Choose Yourself: Notes on Being Selfish and Letting Go of Guilt

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I sat on his sofa, sweating.

I'd sat there so many times before, but I'd never sweated like this. I'd been there 15 minutes already and would likely stay another hour. It'd be unfair to wait. I had to tell him now.

So I let the words tumble out of my mouth:

"I'm going to stop coming to see you."

Nothing. Empty space. Expanding silence. And the heavy weight of guilt around my heart. 

There he was in front of me. 80 years old. Blind. Unable to walk. I'd been visiting him for almost a year through a befriending charity. I'd wanted to spend some of my spare time doing something good. Something useful.

I'd enjoyed it. He'd enjoyed it. We'd made friends. And we'd argued sometimes too. About politics. Immigration. Religion. 

He held my hands and asked me to change my mind. And even though he's blind I swear he could see me. I swear he could see the "please don't ask me that" look on my face. He told me how much he enjoyed talking to me, how much he'd miss me. The words were laced with guilt. I understood. I'd probably have done the same.

But I was prepared for them, too. I'd rehearsed my words all week. Made sure I was certain. Gone through the reasons why I needed to do this. Why I needed to stop coming to see him. 

I'd watched as everyone around me chose their words for the New Year - intention, abundance, delight, ease. But I was sitting with what felt like an all together very different type of word. Selfish. I chose selfish. 

Selfish. Selfish. Selfish. That was going to be my word. 

Not in a "I don't give a damn about anyone else" kind of a way. But in a "my oxygen mask first" kind of a way. 

Because this:

Being kind and generous and giving is...wonderful. But not being able to be kind and generous and giving to yourself is...screwed up.

So I chose selfish. The good kind of selfish. The kind of selfish that allows kindness and generosity but in a non-screwed up way. And I'm going to love that word. I'm going to repeat it over and over and over again and roll around in its glorious ish-ness. Self-ISH. That's me. That's my word. 

But then what about the guilt? Because selfish is loaded with it. It's baked into its crust. Deep filled. So much guilt in the selfish pie. 

Finding out your underlying beliefs helps. Like this:

  • It's bad to be selfish.
  • People shouldn't be selfish.
  • Good people put others first.
  • People won't like me if I'm selfish.
  • Selfish people aren't happy. 

And then questions. Inquiry. Holding the beliefs up for examination. That helps too. Are they true? Really? Is it true people won't like me if I'm selfish? Is it true selfish people aren't happy? Is it really true that good people put others first?

Well, no, actually. They're just beliefs. Words that get loaded with meaning over the course of your life. Sometimes that meaning isn't helpful. Sometimes it's an outright lie. 

Just re-bake the pie. That's what I'm doing with my selfish pie. Filling the crust with different meaning. More helpful meaning. More truthful meaning. Like:

It's ok to be selfish.

Oxygen mask: You first. Then others. You're allowed to choose yourself.

Love and courage,