I’ll say it: Selfishness is good. It means we put ourselves above everyone else. We focus on what is best for us before we think about those around us. Although I may sound like a jackass, prioritizing ourselves over others is good. It’s natural. It’s how we improve.
I would not be retired right now if I thought of others first. There are people who believe that I’m living off of the fat of the land by retiring in my 30s. I’ve been called virtually every name in the book.
People hate early retirees for the choices they make. To swim against the tide of conventional wisdom. There is no way that I’d let myself retire if I didn’t put myself first.
And that’s okay. I don’t care about them. I care about me. My focus is doing what is in the best interest of my wife and me first and foremost. Always. We come first. Our needs are paramount. And, I make no apologies for it.
The truth of the matter is:
The difference between selfishness and being an asshole
I never set out to intentionally screw people over. Ever. I still hold the door for people – even though I personally believe that ritual to be asinine and an inconvenience to both parties. I will go out of my way to ensure those around me are taken care of. I do a LOT of work for people…for free.
Selfishness and being an asshole are two entirely different things. I am definitely the former. And depending on who you ask, I may or may not be the latter. 🙂
I have to return to the oft-recited phrase we hear on airplanes: “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping the person next to you”.
Why? Because you won’t be of much help to your neighbor if you’re dead. Don’t let yourself feel guilty or politically incorrect because you think of yourself first. You should focus on yourself. Your interests come before the interests of your neighbors. Always.
The reason is remarkably simple:
Thinking about number one first puts us in a position to not only help ourselves, but also those around us – if we choose to do so. You can’t be much help to others if your emotional, mental, physical or financial position in life is compromised. I don’t care how selfless that you think you are. Your influence and ability to help will grow when you stand upon a solid foundation of rock. Dishing out pieces of bread to the congregation while sinking in quick sand isn’t helping anyone, for long.
Being selfish isn’t a negative. Don’t let society tell you that thinking of yourself first is, well, “selfish”.
Work on being less nice
I’m sure most of us believe that we are nice people. And frankly, there’s nothing “wrong” with being nice. Being nice is, well, nice. We gain friends that way. Being nice also has a way of making us feel good about ourselves. Seeing a smile on another person’s face, due to the help that we provided, is a feeling unlike any other.
But what happens when we feel an obligation to help others? Where do we draw the line? How far do we let people take advantage of our generosity before we finally say, “Wish I could!”? After all, we can’t give our spare change to every homeless person we see on the street. Eventually, we run out of change.
I am talking about things like:
- Dropping everything to help out anyone who asks (aka: Always saying “Yes”)
- Sugar-coating your true feelings
- Celebrating the successes of others while ignoring your own
- Forgoing time for yourself to be with others
- Letting others take advantage of you to avoid conflict
These traits are all far too easy to fall into, and they are tough to recognize in our own lives. How do we know if we’re being “too nice”? How do we draw a line between being a genuinely good person and one who simply rolls over at virtually anyone’s request?
If you do “nice” things for people out of obligation or guilt, then you might be too nice. Only you can determine whether or not you fall into this criteria. And yes, sometimes it is tough to admit this to ourselves. If someone asks you for help, and you say no, do you feel guilty?
This is something that I’m working on.
If you value yourself, be selfish
People will often call you selfish when you’re not conforming to their expectations. But, the fact is we can’t possibly make everybody happy. The key, though, is we shouldn’t attempt to please everyone. While we never set out to fuck people over, we similarly cannot possibly strive towards a state of perpetual love from everyone.
It just won’t happen, and we’ll end up frustrated and in a self imposed position of weakness.
Being selfish (not an asshole) is a position of power. I never ask for (or accept) help from those who don’t help themselves.
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.