Build Your Leaders

Postcard from Asheville

December 2014

Healthy Selfishness

My brother-in-law is the best permission-giver.

“I’m thinking about buying this painting, but I don’t really have a place to hang it.”

“You’ll find a place. I think you should buy it,” he says.

“I’d love to join my friends in Paris, but it’s going to be an expensive trip.”

“You should do it,” he replies. “You only live once.”

“Thosecheeseburger and fries sure look good.”

“Go for it,” he encourages. “They are known for their burgers here.”

Giving folks permission to do what they want was one reason he was such a good parish priest, he claims,half-jokingly.

We love it when someone gives us permission to put ourselves first; it relieves our guilt. Why is it that we feel indulgent, selfish or guilty when we do something nice for ourselves? It really doesn’t make sense.

Consultants tell small business owners to pay themselves first. And what do they tell you when you’re on a plane? “In case of an emergency, grab your oxygen mask and put it on yourself before attending to anyone else.” And wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Love your neighbor as yourself?”

My mother use to say, “Take care of yourself, son, or you won’t be good for anyone else.” My friend Bradley puts it this way, “When my cup is overflowing, I’m more than glad to give to others, but my cup has to be full first.” Bradley is right: you can’t give it away if you don’t have it yourself.

Many psychologists see healthy selfishness as a higher level of mental function that can help us reach our full potential.Perhaps that’s because people who put themselves first often have higher self-esteem.

Practicing healthy selfishness is harder for some than others. If putting yourself first is tough for you, here are five suggestions:

One: Be more assertive. Explain to others what you want and that you need some time to yourself.

Two: Learn to say no once in a while—especially if you find yourself feeling run down.

Three: Avoid those people who demand too much from you and drain your energy.

Four: Commit to 15 to 20 minutes of “me time” every day. Exercise, meditate, read, or take a hot bath—whatever brings you joy.

Five: Ask my brother-in-law. He’ll tell you to go for it!

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