One of the things I hear from a lot of the young women I coach is that if they put their own needs above someone else’s, they’re being selfish. And being selfish? That’s bad stuff, right? I mean, by its very definition, to be selfish means to focus on one’s own betterment to the disregard or detriment of another.
In her book Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, author Rachel Simmons writes “the pressure to be ‘Good’ – unerringly nice, polite, modest, and selfless – diminishes girls authenticity and personal authority.”
If this is the way girls are being raised, then it’s no wonder that by the time girls reach their late tweens or twenties, the thought of making choices that are in their own best interest might feel, well, strange, if not uncomfortable or even shameful.
But what happens when we replace the word selfish with self-interested?
The way I see it, self-interest is taking care of oneself – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Self-interest is a way to focus on your own needs, not in a way that is meant to hurt or diminish others, but in a way that allows you to show up for your life from a place of knowing and purpose and peace.
The definitions might seem subtle, but the intention for each looks and feels very different:
For example, say your colleague tries to dump a bunch of extra work on your plate on a Friday afternoon just as you’re heading out the door for a much-needed weekend of chilling and recharging?
- Selfish: You slip it back on her desk when she’s not in her office with a post-it saying you’re too busy and head out the door. It’s so not your problem.
- Self-Interested: You let your colleague know you can’t take it on and offer to help her brainstorm other solutions for getting her work done.
- What Happens All Too Often Instead: You don’t want to let your boss down, so you sacrifice your blissful weekend and suck-it-up.
Or what if your roommate / partner / insert noun here walks in the door right as you’re about to dig into your takeout for one and she moans about how she’s starving and would love to share in your spoils?
- Selfish: You say no way, grab the takeout, condiments and all, and head off to your room to eat in peace.
- Self-Interested: You explain you’ve been looking forward to this meal all day and offer to give her a small taste while calling in an order for an extra dish.
- What Happens All Too Often Instead: You share your food down the middle and end the night feeling hungry and annoyed your roomie didn’t plan better.
See the difference? Again…it’s all about intention.
Plainly put, selfish is uncaring. Thoughtless. Greedy. Even narcissistic.
Self-interested on the other hand is thoughtful. Honest. Caring. Even peaceful.
Self-interest, not unlike speaking your truth, means that you get to have what you need when you need it so you can be your best self and support others getting what they need, too.