Why Selfishness Is Making Me A Better Person

Selfishness

Selfishness can be a good thing. I used to spend all my time helping others and trying to live up to unrealistic altruistic values I’d set myself but then I’d always find myself drained, feeling low and in the shallow end of the success scale.

Before I continue I just want to say this is not going to be a debate about defining success. I consider myself very successful in some area’s of my life and not so much in others. I continually evolve the benchmarks I set myself in alignment with my personal growth goals.

The connection between success that I want to establish here is in regards to perceived “selflessness” and success.

The way in which I’ve seen many define selflessness has often been the thing to lead to their demise.

There’s A Reason Nice Guys Finish Last

When I first started my journey of personal development nearly 19 years ago I equated “being nice” and trying to please everyone as altruistic.

I now understand what a crock that was. This isn’t the cynical Amit here rearing his ugly head. It’s just a deeper understanding of the universe and human nature.

Being nice has nothing to do with altruistic values or selflessness. In fact, I think there is a very deep rooted selfishness, and not the good kind, in being nice.

People who are nice can sometimes hoard secret feelings of resentment when that kindness isn’t returned. It can manifest in subtle ways such as depression, or more gross ways in the form or bitching to friends.

Selfishness

Now, when I want something, I try not to be nice about it. It sounds counter productive but it seems to work much better. I will be polite and follow a code of etiquette but I won’t “suck up” so to speak.

I find the more I try and coerce people the less effective I am. I let go of trying to control how others respond and just allow whatever outcome to emerge naturally.

I would so much rather people help me through their own volition without a hint of perception that I had a hand in the decision; preferably to the point where they’re not even sure why they’re helping me.

In the past, When I met someone who was doing better than me, in a field in which I wanted to excel, I couldn’t help but feel a hint of jealousy. I don’t believe, despite what many may think, it was a bad kind of jealousy.

I saw someone successful and I kind of felt a sense of disappointment that I wasn’t there yet when I knew I’m was more than capable.

It’s not even a sense of jealousy, but almost a feeling of helplessness that I can’t offer that person something of value at that moment in time.

Then I think about all those times I used my time and energy to helping others with the bitter after taste of resentment for not being given anything in return.

I still, even now, feel occasionally jealous when people are doing better than me and I know people will come along and say “don’t be jealous, be thankful for what you have” but they seem to miss the point.

Being thankful for what I have, or trying to force those thoughts is, in my opinion, the wrong way to go. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that kind of jealousy.

As I mentioned, it’s just that I see where I am, and I see where someone else is, and it’s actually more a feeling of disappointment that I am not there yet; that I want to move to that level. It motivates me to keep pushing forward

Examples

How do you determine who you say no to? Well it’s entirely up to you to set your own criteria. It truly does depend on what area of life you’re talking about but I can give you a couple of specific examples of mine.

In the past many Life Coaches approached me asking me to come onto my radio show. I used to say yes to all of them but I realised that it was not the best approach to take. Now I discriminate…a lot!

Firstly I say to them, “I’m a Life Coach, so you are in essence my competition, so how is having you on my show going to bring value to both me and the listeners?”

Your first reaction to that statement might be one of contempt for me, but think about it carefully. How would you handle the same situation?

Secondly, nowadays, if I do invite any coaches onto my show, I would need to know that they would be able to handle themselves under serious pressure.

A chat show needs a controversy in order for it to be a chat show, it is the very premise under which a chat show operates. It’s needs strong opinion and no middle fencing. I’ve met many Life Coaches who are often, too placid, and too boring to be on a radio show.

Another example is when, a few years back, a friend asked me to coach them to write their book which I did. I gave them free coaching which they went on to have published and for which I was never even thanked. I offered my valuable time and energy and got absolutely nothing in return.

That wasn’t altruistic of me. In fact it was cowardly not to ask for a fair return. I have not heard from that person since. At the time I thought I was being selfless but I was weak and horrendously under valued my services.

What Selflessness Does Not Mean

Being selfless does not mean you go and help people to the detriment of your own well-being. Remember, sometimes helping people over and above you may actually be taking something away from them.

Sure, guide them; throw some clues their way, but for heavens sake, don’t do all of the work thinking you’re doing a good thing.

I have a slightly different definition for selflessness and the equation goes a little something like selflessness = oneness.

Do I want all the answers and rewards given to me on a plate? Hell no! I want to work for them otherwise life would be more boring than watching paint dry. I offer the same level of support as I would want.

