Selfishness at 30,000 Feet

There’s a thought I’ve seen multiple places that strikes me as so true that I’ve repeated it to anyone and everyone who will listen . . . that the greatest gift we can give others is our own happiness — that being selfish is a radically selfless act.

Each of us has huge potential, has myriad gifts to give, and has the power to deeply affect our immediate worlds and the larger — capital W — World. And this power is increased exponentially when we really and truly show up. Using the classic metaphor, imagine your effectiveness at helping someone put on an oxygen mask if you hadn’t put yours on first — struggling to breathe, and starting to panic, you’d be pretty useless, and ultimately, terrible at the job of helping someone else. But even in those first moments, if the air wasn’t so thin as to induce panic, you’d know that you weren’t totally set, totally taken care of, totally ready to help without worry.

Similarly, search and rescue and other emergency professionals are taught personal preparedness as a foundational component of responding to any incident. No matter the stakes, responders know that double-checking their own equipment and supplies is more important than racing out the door. You don’t further risk life and limb to save life and limb. Before you save someone else, you need water, sunscreen, and a headlamp.

So why do we so often consider it selfish to prioritize what we need to show up as our best every day? Why is getting enough sleep, or drawing clear boundaries about work hours, or planning alone time, not seen as selflessness — personal prioritization that allow us to be our best in the roles that we choose or are given?

To do this takes courage, and often, takes changing the way we think. A few ideas about how to incorporate this selfless selfishness into your life:

Decide what makes you your best self.
What gives you the mental clarity, physical stamina and emotional resilience needed to show up as your best? Is it getting enough sleep? Drawing clear boundaries about work hours? Carving out alone time? Exercising?

Make a plan for doing it.
Once you have this list, make a plan. This can look like blocking time on your calendar, or practicing thoughts that will help you build this prioritization into your brain — ”an hour of my best self is better than three of my exhausted self.”

Never do for others at the expense of what’s most important to you.
That list of what’s most important? Commit to it. Don’t sacrifice anything on it in favor of giving. When you do, you do two powerfully detrimental things:

  • You reinforce in your own mind that you come 2nd.
  • You increase the likelihood of creating resentment towards the recipients of your giving.

What if we reclaimed prioritizing ourselves? What if we practiced so much that it became second nature? What if every time we showed up for others, it was more likely to be at our best? What if we knew that our oxygen was already flowing, that we had the right shoes on, and that we had a backup water bottle?

You with me? Let’s practice.

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  • The three phases your brain goes through to achieve anything — from a single task to a great day, to a huge goal.
  • The steps to take to make your time, achievement, and enjoyment deliberate, and as good as done.
  • How to apply these steps right away and have a different day tomorrow.

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