You’ve heard the phrase before. If a plane is going to crash or experiences major turbulence, oxygen masks come out and you’re instructed to put your own mask on before you put your child’s mask on.
There are many reasons why being more “selfish” — taking care of yourself and your priorities first — ends up making life better for everyone around you.
A constant theme of this book has been the idea that things aren’t always what they seem on the surface and are often the opposite of what they portray. “Selfishness” is actually generous when you do it the right way (which I’ll explain) and “generosity” can often be a mask for real selfishness. Let me explain.
The Archetype of the Generous Scorekeeper
Someone in your life is something I like to call the generous scorekeeper. They’re always here to help. If you need them to help you move, they’ll show up. If you want to borrow some money from them, you can have it.
They sacrifice for their kids, put other people’s needs first, get involved in their community, and are always the shoulder you can lean on.
What’s wrong with being virtuous and helpful? Nothing, as long as there are no strings attached. But the generous gatekeeper has many strings attached to their helpfulness.
They’re adding up karma points. They’re not necessarily keeping a quid pro quo log with each person they help, but in general, they want to be recognized for how helpful and virtuous they are.
Often, this type of person focuses so much on other people because they can’t get a handle on their own life. They don’t put themselves first because they’re afraid of failing. So, instead, they put so much emphasis on other people so that they can get the validation they seek and an excuse for their lack of achievement.
This is the type of person that says things like, “If it weren’t for the kids I would’ve done ‘x’ (there’s always an x).” “I have too many responsibilities to do ‘x’” and “Yeah ‘x’ would be nice, but that’s for impractical people.” The more they can create a picture of being uber busy and helpful, the less actual responsibility they have to take for their own life. Then, they take their own insecurity and project it onto other people.
The classic example of this is a parent.
The “I Gave Up My Dream for My Kids” Lie
“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” — Carl Jung
I dedicated a section of this chapter to parents because parents are the perfect example of the generous scorekeeper archetype. And this philosophy of “thou shalt give up one’s life after kids” has become a pervasive dogma in our culture.
Your life changes when you have kids, without question. You don’t have as much free time as you used to. You do have to alter your schedule to accommodate theirs. Your responsibilities increase tenfold when you bring a little human into the equation, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams and make yourself a second class citizen.
People do this, though, and then they produce the exact outcome they intended to avoid. They leave a negative imprint on their kids and pass on the same legacy. My dad tried to do this to me and still does. He didn’t reach many of the goals he had for himself.
He goes on and on about the sacrifices he made as a parent, but the reality is he just…didn’t reach his goals. I’ve allowed him to successful guilt me and I’m not going to pass that legacy on to my child.
I love my daughter, my wife, my family, my friends, and my community, but I always put myself first. Sound selfish? Allow me to explain the many benefits of looking out for number one above all else.
The Life-Changing Magic of Putting Yourself First
Have you ever thought of how much putting yourself second has a negative effect on everything around you?
You don’t work out because you don’t have time and you have too many responsibilities. This causes you to be more lethargic and less efficient in your daily duties. Maybe if you were in shape, handling your responsibilities would be easier.
You don’t work on your side business because you “have no time” (Which is a lie. You watch Netflix) and as a result, you and your family don’t get to experience the extra income, freedom, and resources you could enjoy had you built a side income.
If you put your mental, physical, and spiritual needs first, you’d experience a bunch of the outcomes you were trying to get in the first place, the people around you will be more receptive to you, and the output will be a net positive for everyone.
Instead of being the prototypical sitcom T.V. dad who walks in the door, loosens his necktie, plops down on the couch for a beer, and waits for dinner with his hand in his pants, you could be a present and focused father who enjoys time with family because you’re energized and fulfilled before meeting them.
Instead of being the prototypical mom who does everything for everyone, you could stop being the one to do everything by default and let your partner become just that, a partner. You and your spouse both benefit by being more selfish. You each take more time to take care of yourself and you pick up each other’s slack. Everyone wins.
If you’re a single parent, the answer isn’t as easy, but there is an argument to be had for putting yourself first in the short-term for a long-term benefit. Yes, it will be quite difficult to find a baby sitter, wake up earlier to work on that side job, go to night school to improve your situation. Your relationship with your child might suffer short term. But that short term suffering could lead to a long-term payoff. By putting yourself first, you’re actually putting your child first in the long run.
