Selfish is the New Black (and This is Good Thing!)
Our society has a major ‘tude when it comes to the idea of being selfish. “Selfish” is seen as four-letter word that no one wants attached to their name.
Yet, we’ve all heard some form of the adage, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” which means: you need fill yourself up before you can even think about helping other people. Period.
You ask, “But wait, isn’t that being selfish?” No. Well, yes. But in a good way.
This past weekend, Amanda Huggins (@thefeistyyogi) took over yoga/fitness company Gaiam’s Instagram stories, and something she said struck a chord with me. She explained that many people struggle with actually practicing self-care because of the perception that putting yourself first is “selfish,” and they didn’t want to be seen that way. But in this case, selfishness isn’t a negative, it’s an integral part of being able to show up for other people.
I remember learning about this in Yoga Teacher Training. My teacher talked about prana (energy) and how we get it from a variety of sources (nature, food, friends, physical touch, meditation, movement, music, the sun, etc.) and how we need to consciously (and continuously) fill ourselves up with what gives us prana so that we have energy to give to others. Again, we can’t give if we’re running on empty.
No matter how kind-hearted we are, this is the reality: in order to be able to help other people, we need to help ourselves (aka be a little bit selfish).
Now, there is definitely a shadow side of selfishness. If you belittle, break, or harm other people for your own gain, that is selfishness gone bad. In fact, that’s beyond selfishness, that’s just you being a shitty person, and it’s not a good look for anyone.
Why is all this so important? Well, because we need you. In addition to just making you feel awesome, if you devote some time to yourself, you are then better able to contribute your particular gifts to the world, be it teaching, parenting, playing music, helping a friend, making art, making people laugh, writing, photography, taking care of animals, negotiating world peace, whatever. We need you.
If you’re overworked, overtired, malnourished, and generally pissed off because you haven’t been taking care of yourself, you don’t have what it takes to give back. Be mindful enough (and humble enough) to realize this: without self-care, you do not have what you need.
I can hear some of your inner monologues already lashing back, saying “I don’t need that much sleep, I can get everything done, I can still go to this event and that event and show up to work on time and help so-and-so and... I CAN DO IT ALL.”
Breathe. Just because you “can” doesn't mean you should, and chances are you won’t be doing any of those things well. Pick the things that are a “hell yes” and let the rest fall away so you can use that time to connect with yourself. Then you can show up for those people/events/causes that you actually care about and shine in all your well-cared-for glory.
Another way to think about this cup metaphor is “Give from the overflow.” I like this idea because instead of focusing on lack (being empty), it focuses on abundance—that when we’re selfish in the right way, we’ll have so much love, energy, prana, and awesomeness that we are overflowing and ready to share it with others. Doesn’t sound so selfish when you put it that way, does it?