“Putting yourself first is not selfish. Quite the opposite. You must put your happiness and health first before you can be of use to anyone else.” ~Simon Sinek
If you’re someone who cares deeply for the people in your life, you may want to do anything you can for them. This devotion isn’t always reciprocated. Not to say we should only think of things in a transactional nature, but sometimes we can selflessly give ourselves away to people who are careless with our own needs.
It often leaves us feeling like we’re being taken advantage of.
It often leaves us feeling depleted, empty, and resentful.
It often leaves us feeling like we’re trying to make everyone else happy, yet we’re miserable.
Instead of doing things because we want to do them, we end up doing them because we’re attempting to make others happy.
These are the moments that eat me alive. I end up sticking around a project far longer than I should because I’m worried about what it will mean for the other person.
For the last year, I’ve been producing a weekly podcast with a friend. When we started it gave me purpose and joy, and I loved to work on it. But now? It feels like work I dread. I think about wanting to quit all the time. It’s an energy suck on my life. And all I can think of is, will they be unhappy with me if I tell them I don’t want to do the podcast anymore?
I’m guessing we’ve all done this before—base our happiness on the happiness of others. We think…
My parents won’t be happy unless I become a doctor, so I’ll go to medical school.
My partner won’t be happy unless I prioritize their career over mine, so I’ll give up on my dreams.
My kids won’t be happy unless I devote every waking moment to their needs, so I’ll sacrifice my sense of self.
My friends won’t be happy unless I drop everything when they need me, so I’ll put my life on hold.
My family won’t be happy unless I am the person they want me to be, so I’ll put their needs first.
My cat won’t be happy unless… cats will *never* be happy. Much like most of the people who expect you to do these things for them. If they attach an expectation, you aren’t dealing with someone who values your worth and what’s meaningful to you.
They’re looking at you as a means to something they want. This isn’t saying that’s a “bad” person, it’s the reality of being a human. There’s software running in the background that is based on self-preservation. It is universal among all living organisms.
This software doesn’t exactly serve us in situations like this because it does everything it can to avoid pain and fear. And that’s exactly what’s keeping us stuck in these circumstances. We don’t want to cause pain in others, and we sure as hell don’t want to experience pain ourselves. And we fear what will happen if we say no to these people and prioritize our own needs.
Will our parents stop loving us?
Will our partner leave us?
Will our kids suffer?
Will our friends stop being our friends?
Will our family start to ignore us?
Will my cat still love me?
It’s normal to have feelings of pain and fear.
That’s worth emphasizing because you might think that the pain and fear are unique to your situation. It’s not. Pain and fear are a normal part of life.
If we can see the choices we make through this lens of pain and fear, we can better understand why others are perhaps projecting their pain and fear onto us and our decisions.
This is where it takes some courage. The only way things will ever change is if you stand up for yourself (because nobody else will). Stand up like you would for someone you love or a cause you care about. Stand up like your survival depends on it… because it does.
It’s not selfish to put yourself first (what you want to do with your life). It’s selfish to expect others to put you and your needs first (what others want you to do with your life).
I have a kid on the way. And thinking of her being here has forced me to think of my happiness differently. If I’m working on projects that feel like they’re robbing me of my time, I’m willingly sacrificing the kind of dad I want to be—present and grounded. The poor kid would be left with a warm body and a mind that is elsewhere racing with anxiety because I’m focused on making others happy.
You could do nothing with the hopes of avoiding pain and fear, but it will invite a lifetime of regret. This is the equivalent of death by a thousand paper cuts. You lose your sense of identity, your life feels meaningless, and you drift aimlessly in a life that is not yours.
There are no do-overs.
No second chances.
You don’t get to do this life all over again.
So don’t waste your days living someone else’s life.
In the end, I decided that who I want to be as a father is a hell of a lot more important to me than a project. And much like most things we avoid in life, I had turned the decision into something far more complicated than it needed to be. It was a lesson learned from Dr Seuss who wrote, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”
Those who matter want to see you happy.
They’re not the ones holding you back. They’re the cheerleaders of your life who ask you, who do you want to become?
Commit to living your answer. It’s not selfish. It’s prioritizing your happiness.