I am a real fan of the author Ayn Rand. In fact, ‘The Fountainhead’ is one of my all time favourite books (and not just because the main male character had red hair and is the ultimate hero of individualism) and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is another I love. However, it is her book ‘The Virtue of Selfishness’ that has had the more profound effect upon me and my own life ethic.
The Virtue of Selfishness was published in 1964 and comprised of a collection of essays written by Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden and within it Rand aimed to re-characterise selfishness as a virtue rather than something that was typically perceived as being a negative trait. Altruism is typically considered more honourable…..
Many people assume that if you are selfishness, it is somehow to the detriment of others, yet it does not have to be and I subscribe to the notion that if you effectively concern yourself with your own interests (the more precise way Rand termed selfishness) you actually are better able to serve those you love and the world around you.
Do go and explore Ayn Rand’s work, she was a brilliant woman though often divides opinion, I find her to be inspirational, provocative and thoroughly stimulating.
It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that being selfish can make us a better servant to the world, so how do we actually go about becoming ethically and effectively selfish? That is what I am writing about today.
Learn more about selfishness:
Is Everyone Just Downright Greedy? Can Greed Ever be a Good Thing?
If you’ve ever wanted to create change in your life, there’s a good chance you’ve worried about the impact your choices could have on those close to you, you are likely to have considerately examined the effect of the decisions you make and how you impact upon those around you.
You’ve perhaps told yourself you’re a good person (which you probably are if you are considering it), and that good people don’t hurt others. Good people put others first, even if it is at the expense of your own well-being. That’s how things are, aren’t they?
Most people have subsequently learned through experience or been taught that selflessness is a virtue, and selfishness is a character flaw.
Today I’d like to suggest that this ain’t necessarily so.
In fact, there are times when selflessness can be problematic and even dangerous. There are times you need to be selfish.
The trick is knowing when it is the right time to put yourself first. Let me offer up some considerations and reasons that selfishness can indeed be a virtue in this modern day and age:
It is essential for your long-term health:
“To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”– Gustave Flaubert
Let’s get into the basics and fundamentals to begin with here…..
Financial planners strongly suggest to live within your means as much as possible. Continuously borrowing against your future for short-term pleasure will lead to poor financial health and potential bankruptcy. Much of the state of the world economy in recent years has been attributed to irresponsible borrowing habits. Some may argue that recklessly borrowing is an act of selfishness, but had many people learned to take care of themselves effectively, being effectively selfish is likely to have paid dividends in the long run.
Likewise, by neglecting your sleep, physical exercise and proper nutrition levels consistently for others, you are borrowing against your future, and you risk bankrupting your ability to remain independent from outside support as you age. Many in the caring professions, as well as so many wonderful Mothers often burn themselves out by selflessly putting the needs of others before themselves and paradoxically render themselves less effective at being able to care.
“When you take care of yourself first, you show up as a healthy, grounded person in life,” says Bob Rosen, author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World.
It nurtures you mentally, physically and emotionally:
It also offers you some spiritual sustenance.
When did you last take some time, just for you? Even spending time being mindful, getting lost in your own thoughts, exercising or some other selfish pursuit when all that matters is you, is going to nurture you.
Doing things that create vitality (such as the strengthening of our spirit, mind, and body) allows you to be more resilient in the face of unexpected obstacles or challenges. This means you will be less prone to stress, depression, and anxiety, have the capacity to give more to others in their time of need, and allow you to be less reliant on health care as you age.
Melissa Deuter, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas says, “the good part of being selfish is that you take responsibility for getting your personal, emotional and physical needs met, and that’s an important part of becoming an adult.”
It frees you from harmful behavioural patterns or relationships:
It makes sense that when you have a good relationship with yourself, you are likely to have good relationships with others too.
In my favourite TV show Red Dwarf, one of the lead characters Arnold Rimmer becomes very difficult to like, because he does not really like himself (he actually loathes himself). Whereas those who love themselves can often, in turn, become very loveable.
No one would criticise someone for selfishly recovering in a hospital or convalescing at home. Taking the time and space to heal and maintaining a positive outlook is essential to the process. Without a healthy self-concept, you limit your ability to engage, nurture, and inspire others. People will have a harder time manipulating or taking advantage of you if you’re selfish, says Deuter. “Setting boundaries means knowing where you end and other person begins,” she says. “If you have trouble being self-focused, you might have trouble saying no.”
