I figured out, I think, what it is to be selfish. It’s, in a lot of ways, one of secrets to accomplishing your dreams.
Selfishness has always been the most abhorrent trait to me. The act of putting yourself before someone else is so very…opposite of who I am. It’s been this way since I was a child. Truly, those who are selfish are the most disgusting people in existence to me.
Unfortunately, most people are selfish and don’t even realize they’re being so. It is selfishness that destroys lives, however, so it’s always been unforgivable to me. Perhaps it’s due to this natural hate of selfishness that I ended up martyring myself in a relationship for many years. Thinking I could change someone who was selfish, by giving all of myself to them…It seems stupid in hindsight. But it was borne out of an innocent desire to help save someone.
That relationship ended up ruining me in many ways, breaking me down, but the recovery was what made me who I am today. I came back stronger than I ever had been, with a clear sense of self. But still, I was jaded in many ways. Anything that feels remotely similar to that person’s traits or that type of toxic relationship is something I violently reject. I realized the ghosts of this relationship were still haunting me and I was letting it affect how I reacted. I didn’t want to give any part of myself to that.
I’m a person who wholly looks to the future, not the past, and I did not want the past to affect my actions unless I was fully aware of and in control of it. The past can teach us to change and not make the same mistakes again, but letting it control your actions without being aware is rarely a good thing. So I spent a lot of time in self reflection over why I had the strong reactions I did, and if they were a good thing.
I eventually realized I was shutting out not only the bad things, but the good things. Instead of being open and letting opportunities flow their way to me, I was shutting out everything. I knew that it was out of fear of being hurt again, and I didn’t want that. I knew living and reacting out of a fear was never going to be a happy life. Intelligently and courageously being myself while acting from a place of love while having the confidence that I can flow with whatever life throws at me…After observing so many happy and successful people, I realized that was the right way to live. So I worked hard on opening my eyes to see the truth and opening my heart to feel it.
I believe I’ve made a lot of progress. I gained dreams and goals. But I realized somewhere along the way that while I had things I wanted to achieve, and the determination not to give up, I was still lacking a genuine zest for life. A genuine desire to be truly happy. It was actually the words of BTS’ Jungkook that made me realize that. He speaks a lot about being happy and wanting fans to be happy. I wondered how was it that people could think that way.
I thought a lot about it and I spoke with friends and self reflected. How could I find that raw desire to be happy? I had had it before the relationship, as a child, I’d had dreamed. As an adult, I had given it up when I resigned myself to my fate and after seeing all of the horrors of the world. I had broken out of the relationship because I didn’t want to be miserable anymore, rather than a true desire to be happy. There was, of course, a small, tiny ember of hope that I had a chance at happiness if I could be free. But it didn’t really grow. And so, that was how I had been living my life. I had been living my life out of a desire to not be miserable and to help others. Others deserved to be happy. But not me.
I realized that I was still living with that mentality of a martyr.
I looked around me at those people who seemed to genuinely enjoy life, or at least have a drive and ambition to be truly happy (even if the majority were going about it in a misguided way). How could they just get up every morning and live life freely like that while so many horrible things were going on in the world? How could they live so…selfishly?
I spoke with my friends at length. They helped me to realize that to want to be happy in spite of everything and everyone in this world, you have to be a bit selfish.
I hated that answer. I wanted to reject it, but the proof was right in front of me. I didn’t want to become a person who was blind to others suffering, or someone who ran away from the truth to be happy. I didn’t want to abandon others. I knew I had to find my own answer. To figure out my own way of how to be “selfish”.
Today, I think I finally figured out my answer. Selfishness has a bad connotation, much like anger or sadness. But as I went through life, I realized all feelings are valid. I understand that there’s almost nothing that is all bad without any positive sides to it. And every emotion has a use. Feelings themselves aren’t bad. It’s all about the way we choose to express them.
So what then, was selfishness? And how could it be expressed in a positive way? Was it even possible?
Selfishness is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “1. concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others. 2. arising from concern with one’s own welfare or advantage in disregard of others.”
If you look at successful people. Could we not say they were selfish? Despite the fact others wished to achieve the same things they did, they did not step down and say “I apologize. I will let you have these things.” They blatantly demonstrated their talents and skills, and hard work, and no matter what happened, they continued to pursue their dreams. Just think of an Olympic gold medalist. If they had martyred themselves and listened to other’s desires, they wouldn’t have the gold medal. They’d step down and say “I won’t do my best, so someone else can win.” Instead, they unapologetically went after the gold.
I think you have to be selfish in order to be willing to grab what you want. I think you have to be willing to be the best. Which means you’re taking the very place others want. Single-mindedly going after your goals means that at some point, you will take something from someone else, even if it’s just by being so good at what you do.
It means you will ignore other people’s desires, who try to bring you down and prevent you from succeeding. You are asserting yourself and being unconcerned with other people because you have a dream you want to grab. It’s the only way to grab your dreams in a world where there are billions of people - millions of which who may also want your dream.
It’s why we see so many nasty, selfish people at the top and in control. It doesn’t seem fair when there are so many other good, self-sacrificing people who are kind. But the difference is often that the other person was more selfish. Unfortunately, they just chose to express their selfishness in ways that were harmful to other people.
I am not advocating that. I think the bad kind of selfishness is what most people have. They steal, kill, hurt others to get what they want rather than putting all that energy and effort into truly just doing their best and winning by simply being the best. I wish, in fact, we had another word for the good kind of selfishness.
I suppose being ambitious or having drive is close, but it’s lacking the important part: that when it comes to your dreams, other people’s desires involving it have to come second to yours. The difference is that expressing selfishness in a negative way requires you to focus your energy on ruthlessly knocking others down beneath you in order for you to climb to the top, while expressing selfishness in a positive way requires you to focus your energy on yourself and what you need to do to achieve your dreams by doing what you need to do despite everyone else’s desires.
One focuses negative energy externally on other people, harming or manipulating them, and the other focuses positive energy internally, building up oneself. By doing what you need to do regardless of anyone else’s words or thoughts, you will automatically be ignoring them - resolving the manner in a harmless, neutral manner.
It’s really that simple to understand. Just look at the people you admire and think about how they conducted themselves on the road to achieving their dreams. Look at the people you dislike that achieved their dreams and think about how they conducted themselves. It’s a dynamic present in fiction as well. Villains knock people down to get what they want, while heroes lift themselves up to stop them.
And while it’s going to take me awhile to get used to accepting selfishness fully into my life and expressing it positively, I can definitely say that I will do my best to live in this way. As long as your dreams are pure, positive and coming from a place of love, and you focus on lifting yourself to new heights despite everything else going on in the world, you can’t go wrong. I believe it is this type of person that can achieve their dreams, and anyone with enough determination to never give up who is willing to give it a try can do it.
Even you and I.