My Biggest Mistake… So Far

2nd Dec '155 of your Earth minutes

My Biggest Mistake… So Far

or: The Unlikely Cause of Feline Obesity

Check out this video from a couple of weeks ago:

Selfless vs SelfishDid you notice the guy’s sign? “Take what you need” … how many really needed the money they took? Probably none of them. Contrast that to the apparently homeless guy at the end. Did he need it?

Those are some selfish people right there. But that’s not what I want to focus on.

I want to focus on the guy wearing the suit of dollar bills. Think of the suit as selflessness and the sign “Take what you need” as what others see when you exert your selflessness.

OK in real life we don’t go around wearing our selflessness like a suit, holding a sign that says “use me.” But there are plenty of ways we can essentially be doing exactly that.

Selflessness is also a finite resource and it needs to be replenished. If you allow it to all be used up on people who don’t deserve it or have had too much already, you won’t have enough left for when you want to give it to those that really need and deserve it.

Also… did anyone actually say “Thank you” after taking what they ‘needed’?

I’ve always considered selfishness — in all forms — to be something that I should avoid. When seen in such a light as this video it makes it clear that selfishness can be an ugly quality.

So I strive to put others first, to see myself as lesser than others. I like to keep the peace.

I’m not trying to come across as ‘holier than thou’, I certainly can be and have been selfish. But being selfless generally appears to make others happy and in turn that has made me happy.

I have led a less dramatic, perhaps even less traumatic existence as a result, which has been a nice bonus. But it’s definitely also meant denying myself a lot of potential personal joys.

But that was ok, because I reasoned ‘you can’t be too selfless… right?’

Wrong. It turns out you can. And I’ve been super guilty of it for a long time. And it’s actually resulted in a few unhappy experiences. That’s both unbalanced and unfair.

That’s been a hard truth to realise and accept. And it’s even harder to put into practice when you’ve convinced yourself that, if in doubt, the selfless way is the right way.

The problem with being too selfless manifested itself in two massive areas of my life: the demise of some of my personal relationships and the downturn and death of my first business.

It turns out when you give-give-give, receivers get used to being able to take-take-take. I’m not saying that they’re always unappreciative or don’t notice what you’re doing for them, but they are subconsciously being trained, like animals, that when they want/need something they can turn to you because you’re the one who gives.

Imagine if that guy went out in the street wearing that same suit stocked with bills every day. Eventually people would realise and he’d be mobbed and within minutes all of it gone.

But let’s bring it back to real life. Here are a few practical examples which I’m sure you’ll be familiar with:

You keep giving in in these situations and people are gonna get hurt.

It might not be as soul-destroying as being a doormat or a whipping boy, but the consequences can still leave a mark that drastically impacts on the lives of a number of individuals, especially your own. It can even affect the courses of whole companies.

I had to learn the hard way to draw a line in my selflessness. I failed at recognising where the limit of it should be and this cost me even more failures. It affected others negatively too, in fact, the very people I was trying to please.

I also missed out on opportunities to do things that could have been ‘successes’ for me personally, but my time and attention were diverted elsewhere.

This definitely felt like failure and trust me, it wasn’t a good feeling.

Time for a change.

We all need to be a little selfish sometimes.

The Benefits of Being The Right Amount of Selfish

I’ve since learned that it’s not just OK, but actually beneficial to be a little selfish.

Not like those selfish people in the video though!

In the right way and right measure, a balanced amount of selfishness can help you to train yourself and others what to expect from you, how far you’re prepared to bend and when to stop.

It will also mean you have enough selflessness left over for the people who really need it.

Of course, suddenly moving the needle on your selfish/selfless scale can have interesting side-effects. It will ruffle some feathers.

But anyone who doesn’t like this increased amount of selfishness in you will likely move on. That’s not a problem. Those annoying clients will go elsewhere. That exhausting relationship will come to an end. Your child will learn that they can’t always have it their way. Your cat might find another home.

If they’re going to be dramatic about it, let them go. Move on. You’ll be better off for it. You should never feel guilty about doing the things you want to do or asking for the things you need.

Your life will likely be more peaceful and free of drama and now you can experience more of those moments that you wanted to with the kind of people you wanted to.

You won’t get the balance between selfishness and selflessness right every time. But that’s OK. Just keep trying and improving.

You’ll thank you for it later.

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