There are a lot of rumours going around that living for yourself equates to selfishness. These rumours really need to be debunked.
Living for yourself is commonly perceived to be selfish and egotistical. This perception leads most of us to not do what truly makes us happy and spending too much time serving others. Believing this makes it easy to fall into the trap of simply going along with what we are told and what other people want. This can leave us feeling unsatisfied and unhappy, which has the possibility to lead to significant low mood and low self-esteem.
There are many people in our lives who request that their needs or wishes be prioritised over our own. Most commonly it is bosses and co-workers, but it may be family, friends and loved ones. To truly live for yourself, it is important to understand when it is appropriate to prioritise the needs of others, and when to prioritise your own.
How is living for yourself different from selfishness and how can it benefit you?
The most common word you will hear when you begin living for yourself is that you are being selfish. This just isn’t true. There is a big difference between living for yourself and being selfish. There are a lot of ways that you can practice living for yourself and each has powerful benefits to you and those around you.
Selfishness implies that you are purposely detracting something from or harming another person. Living for yourself is never done to harm others or to take away from their needs.
1. It doesn’t just affect you, it affects those around you
If you are constantly putting the needs of others first, yours will go unmet. This is dangerous because it can cause irritability, low mood, and tiredness. This will not only make you feel bad, but it will also make those around you feel bad, too. You will be less likely to enjoy the good parts of life and, in turn, neither will your loved ones.
When you begin living for yourself and making time to look after yourself, these effects will lift. People will enjoy being around you and you will be much better equipped to give time and support to others. Plus, your friends will find you much more pleasant!
This makes it different from selfishness because it allows you to give to others, it never takes away from them.
2. Your to-do list should be your to-do list
We could all create a never-ending to-do list if we wanted to. Some of us do. A lot of us take on extra tasks and projects to help others and people please. Maybe you want to avoid conflict, maybe you want to help those in an emergency. Maybe you are just chronically nice. Yet, when you don’t allow yourself time for your own projects, you will lose sight of them and stress will increase. You may lose performance and progress in an important task, with little to no reason other than you couldn’t say ‘No’.
Learning to say no is key in living for yourself. It allows you time to spend on what is important to you so that you stay productive and minimise stress. You don’t have to always say no, knowing how allows you to say ‘yes’ if and when you want to.
Saying no is an inevitability. When someone asks something of you, you do not need permission to say no. A request is not intrinsically linked to an obligation. If you are unable to help them, you are fully entitled to refuse. That is not to say you shouldn’t be respectful in your refusal and helpful when you can be. The trick is to be realistic about what you can and cannot achieve.
3. You are important, too
We easily prioritise the needs of others over ourselves. This is common in work and at home. To us, our loved ones are more important, and our bosses are more senior. We easily forget that we are also important. We don’t need to prioritise the needs of others all the time, only where it is appropriate.
Although it is usually right to prioritise the requests of a boss, it is inappropriate to do so when the task is not in your remit. It is never selfish to make your own needs a priority and enjoy some importance. It only selfish where it is purposefully detrimental to others, or purposefully takes something from them.
The key is to set a clear barrier between how much you can give and how much you need. Our resources can only go so far. It can be difficult to get used to seeing yourself as important. However, once you do, you will find much more happiness in giving to others and to yourself.
4. Those who love you will understand
It is easy to forgo our own wants and needs in the replacement of family members and loved ones. Sometimes it is even necessary, but not all the time. Making others happy by doing what they want to do is a loving sacrifice, but it should never sacrifice your needs. Living for yourself does not mean saying no to doing something you maybe don’t want to do for the sake of a loved one.
Living for yourself simply means that you don’t make this sacrifice all the time. It means that you take your own needs into consideration and put them first when it is necessary. Family members and loved ones may think that they know what is best for you. They might. They also might not. Remember that you are the one who has to live with your decisions and while loved ones might influence them, they do not control them.
What you want is important. Family relationships are reciprocal. Just as you deem their needs a priority, they also deem yours as one too. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you need and assert yourself when it is necessary.
5. Your priorities are supposed to change
To only prioritise the needs of others is easy to do. Yet, when we think about it, it’s a strange thing to do. Our priorities naturally shift as we go through life, even as we go through the day. To constantly be prioritising the needs of others may inadvertently ignore more pressing tasks or needs.
It is completely natural to prioritise something you need if it is more important than the need for another’s. At a very basic level, we need to satisfy our own needs in order to survive and thrive. Ultimately, living for yourself is not just prioritising your own wants and needs, it is prioritising what is important to you. Pleasing your boss might be a priority on Monday morning, but spending time with family and friends may be a priority on Friday evening. On Sunday, self-care might be a priority.
The bottom line is that living for yourself is never selfish because you never set out to harm other people. You can still prioritise the needs of others where you deem it necessary to do so, but your needs are still important. By learning how to live for yourself, you can figure out when you should put others first, but also that it’s okay to let yourself come first.