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Are You Being Selfish Enough At Work?

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The word "selfish" has a bad rap.

I get it. Being "concerned chiefly or only with yourself" seems like kind of an asshole move, but is that always the case? I don't think so. The "Screw you, suckers!" variety of selfishness deserves its critics, but what about the kind of selfishness that simply means you're putting yourself first?

I dove into this with a client the other day. She was reluctant to take some much needed vacation time at work. She felt greedy, guilty, selfish about taking time off when her colleagues would have to cover her workload while she was gone.

"You mean the way you did for them when they were on vacation?" I asked.

We talked about feeling bad for simply claiming what was rightfully hers and the word "selfish" kept coming up. This word often comes up with many of my clients who have trouble taking care of themselves. So I asked the question, What's so wrong with being selfish, anyway? With putting yourself first?

What's wrong with asking for your vacation time? What's wrong with not being the last one to leave the office every night? What's wrong with not picking up the slack for your colleagues?

I'll feel bad.

I'll feel guilty.

I'll feel greedy.

It's selfish.

These are the typical responses.

What do you think is going to happen if you put yourself first?

It might seem selfish.


Somebody might not like it.


Somebody might not like me.


The fear of being perceived as selfish is often really about the fear of not being liked. So you work hard to make sure you don't ruffle any feathers or make waves. You're careful not so step on any toes, which seems really nice, but it's not altruistic, it's self-defense against disapproval.

Except that kind of passive self-defense doesn't work very well because you never actually get what you want. Everybody likes you because everybody gets their way. You're easy, accommodating...likeable. So there you are, as likeable as the month of May, with your finger perpetually stuck in the hole in the dam, gritting your teeth through your forced smile and waving at passers by.

I get wanting everybody to like you. I'm verrrrry familiar with that old tune. But how can you expect to get what you want (and deserve) unless you sand up and ask for it, unless we're a little selfish?

It's like we're always waiting for permission, to finally get what we deserve, our recognition, our reward, our day in the sun. But the truth is sometimes that day only comes because you grab it and make it happen. You claim it.

Ugh, I can't believe I'm about to quote Dr. Phil, but he always said, "You teach people how to treat you". And you know what? That sweet, mustachioed, bumper-sticker wisdom spouting guy was right. You DO teach people how to treat you, and if you don't put yourself first who's going to?

It's time to take your finger out of the dam and put yourself first. Some people won't like it, but not everybody has to.

Published at Inc. and Careergasm

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