25 min read

How to be "Good Selfish"

"Generosity", as we were taught it, is just a catchall for giving ourselves to others. With no guidance or encouragement on when enough is enough, when it's okay to say no, when it's okay to choose ourselves.
How to be "Good Selfish"
Photo by Rodrigo Borges de Jesus / Unsplash

For those who run from a "selfish" identity until you've drained yourself dry.

Too many of us walk through life thinking selflessness is the mark of a good person.

How many times have you said, "Well, I can't do that. I don't want to be selfish."

I've practiced selflessness, and I've practiced selfishness. It appears to me that everyone in my life, including me, gets to feel better, healthier, fuller, when we practice being a liiiittle more selfish.

Hear me out.

When you grow up under the idea that to be a good person means to be selfless, you tend to become:

  • The friend who takes care of others to your own detriment
  • The team member who pushes through burnout to fulfill extra job duties, pick up extra shifts, etc.
  • The partner who sacrifices shit you were never asked to sacrifice "because I love you and that's what love is"
  • The adult who still consistently abandons yourself for your parents' opinions - even if those opinions harm you more than help you
  • Add a few of your own. How does "selflessness" show up in your life?

I think a lot of us are conditioned this way. "Sharing is caring", after all. And if you aren't careful to share every ounce of time, energy, money, and resources you have with the people you care about - and hell, don't care about - then you may get the question,"Do you even care at all?"

And nobody wants to hear that question. It's one of the most invalidating questions on the planet. So we avoid it by living to prove that we care.

As humans we often romanticize generosity as the pinnacle of what it means to be a "good person."

A "caring person".

Making sure other people think this of us is huge to us.

But there are two other potent drivers to this:

  • At some point we all discover how great it can feel to be generous.
  • Generosity has helped us survive, avoid abuse, get a raise, etc.

So, "feel good" generosity paired with positive feedback and survival is the perfect storm, isn't it?

Suddenly we're in a loop of leaping into generosity over, and over, and over - even after it stops feeling good. Being good.

Long after it even stops serving the people around us in any real, sustainable way.

We're so dead-set on becoming a generous person that we don't realize we're becoming something else too...


We become the person who is so generous that we abandon ourselves and enable everyone around us.

No one's healthier or happier for it in the long term. And you're exhausted, probably carrying some resentment, and deep into this web of living for the face of "generosity".

So I'm lead to believe that as much as we've learned about generosity vs. selfishness over the years, something's missing from the narrative.

We're missing the fact that an overabundance of generosity can affect us and those around us negatively.

How an overachieving generosity can do a 360 and become harmfully selfish, instead.

And how we're misusing generosity to this effect. A lot.

The point is...

Many of us give too much of ourselves in moments where we should, could, and would be better people to tell everyone else to fuck off, respectfully.

The point is - with so much dialogue about the wonders of generosity, no one ever taught us what it means to be generous to a fault.

No one told us that:

  • Generosity to the point of feeling ill within ourselves is just as easily called "self-neglect".
  • Generosity to the point of chronically caretaking those who can care for themselves is just as easily called "enabling".

"Generosity", as we were taught it, is just a catchall term for giving ourselves to others, with no guidance or encouragement on when enough is enough, when it's okay to say no, when it's okay to choose ourselves.

Have you ever considered who this definition of generosity serves?

Do you think it serves you? Or the people who handed it to you? The people who needed you to be generous to and for them?

Generosity is dangerous without boundaries.

If your entire model of self-worth is comprised of how much you give, at what point have you given enough?

How far do you go?

How do we know where to draw the line?

And if you go until you have nothing left, what happens then?

Do you suddenly open ourselves up to receiving in return?

Does anyone in your life even know how to give back to you in the ways you need?

Or have they not had the practice because you are the giver?

If these questions are relevant for you, it's time to discover what balances out hapless generosity.

And of course, the biggest question of all - is there a way to stop being generous to a fault without being an asshole.

It's time to discover what it means to be Good Selfish.

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