Samantha! New follower here through IWSG. Balancing is SO, so difficult! I'm in the middle of trying to balance a lot, as well. I applaud you for everything you are doing. Hope to see you around the Blog-o-Sphere :)

  3. I think what we think is selfish in someone else is not always what we think is selfish in ourselves. For example if someone chooses to go the gym three times a week and ignores their kids, animals etc.. on those allotted days that seems selfish; however the gym is to take care of one's self so that they are healthy and happy overall. :-) Selfishness is definitely relative and an opinion in a lot of cases. Is it selfish to spend more time with your significant other than your children? Or vice versa?