I don’t know your life and none of the answers are easy, but ask yourself if you’re doing enough for yourself. Does the current version of you serve the needs of the people around you as well as possible? Probably not. If your energy, sanity, and sense of meaning are drained, how could you possibly bring the best of yourself to others? You can’t.
Finding a mission to follow, healthy habits to adopt, and crevasses to fit in time where you do nothing but help yourself will help you become a truly generous person. As the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
The More You Have, The More You Can Give
Society tends to equate success with greed. If you have wealth, it’s because you’re a miser and sacrificed time you could’ve spent helping others to make yourself rich.
Society also equates ambition and work ethic with narcissism. If you have washboard abs, it’s because you’re obsessed with yourself and don’t have real responsibilities like the rest of us.
We’re always punching up at the people who have what we want. Deep down, we know that we want to experience a high quality of life, whatever that means to each individual, and when we don’t get it, we resort to trying to pull other people down.
Remember another theme of the book — stasis doesn’t exist. You’re always moving in one direction or the other. When you’re not pushing to better yourself, you’re pulling, taking, draining, and consuming.
The truth of the matter is, the more you have, the more you can give. This isn’t to say that wealthy people are virtuous, many are not. But regardless of how well-intentioned I am, there’s no possible way I can have as much of a positive impact as someone like Bill Gates who has donated billions of dollars to cure diseases in third world countries. You can say he’s doing it for P.R., tax write-offs, guilt, whatever, that still doesn’t change the fact he’s helping people.
Statistically, the top income earners pay the vast majority of taxes. No moral argument on that, just hard numbers. You’ve heard about the Pareto principle and 80/20 distributions before.
As much as you hate the people at the top, you wouldn’t want to live in a truly egalitarian society. Think about it this way, would you rather be the smartest person in a dumb poor society that resembled a timestamp of the agrarian age or the dumbest person in an extremely well-run society with insanely useful technology run by super geniuses?
Without people who go out of their way to fulfill their own ambitions, innovation doesn’t exist. You don’t create cars, iPhones, and computers without the incentive to improve your life through the business. You just don’t. Without judgment, life as you know it wouldn’t exist without the people at the top. We all benefit from people who accumulate resources.
Those who have can give. You can’t employ anyone without owning a business. Now, this isn’t to say all companies pay fair wages, not even close, but wealth always creates more wealth. Many people don’t understand this it all. They see money and resources as a finite pie we all get a piece of. No, when somebody has a new idea it sparks a new business that creates new jobs and new money that goes back into the economy.
The economic example is the easiest one to paint because you can back it with data but in general, people who are more self-actualized tend to be a net positive on their friends, family, community, and society. People who forgo self-actualization can still do many great things and are still inherently good people, but their impact is well below their potential.
Be More Selfish
“Selfish” incentives pave the path to generosity. Would I spend 8 months working on this book just to give it away for free? Absolutely not. I also know that if the book sucks, people won’t buy it, so my selfish incentives allow me to create something helpful for you because the book itself being helpful is the only way to fulfill my incentive. See how this works?
I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome before. I’ve had glimpses of the thought that I was somehow taking from others just for wanting to be successful. But the more “selfish” I became, the abler I am to help others.
I don’t have to worry about living pay check to pay check, so I’m much less stressed out about money than the average person. Removing money as a stressor helps your sanity, relationships with other people, and even your creativity.
I still wouldn’t write the book for free, but I don’t need the book to be successful because books aren’t my primary source of income, I just love writing these solidified pieces of thought. I can create what I want to create without being needy, pandering, or inauthentic because I have money.
For five years I worked on my mission before anything else. I didn’t always do it right. Sometimes I did take too much and skirted on my responsibilities as a parent. Don’t forget, there’s always a downside to everything.
But now, I feel more present aware and engaged because I’m not racking my brain trying to figure out how to make this all work. I’m working hard, but not as anxiously.
Taking care of my body and my mind allows me to be kinder to other people. Before getting these right, I was prone to lashing out from stress-induced anger.
Having more money, being in shape, and taking care of my mindset literally makes me less of a burden on society at large because I incur less healthcare expense. In a pragmatic sense, taking care of yourself above all else is really good for…everyone.
What about you? Are you generous or pretending to be generous?
Are you really caring for those around you if you’re not caring for yourself?
Think about which version of you provides the best impact on your environment — the self-actualized you or the generous scorekeeper?
I don’t know the answers, but you do. Listen to them.
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