I am now much more selective about what I give my time and energy to.

Time And Selfishness

I don’t know about you but I used to have about 2000 connections on Facebook. I recently did a clear up and went down to about 900 and now again it’s creeping up to around the 1700 mark. Now, you don’t need to be good at maths to calculate that it means that,, on average 5 of my connections on Facebook will have a birthday every day.

Even if only 1 out of every 3 of those connections decides to have a birthday bash, and I get invited to it, I would have one a day throughout the year. That doesn’t even include other kinds of gala’s, charity events, launches, etc. I can’t possibly attend all of them, otherwise I would have no time for anything else!

I could try the selfless route and please everyone and attend as many events as I can but eventually I would burn out. I had to learn how to discriminate and how to say no.

The Upshot

The whole point about living consciously is that you can pick and choose who you decide to help. Being selfish and altruistic are not mutually exclusive.

You don’t have to say yes to everyone and everything and saying no can be saying yes to yourself (a cool line from the book The Yes Man by Danny Wallace).

You will find by being selfish you will have more time, more energy and more focus doing the things you love doing rather than the things you think you should be doing.

48 Responses

  1. Sandra Lee says:

    Amit, There’s so much to reflect upon in this post. I agree that being nice isn’t the same as being altruistic – it all depends on one’s motivation. I myself wouldn’t use the word “selfish” to describe the personal quality you speak of here though. Selfish to me means being self-absorbed, self-centered, and only thinking about your self. What you are describing sounds to me like the application of clear discrimination. None of us can do everything, so we always need to make choices and its far better to discriminate wisely about what will truly be effective for self and others, and not just be a do-gooder out of one’s neurosis. I hope that makes sense.

    I got a good chuckle out of your description of “placid” personal development coaches.

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Hi Sandra, Interesting thoughts there. I see where you’re coming from so maybe I didn’t put my point across strongly enough. Self absorbed, maybe is a selfish thing but self-centred – when you break that word down doesn’t actually sound like a bad thing to me. I think again there is a part of the scale you could reach perhaps that could be defined as absolute greed and ego maniacal-ness to the point where do you care about anyone or anything else except your own needs and opinions.

      I’m glad you can see where I’m coming from though…it’s good to see that what I now term as selfishness, perhaps most won’t see as a bad thing.

  2. Hi Amit,
    This is fantastic! I love your honesty. I would agree with Sandra though – I think using the word selfish has a connotation that you’re self-absorbed and self-centered, and an uncaring individual. I would say you’ve developed the qualities of being discriminating and discerning about who you devote your time to.

    We do need to protect our time – we can never get it back again once it’s spent. So, to choose whom you wish to help and say no when it feels right is good healthy habit to cultivate. There’s nothing worse than doing something nice for someone and never being recognized or thanked. I can relate. I’ve had some surprises like that lately with people I thought were friends – it really shocked me, but it made me realize that I had ignored my intuition in the first place about them. Deep down we always know from the get-go.

    I’m glad you’re speaking your mind! I really enjoyed hearing your truth Amit!

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Hi Ang, thanks for commenting and thanks for sharing your experience that you went through with your friends. I think people in the world of personal development expect their lifes to go perfectly and they hear everyone else’s going so well they think that they’re the only ones in that boat…you candor is a quality I admire highly!

      As for you thoughts in relation to Sandra, again I say, I’m glad to see my new found selfishness is seen in a good way! πŸ™‚

  3. Swati says:

    Living Consciously….I’m SURE I’ve used, sorry I mean heard that SOMEwhere before, I wonder where, hmmmm

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Seriously, i have no idea what you’re talking about…Living Consciously is a common term…I coined “The Tao of living consciously”

      πŸ™‚

      • Swati says:

        It was in reference to a fb status you had sometime last year where we were discussing changing your tagline and I suggested living consciously/conscious living and you’d said you liked it and had thought that yourself as well but it was already used.

        it was supposed to be a light hearted nudge, I’m glad that you were able to use that but your comment suggests that you perceive it differently and that’s ok! I’m glad it’s working for you x

  4. Swati says:

    Also I’m glad to read that you are being ‘selfish’ although I think I’d prefer to call it having a greater self respect. If you don’t truly value yourself, your time, your energy and your own worth, then no one else ever will, not really. I also feel that those kinds of negative experiences you described and many other types are necessary in order to firstly aknowledge where I may be letting myself down and then what I can do to help myself and ultimately be happy :o)

    • Amit Sodha says:

      I like that term – self respect…It’s knowing and accepting that you can say both no and yes with authority with your time and energy. Thanks! πŸ™‚

  5. Amit, you are speaking my language πŸ˜‰

    I have a real problem with people who are selfless, because I’ve noticed they mostly end up very frustrated and bitter. Helping others without taking care of your own needs is not a way to lasting happiness.