I think this is expressed in one of the cornerstones of cognitive behavioural therapy; assertiveness training. This is a fundamental part of my own hypnotherapy training courses. When clients learn to become appropriately and healthily assertive, so many other areas of their life begin to flourish in wonderful ways. In assertiveness training, people learn who to offer their own perspective without feeling guilty, they learn how to say ‘no’ effectively and in ways that safeguards their own well-being. Being healthily assertive (i.e. not submissive or domineering) is partly also about learning to be effectively selfish.
It allows you to live a more purpose-driven, growth-oriented life:
“Sometimes you have to be selfish to be selfless.” — Edward Albert
Spending the time to reconnect with yourself, to know yourself at a deeper level, to identify your strengths, and develop an unshakable sense of purpose will allow you to share your gifts and passions with the world. The world needs you at your most awesome.
I was speaking to a man this week about the fact that I only work in a coaching or mentoring capacity with people I think I’d enjoy working with and am stimulated by. He said to me “isn’t that a bit selfish? Other people may want or need to work with you too?” His response makes perfect sense. My retort focused on the fact that when I am stimulated, inspired and energised, I do my best work, I serve that person better, and it has a greater impact on the world. Those other people will find coaches and mentors who will do the same for them.
Working and living with a sense of purpose is at the heart of effective selfishness. Having a vision for your life, standing for something and promoting a set of values that are important to you, will mean you’ll grow and develop and be able to be more as a result.
It moves you towards your dreams:
“To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don’t isolate.”–Michael Jordan
Every day, adults encourage children to dream big, and then go out and chase those dreams. Unfortunately, that message changes as we get older, to the point where any mention of striving for something better often gets dismissed by others. In some cases, it leads to open attempts to sabotage or ridicule you. Without dreams, you lose your sense of wonderment and enthusiasm. Without dreams, you lose hope for a better future.
Accepting where we are at is good, learning to enjoy who we are is good, yet we can still strive towards dreams and outcomes that are going to help us actualise ourselves more greatly.
It empowers others to become more independent and self-reliant:
This is key.
Yes, it’s important to help others who are unable to help themselves. However, giving to others who are capable of helping themselves but choose not to is not selfless; it’s harmful. Learned helplessness and a false sense of entitlement can only make it difficult for others to survive outside of the nest. Eventually, the adult bird pushes the baby bird out of the nest and forces them to fly.
I want to teach my own children how to be effective in their lives and sometimes I want to show them how to ‘do life’ according to my own model of the world, yet it is so important to let them learn for themselves often too. We get to influence by being a template that they can then explore and fit into who they choose to be. The ability to choose is what they learn by us being that empowering example.
It decreases a power imbalance:
Selfishness does not mean that you do not serve others.
The reality is that the world can be harsh and unfair at times. Many people are powerless to help themselves in the face of oppression and injustice. Many are simply born with less opportunities than others. If you hold dearly the values of kindness, equity, fairness, and justice, you may feel compelled to act to affect change, often at great risk to yourself. Choosing to withhold your ability to help others will only perpetuate the cycle of injustice that people are forced to endure.
If you’ve followed the other elements of this article and understood them, you’ll be far better positioned to support those who need you most, and you get to serve more effectively in turn.
You have made a good attempt at communicating effectively:
An assertive communication style allows for openness and honesty in any dialogue about creating change. It allows time for the other person to consider your views and determine if they are willing to support them or not.
“If you have a well-developed sense of who you are, what you enjoy and the ability to communicate this to others, you’ll be a happier person,” says Deuter. After all is said and done, choosing change becomes so much easier when you know you have approached things fairly and respectfully. When you know you are communicating with honesty, integrity and according to who you really are, you will be congruent and so many other facets of what I have written about here today will slot more comfortably into place.
At times, you have to be selfish and be okay with being selfish. To do what you love to do, to be bodacious and lead as you dream of leading. To be selfish is to speak up, be heard and be seen and in turn serve others more effectively as a result.
Get selfish now, and be the one who is happy and healthy. And in turn, this clarity of your desires will make you feel lighter, happier and determined to share yourself honestly with everyone around you.
Have some of themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.