“You’re selfish,” you say with sharp eyes. Your words are sent to me as an insult. As a weapon intended to hurt.
But the blade is dull and insignificant; I’m fine.
What does hurt though is that I’m being misunderstood. That my message is eliciting anger instead of understanding. Judgment instead of acceptance. My message of personal fulfillment is being taken as a bad thing.
But it’s not.
Who gets to assign the selfish label?
Everyone has selfish tendencies. It’s a human thing. But just how some people are nicer than others or funnier than others, I am more selfish than others.
And I’m working on it – as best as one consciously can.
I can’t necessarily turn off the selfishness, but I can reroute it into something that benefits me and the others in the room. Which is a good thing, for everyone. Looking at the context of the insult above though, what’s perceived as overly selfish is simply misguided.
I’m not hoarding the phone charger from my family or stealing the covers from my wife at night.
This is different.
I’m explaining my current* philosophy; of how I navigate through life, make decisions, and choose to spend my time. In other words, how I use personal fulfillment as a guide to existing.
*I say current because I am open to learning and changing. If I uncover a better way to do things, I have no problem adjusting my actions/systems/thinking about the matter. I hold my ideas and notions loosely.
A note before we continue
This is my first attempt at describing the virtues of selfishness in the pursuit of meaning. So if my arguments aren’t airtight, please keep that in mind.
There are a lot of aspects to human decision making as well as life navigation. To say I only make choices based on personal fulfillment is both impossible and arrogant. We all have quick impulses that make us reach for that last piece of bread without contemplating the fulfillment that it will add or remove from our existence.
However, to the best of my ability, in brief moments of awareness, I use the idea of personal fulfillment as my guide.
That, and that alone, is what this post is about.
Let’s move on…
I want a purpose
You have this one life. You have one shot at this existence (excluding any spiritual or existential possibilities). If you waste it, if you blow your time on trivialities and nonsense, your life will have been for nothing.
For naught, as it were.
And personally, I don’t like that idea.
I want to live a life of meaning, of fulfillment, of knowing that I gave life my all. I want to go to bed each night excited to wake up and I want to wake up equally excited to start the day. Going through the motions or working for the weekend does not appeal to me.
I want fulfillment, a purpose.
The notion of personal fulfillment
There are a lot of different life philosophies out there – Stoicism, Cynicism, Taoism, etc. – but more than anything else, I’ve found that focusing on personal fulfillment has allowed me to best create a meaningful life for myself.
At its root, personal fulfillment means looking around at the various aspects of who you are and considering what fulfillment looks like to you for each. For example, what does a:
- Meaningful career look like?
- Fulfilling relationship with your partner look like?
- Home that you love look like?
- Body that gives you confidence look like?
And from that understanding, it’s a matter of bringing those ideals to fruition. This is literally the basis of my goal success course.
You only look selfish to the person not getting their way
It’s not about impressing others or showing off. Those things are pointless. Instead, personal fulfillment is about recognizing what gives you meaning and then tailoring your life in that direction.
To the outsider or close-minded, it may seem selfish. But is it? Removing someone venomous from your life only looks selfish to the person you’re removing.
To everyone else, they are surprised you didn’t do it sooner.
Refusing to eat freshly made cookies that someone brought into the office may seem selfish to the person who baked them, but to you, you know that one cookie will lead to 30 and that 30 won’t help you attain your desired health.
You only look selfish to the person who, selfishly, isn’t getting what they want from you.
Are you selfish? Does it even matter?
When you choose yourself over others, yes, you are being “selfish.” But that’s not always a bad thing. Particularly in the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
In that case, it’s more like you are being assertive, deliberate, thoughtful about your time.
You are actively choosing to move in the direction of meaning – and away from that of meaningless. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing, right? Of course not.
If you really want to get into semantics
Yes, technically you’re being selfish when you choose yourself over others, but you’re doing so for the sake of something greater.
Not to get out of changing a diaper or to eat everyone else’s dinner, but to have a career that you love to talk about, a spouse that you love to spend time with, a relationship with your child that’s strong and meaningful.
Often that means choosing your time (and who you give it to) carefully – everyone can’t have access to you 24/7, after all – and so feelings may get hurt. Labels may sometimes be thrown around. But you don’t need to worry about things like that.
You’re living a life of meaning.
Everyone that’s not a part of that will have to take a number.
Selfishness in selflessness
Not only that, but personal fulfillment involves other people just as well. Particularly in ways that could be deemed selfless.
It’s about meaningfully helping your community, or being philanthropic in a way that’s authentic to you, or helping your husband with the laundry so that you can both watch a movie together.
You are doing things to enhance your own meaning and purpose, but you are doing so in a way that also helps those you care about too.
Your selfishness is for the best
It’s like someone getting mad that you donated $10 to First Book, but not to their hurricane relief fund.
You only had $10 to donate and gave it away to the cause that you felt most needed it. They can’t call you selfish for that. You literally donated to a nonprofit! They’re selfish for wanting to take books away from kids (see how it goes both ways?).
Here’s another example: If you treat your spouse poorly, they’ll leave. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to treat your spouse well so that they stay, thus increasing both of your levels of fulfillment.
You may be making your decisions based on your own desired meaning, but it benefits you both regardless.
Back to the beginning
Reflecting on the narrative that started this whole thing, when you pursue a life of meaning, a life of fulfillment, you are going to get pushback from those who want your time.
From people who, selfishly, will call you selfish for not giving them the minutes they desire.
That’s on them though. You are not responsible for the fulfillment of others. Like you, they must bring it about themselves.
Ignore the pushback
When you pursue fulfillment, you will get pushback. You will get judgmental looks.
Know that right now. Set that expectation for yourself. But remember, you have this one life. This one shot at meaning. Choose yourself and pursue what gives you fulfillment. We all have selfish tendencies, it’s up to you how to embrace them.
PS: Learn exactly how to set goals in the pursuit of fulfillment right here.