    The way I see it, life is a transaction: give lots of value, get lots of value and enjoy it.

  6. Amit,

    I can imagine how you must feel, as many of us have helped people and not being appreciated. I guess there has to be balanced, one can be still helpful while holding his own needs too. Like they say in plane, “in case of emergency put a mask on yourself, before helping others”.

    Only we know what works for us, do what works for you! rest will follow or go away, it is up to them.
    Preeti

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Hey Preeti, I like the Aeroplane safety briefing analogy, well put. Yes indeed, it’s only about what works for us. Hopefully I hope I can pass some of what I have learned onto others who will no doubt go through the same thing.

  7. Mighty says:

    Hey Amit, this post sounds like a wakeup call for me. I consider myself “nice” and most of the time, I help people out without expecting any fair returns. And yes, they take a little bit of my time, a little bit of my resources. I get thank you’s every now and then but I seem to have lost some of the personal opportunities I could have used to develop my business.

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Your honesty is very appreciated Mighty and with respect to what you said I get the feeling that you and I would’ve had very similar experiences. I’m very grateful it’s struck a chord with you though. Let me know your experiences from here onwards.

  8. Hi Amit! Very interesting post, and something new. I like it a lot! Thanks for sharing!

    P.S. As always very nice picture! πŸ˜‰

  9. Ho Amit. I can totally relate to this. The Dalai Lama says to be “wisely selfish” and I couldn’t agree more. I used to be a “Yes girl” but I’ve learned the importance of taking care of me. It is only when we take care of self that we are truly able to help others. Wonderful post!

    • Amit Sodha says:

      I’ve never heard that before from the Dalai Lama and that term is fab “wisely selfish” thank you so much for bringing that to my attention Nea! πŸ˜€

  10. Khaleel says:

    This article depicts my former self. It was all part of having inferiority complex and teaching of Islam(to serve others regardless of one’s needs and wants) but asI grew older and realize that not everyone is gonna like you, I have developed the ability to say NO without feeling bad at all.

  11. Khaleel says:

    ” I donÒ€ℒt think thereÒ€ℒs anything wrong with that kind of jealousy”

    I wont as much call it jealousy, at least to me, but rather envy(jealousy is extreme of envy) and I do feel that sometimes as well. I do feel like that sometimes and in my own mind accept that it is their time and not mine as we speak.

  12. Pras says:

    Story of my life… almost word for word..except the success part.. it is quite relieving although at times i see myself going back to it, MUST PREVENT!!” actually I wouldnt mind going back to those ways , although its not too long ago that i decided to change for the better, I wouldn’t mind going back to those way after success, though i think actively preventing yourself from acting in a way actually affects your character and I shall become a whole new man by that time for the better or worse,..

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Hey Pras, thank you so much for the those words. This article had connected with people so much because I think some way we do feel obliged to be there for other people to the detriment of our own well being.

  13. Debra says:

    What a refreshing article. I personally am tired of being taken advantage of, by opportunistic people. I always have been more than reasonable, in personal and work relationships. Being a “giver,” has exposed so many “takers,” who have no conscience or intention of ever doing the same for me. They see me as a “sucker,” and have no compunction whatsoever, in making a fool of me. Whenever I hire someone to do any work around my house, more often than not, I’ve been ripped off. Even my slimey neighbor across the street has seen fit to steal items out of my yard, for the past 2yrs. (So much for warning the little creep about moving his car, so he doesn’t get a ticket on street sweeping day). Yes, it has left me bitter and that’s why I have made my NY’s resolution to become SELFISH and put myself first, for a change. And so far, it feels G O O D.

    • Amit Sodha says:

      Hey Debra,

      My apologies for my delay in responding to you and yes – damn right – you should put yourself first from time to time and sometimes, more often than not! I’m glad it feels good, you keep doing what feels good to you and you can still do things for others, but those you find are worth doing them for!

      All the best,

      ~Amit

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