“I hope I don’t become president of the PTA tonight.”
These were the words of my friend last week.
She didn’t know if she even wanted to be president, but she was strongly considering accepting it regardless. Her reasons?
- People will look to me to step up.
- It would be selfish if I didn’t. It’s a small school and we all have to chip in.
- And, my favorite: I want to avoid the awkward silence when no-one volunteers.
I cautiously offered that 15 seconds of awkward silence might be better than a year-long commitment. Easy for me to say, right?
Selfish vs. Selfless: A False Choice
Here’s a question to ponder. Would it be selfish for my friend to say no to the PTA?
To answer that, it’s helpful to look at some definitions:
- Selfish: a focus on one’s own needs, at the expense of the needs of others
- Selfless: a focus on others’ needs, at the expense of your own
Taken to an extreme, neither of these is a particularly thoughtful way to live. Your needs are important, and so are those of other people.
But luckily, there’s a third option:
- Selfful: meeting your own needs while respecting those of others at the same time
To put it another way, looking for ways to be selfful eliminates the false choice that you need to either make others happy or you’re being selfish. Talk about a no-win situation! Yet it’s one we people-pleasers all too often put ourselves in.
How to Be Selfful
One way to decide if a behavior is selfful or not is to examine your own values. Admittedly, this is not always easy. Our values often conflict with each other – which makes these choices difficult.
For example, in the case of my friend, it’s important to help create a positive school community for her daughter. And it’s also important to spend quality time with her family.
So this is where you can practice Strength and consider your values, not just what other people are asking you to do. It can be tricky because sometimes values conflict with each other!
Let me offer another example. If you value relationships AND honesty, do you share something hurtful with your friend – like you can’t stand their new boyfriend? In that situation, you might choose to not tell them. You’re compromising your value of honesty…intentionally, in order to honor your value of relationship.
Working to be selfful invites us to look at our values and consciously choose what we want to do.
What Being Selfful Looks Like
In my own life, there are several selfful things I do that some people might see as “selfish.” And even though it took me a while to get there, I’m ok with that (well, most of the time!). Here are some examples:
- Sometimes I don’t make dinner. When I tell my husband it’s pantry night, he knows that’s code to pour a bowl of rice krispies when he gets hungry.
- I used to schedule fake meetings with fictitious people to block off time on my calendar. I found if I simply put “work time”, people would schedule right over it – and I wouldn’t object (there’s that people pleaser again). But nobody touched the meeting I had with “Tiffany” – and I was able to get some work done.
- I leave the room when my anxiety is creeping up. I used to think it was selfish and rude to leave when it feels like my insides are melting. I recognize now it’s important to take care of myself (and most of the time people don’t even notice I stepped out).
For me, I value quality work, quality time, and quality rest. And yes – those often conflict with each other!
If I say yes to everyone else’s meetings, my quality of work suffers. Being anxious does not equate to quality time, even if I’m with people I love. And I have to remind myself that quality rest sometimes needs to trump everything else. Thankfully, my husband would rather eat a bowl of cereal than have a cranky wife.
I have a history of being so concerned I’d be seen as selfish that I swung all the way to the other end of the spectrum – to selfless. So it’s not surprising when acting in a selfful manner, that sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. (That people-pleasing trash talker can sometimes get very chatty.) But the solution to this is not to swing back to being selfless, as a way of appeasing them. It takes practice, but it’s easier when I keep my values at the forefront.
Thoughtfully Fit Core Workout
The next time you’re feeling guilty for “being selfish,” try the following core workout:
- Pause: Take a time-out for yourself, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
- Think: Are you really being selfish? Or are you being selfful and honoring a core value?
- Act: Make a decision that lines up with your values – instead of self-sabotaging and make being selfless your default.
As for my friend, she’s currently on the ballot to be treasurer… and she’s the only one running. Save a last minute write-in campaign from a dark-horse candidate, she’ll be a PTA leader next year. But there was a definite shift from the last time I talked to her. She took the time to find out what was really involved and what the time commitment is. Whereas before she was nervous about the awkward silence and other’s opinions, she’s now excited to have a role in the special events at her daughter’s school.
Bottomline, she found a way to be selfful by using her values as a guide, instead of wanting to appease everyone else. Win-win.