In today’s blog post, I make a bold thesis:
Selfishness can be the same as selflessness.
I can feel your confusion: Michelle, you ask, are you taking us to la la land, where the unicorns play and opposites mean the same thing and ice cream is the healthiest thing you can eat for dinner?
No, I’m not. But I do have a rather interesting argument, so if you could spare me a few minutes to hear my thoughts, and I’d absolutely love to hear what you have to say on the topic.
We all know I’m a huge advocate for self care. It’s a new category on the blog, and it’s a pretty huge focus in my life lately. After all, I’m better equipped to know and meet my own needs than anyone else in the world…you know, being in my own head all the time.
The two specific types of self-care that we will discuss in today’s post are as follows:
- Saying no.
- Asking for help.
Saying no is a critically important way to make room for the things you truly want to say yes to. Asking for help is acknowledgement that none of us can make it alone. We need each other.
My thoughts lately have been caught up at the intersection of these two types of self care lately, and how they can be related.
As I’ve been learning to take better care of myself, I’ve had difficulty with this intersection. I struggled, especially in the beginning, with saying “no” to things I knew were generous and kind. I don’t want to be the kind of person who puts myself first at another’s expense.
Let’s say you and I are buddies. When I ask you for a favor, three things could happen:
- You might say yes, because you’d love to help me.
- You might say no, because A) now’s not the right time, B) you can’t give me what I need for some reason or C) You just really don’t want to.
- You might say yes, even though you don’t have the time/energy/interest.
I write this post because it would be the best thing for all of us if category three would become extinct.
I don’t want anyone to say yes to my request for help, when it means they’ll be spreading themselves too thin, and fulfilling my needs at the expense of their own.
I used to say yes to favors and requests out of guilt, and a sense of wanting to be helpful and generous, even at my own expense. It felt awful, and I didn’t do the other party any service by digging out of my own depleted stores to fill their baskets. It left me even weaker, and less able to give them the help they needed.
What I propose instead is to say yes only when you can truly help. If you haven’t been doing this, there might be a transition period where you need to say no a lot. But you will be filling your own basket so that, some time in the future, you can say yes a lot more often, and mean it. Then you will be capable of delivering the service that the other person needs, with love and true generosity, without depleting your own. Maybe you can even give someone what they need, when they haven’t asked for anything.
Here’s an example from my own experience, that you can probably relate to: Last fall, I needed to slow down the number of blog posts I was writing. My readers are kind enough to let me know that they love reading what I’m posting here (a thing that blows my mind. I’m forever humbled + grateful that other humans want to know what I have to say). But around October, I realized that writing two to three posts a week, plus a weekly post that went only to my email subscribers, was too much for me. It was more than I had to give, and it was weighing me down in other areas of my life.
I pulled back and rested, cutting way back on the amount of blog posts & emails I was sharing. I came out the other end with a schedule that worked better for me, and honestly, I’m sharing way better stuff now. I’m able to give you more, because I feel like I have enough.
The lesson I drew from that experience is that if I give another person help, but that means I need more help when I’m done, that’s a net loss.
So my point is this:
If I knew everyone around me would say “Yes” or “No” to my requests for help, based on what’s truly best for them—whether they have the time, energy and interest to comply—I would feel liberated to ask for what I need without putting them in the negative.
But sometimes I’m not sure if a friend would say yes out of guilt or selflessness. That makes me hesitate before asking.
Henceforth, I declare to anyone to whom I may ask a favor:
You’re still doing me a favor by saying no when you don’t have the means to help me. I will understand.
If I knew the answer would NEVER be C, I’d feel free to ask away whenever I needed assistance, without risking your own ability to take care of yourself. As your friend, I love you and I want you to take care of yourself before you take care of me. (It’s the whole oxygen mask thing—I don’t want us both to pass out on the plane.) I am selfishly asking you to please be more selfish.
When you give out of your own abundance, everybody wins.
Can you imagine if everyone in the world took this stance, and giving help was ALWAYS a net gain?
To those of you who recognize that you are giving without being filled up, but don’t know where to start in rectifying your own balance (I sure have been there too): I recommend you start with fulfilling your basic human needs, and go from there.
One more nibble of food for thought: Can you imagine how profoundly different the world would be, if everyone was only giving after they were filled up…and everyone who was filled up, gave generously? What if everyone only gave for no other reason than really, really wanting to give? Chew on that a little bit.
If I could change one thing about the world, I think this would be it.