I spend a lot of time grappling between healthy selfishness versus blatant selfishness. See, not all iterations of selfish have been built the same. We use the word as a catch-all for too many things, confusing it with self-care, with the human need to take care of the one thing you really, truly have: yourself. Then, there is the prickly kind of selfish, the kind that destructs relationships and tears apart families and creates a culture where nobody is responsible, even though everyone is.
I’m a selfish person, perhaps more so than I ever lead on. It is something that grinds at me, that I keep in my mind as I share conversations with people, as I make decisions. I used to flippantly allow my selfish behavior to control me, but age and experience has transformed that for me in many ways. Perhaps the most boggling dichotomy that lives within me is that I am self-conscious about my propensity to be selfish. I will talk, talk, talk on the phone, word vomit about myself and suddenly feel my cheeks redden, my voice lumps in my throat, and I will quickly shift the conversation to my friend. My natural impulse is to storm ahead on my own, even though I am married, connected with many friends, and close to my family. Even after four years in a loving relationship, my impulse for isolation, aloneness, and selfish pursuit has not completely dissolved. It has dulled a bit, but it is not gone. Perhaps it never will vanquish.
The purgatory I find myself in is this—and I am going to be blunt here even though it’s uncomfortable—this is MY life and shouldn’t I be selfish about how I live it? Yet, I do not feel good when I am being selfish to a degree where I do not think of others. I sometimes have a difficult time balancing the selfish, tantrum-like outcry to pursue my own life versus the desire to set roots, build a life, actually keep people close to me, instead of discarding them on the climb to something newer and better. I think this sounds worse than it actually is. Nothing is ever as black and white than when it exists in your mind.
Perhaps this dichotomy will always live inside of me. Maybe I will always fight the impulse to flee, to fulfill selfish desires at the expense of the life I’ve built. I think eventually I’ll find a middle ground that suits me, a mix of freedom and roots. I believe anything worth doing requires a certain level of commitment and stick-it-through-ness and eventually you do have to choose to not act on every selfish impulse and, instead, devote yourself to a greater good, a greater pursuit. I’ve long wondered if commitment to anything—person, project, pursuit—frees yourself from the desire to selfishly discard it all when it becomes difficult, mundane, or momentarily uninteresting. Perhaps this is just a long-winded way of saying that I am sick of instant gratification impulses, which seem selfish and irresponsible.
I think that it’s about asking yourself: how willing am I to put other needs above my own? How willing am I to commit even when it’s not easy to do so, when something shinier comes along? How willing am I to keep at this pursuit even when my selfish brain wants to quit and do something less boring? How willing am I to pursue anything that does not have immediate reward, that requires some grit, before I feel the call to do something else? How willing am I to put the needs of the greater good above my own? How willing am I to put the needs of the pursuit, people, or project I’ve committed to above my selfish pursuit of something else, something greater, something bigger?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am beginning to ask them, which is a good sign, a better sign than what I would have done in the past. That is to say, it’s better than discarding everything, setting fire to my life, and leaving a whole host of pursuits, projects, and people in my wake. This is young. This was me before. I am open to commitment, to the larger needs of the greater good. I am open to dulling out my selfish desires for something greater. I hadn’t been in the past, but I am now. And, that’s good enough for now, I suppose.