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Being Selfish Just Means Taking Care of Yourself

04/19/2015 11:35 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Ivelin Radkov

I like being selfish. I'm not sure when it came to be a bad word, but to me, it's always spoken of the power of self-confidence. Of knowing what you want, what makes you happy, and making that happen for yourself.

I'm always surprised when I hear about people putting others first. Yes, it's important and lovely to think of helping others, and we should all do it more often and more frequently (and I don't just mean buying the coffee of the stranger behind you in an effort to "pay it forward"). But if your first priority isn't yourself, then you're not giving your best to other people.

My thinking is that the pecking order should always start with you. If you are happy, healthy, rested, and relaxed, then you will undoubtedly be a better parent/spouse/child/person to just generally be around. You'll be more interesting because you spent four hours devouring the latest Caitlin Moran book. You'll have more appreciation for your dirty apartment when you get back from your trip to New York City and that noisy hostel that smelled like sulphur. You'll be more fun and more happy, and more loving because you did something to make yourself better and happier, for no other reason other than because you wanted to.

Contrary to what your first grade teacher might have told you, it is not a bad thing to be selfish. Being selfish can sometimes be just another way of saying you're taking care of yourself.

As an only child, I've often been told I'm acting selfish. That I'm thinking of myself first, and everyone else comes second. Of course everyone else comes second, my brain wants to scream. My brain is always, always thinking of myself first and looking out for what's best for me. I tend to listen to what it says, and it rarely leads me astray. (Except for convincing me to buy $200 Hunter rain boots. No one needs $200 rain boots.)

If we're all looking out for number one, that's a guarantee that everyone is covered. It worries me thinking if I'm someone else's number one priority, then maybe no one is looking after that person. I feel a pressure to ensure they're covered off, when I really just want them to take control and make sure they're the happiest and most fulfilled they can be. Let them maximize their own happiness, and leave me to fill in the gaps with adventures and surprises.

Now that I'm married, I have seen no reason to slow down my selfish ways. I regularly go on trips with my best friend, buy things without asking permission, and kindly tell my husband he needs to leave the house because I have 12 girls in their late 20s coming over for a slumber party and we need to paint our faces and play made-up board games with truth or dare questions and wizard beards. And like the wonderful person he is, he lets me run my own show every single time. Is it because he's a pushover, or we live separate lives, or he's maybe a little afraid of me? No. (Actually, he might be afraid of my wizard beard. It's very intimidating.) It's because that through trial and error, he knows that I am at my very most absolute best when I'm happy, and I need these things to make me happy. Specifically the wizard beard.

This is not to say that everyone should be selfish all the time. We'd never get anything done. But taking turns being selfish can be okay too. When my best friend wants to list every single adorable thing her secret crush did, it's my job to sit there and listen and respond with the obligatory, "Dude, he definitely wants you." If my husband wants to go on a bike trip to Buffalo and not invite me, fabulous. I'm a terrible bike rider and this way I can practice my dance moves to Matt and Kim's new single without distraction. Helping other people be happy makes me happy, and that's about as unselfish as you can get.

One of the best parts about being selfish is that it makes me do nice things for other people. And yes, part of that reason is for the credit, and yes, that's okay. Would you complete a long and gruelling assignment at work, and sign someone else's name to it? Would you birth a child and spend 18 years turning them into the youngest ever Prime Minister of Canada/Captain of the Canadian Olympic Hockey Team, and then disown them so you don't get any recognition? Come on, guys. Now you're being ridiculous.

Taking credit where credit is due is totally and awesomely okay. It means I work harder and spend more time on something because my name is on it. It makes me feel like a good person, and it makes other people happy. It's a total win-win. Whether it's organizing a home delivery of Canadian whiskey to an American friend dealing with a break-up (a process you wouldn't think would take four hours, yet it does), or ordering a pizza delivered to my bestie who had a terrible day, these things take creativity, effort, and time, and they are decidedly unselfish acts. So if all I want is a heart-felt thank you in exchange, rather than them thinking some kind-hearted stranger spent hours trying to figure out how why an American company won't accept a Canadian credit card, then damnit, I feel like I deserve it.

So be happy, and fulfilled, and selfish -- but be the best kind of selfish. The kind that makes sure you're the best possible version of yourself, the kind that lets other people be selfish too (because it will soon be your turn), and the kind who works hard to do nice things for others, even if you want the credit. I promise you, your heart will thank you.

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