"When do I get to start living my life?" That's a question a working mom of two kids facing a big decision asked me recently. And it's one I asked myself just a few years ago, when it seemed that my kids and husband always came first.
My answer: when you are willing to cultivate selfishness.
Selfishness is a dirty word for many people. And yet, how are we to care for others, achieve at our highest level, be our best selves if we are not giving ourselves the time and care it takes to be our best?
Filling your own cup first allows you care for others and be your best self, at home, at work and in the world.
Just Say No
For years, I wore myself out saying yes to just about anything that was asked of me by just about anyone: my husband, my kids, their schools, my community. Busyness was a badge of courage among an army of women like me - accomplished women who believed that things fall apart if they don't step in. If you want something done, ask a busy person, I was once told when I asked if there wasn't someone else to do the job.
Without selectively choosing where to put my attention, I was not doing the things that I was really good at and enjoyed. Instead, saying yes to many tasks that were uninteresting to me and at which I wasn't good at (ahem, spreadsheets) prevented me from developing interests and skills that helped me thrive and feel purpose in life.
Even more, being so busy distracted me from what I said I really wanted: deeper connection with my family and friends. For me and millions of others, being busy is a socially acceptable excuse to keep from facing the tough things in our lives: a distant husband, career dissatisfaction, needy children, etc.
Five Habits of Highly Selfish People
Believe me, no one is going to stop you from seizing the crown of the Mistress of Everything. But here are five reasons why developing selfishness is good for you and everyone around you:
1) Creating a new relationship with selfishness keeps your "choosing muscle" in shape. You don't lose sight of why you are doing something because you are creating choice in every moment. You are not complaining about the effect of other people's choices and creating a victimhood that leads to long-term resentment.
2) Knowing what you really want helps create win-win situations. A pregnant client of mine complained that she had no time to go to the bathroom between meetings. While solving her own problem by shorting meetings by five minutes, she addressed her own well-being and that of her team by taking a fresh look at the efficiency of meetings under her control.
3) Stand for valuing your contribution. Saying yes to things you don't enjoy and are not good at drains you and robs another person of offering their gifts. Begin saying no to energy suckers, and if you can't say no yet, at least make a Do Not Do list, which can guide you for future opportunities. For me, spreadsheets are squarely in my zone of competence. Yes, I can make them, but I hate it and others do it much better. In one volunteer job with a lot of spreadsheets, I found someone who loved doing them to help me while I developed relationships with important supporters. We created a win-win: spreadsheets and supporters were vital to the enterprise and we found a way to offer our highest contribution.
4) Question whether you are the best person for the job - and whether you want to do it. This serves to test patterns and routines that may only be in place "because that's the way it's always been done." Someone else may be able to offer insight or to a better way or step into leadership and allows you to turn your attention to what's exciting you most.
5) Being selfish improves your ability to be hugely generous with your time and energy - and even money. When you take care of yourself, you are filling your cup to care for others. That goes for your immediate family, and your employees and co-workers. And the world.
Tim Peek is a certified executive coach who advises leaders and their teams on using disruption, consciousness, and strategy to create their desired future. www.peekdisruption.com and www.conscious.is/who-we-are
Meg Dennison is a certified conscious leadership coach who has reinvented herself many times. She coaches busy women midpoint in their life or career to consciously create their next step based on genius and life goals. www.megdennison.com
Together, Meg and Tim write about how they turned around what had become a stale and uninspiring 28-year marriage to return to the passion and purpose to their lives. Motivated executives come to Meg and Tim for help reinvigorating their careers, companies and intimate relationships.