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  • Writer's pictureStefano Calvetti

Selfishness can be Healthy

Updated: Apr 22

I am sure that if I tell you “I am selfish” you would look at me badly. That’s because the word 'selfishness' is often coated with negativity. Since we were children, we are encouraged to share, put others first, to epitomize selflessness. These virtues are undoubtedly crucial in maintaining a harmonious society. However, they sometimes obscure an indispensable concept: healthy selfishness.

Image containing the face of a woman with black hair. The woman is lying down, with her eyes and mouth closed. On the face and hair are some flower petals

What is the meaning of healthy selfishness?

Unlike selfishness, which is generally associated with disregard for others, healthy selfishness symbolizes a purposeful, constructive prioritization of oneself - a prerequisite to being better leaders for ourselves and others.

Healthy selfishness is not about overlooking others or focusing solely on one's gains. Rather, it's about recognizing our needs, allowing ourselves to chase our ambitions, and drawing healthy boundaries. Striking a balanced perspective between individual welfare and communal harmony allows to generate a win-win scenario where everyone reaps the benefits.

Consider self-care as an example. Many individuals fall into the trap of constantly prioritizing others, leading to burnout and a decline in productivity. Many clients of mine repeat the same sentence: “I don’t have time for myself.” They are often busy taking care of others or their jobs. Or they find a hard time to say “no” to requests coming from colleagues, family members, or friends. At the end of the day, there is not much spare time for them.

Practicing healthy selfishness allows us the space to relax, rejuvenate, and recuperate, which subsequently boosts our productivity, effectiveness, and quality of interactions with others. More than that, self-care includes time to reflect on ourselves and increase our self-awareness.

A perfect illustration of this concept can be drawn from the aviation industry. If you have been on a commercial flight, you know that, in case of emergency, passengers are instructed to secure their oxygen masks before helping others, even their children. This is the acknowledgment that one must be capable of breathing before assisting others to do the same. This practical wisdom embodies the essence of healthy selfishness.

A true story

I want to give you a more personal angle on this concept. In my previous career, I have been involved many times in demanding projects, in which stakes were high, deadlines were tight, and my team was relying on my contribution to reach the goal. Amid this whirlwind of responsibilities and activities, I often neglected my well-being: I skipped meals, lost sleep, and pushed through exhaustion. Until I finally understood that, in the long run, this self-neglect could impair my ability to lead effectively, affecting the work of the whole team and putting the project at risk.

I have learned that practicing healthy selfishness would involve acknowledging my limits and taking necessary breaks. It meant delegating tasks, saying “no” to extra activities, ensuring to get enough sleep (sometimes a good power nap), finding time for meditation or physical exercises, or taking some time off to recharge.

When you do so, you're not only preserving your health but also guaranteeing you're in the best condition to accomplish a difficult task or lead your team and steer any project to success.

Why it is important to prioritize ourselves too

The charm of healthy selfishness lies in its capacity to empower individuals and amplify their leadership potential. When we prioritize ourselves in a balanced, healthy way, we are better equipped to serve others. We perform at our best, achieve our goals, and become more effective leaders.

Furthermore, healthy selfishness imparts valuable lessons in self-worth and self-esteem. It allows us to reaffirm our worth. We foster the belief that our desires, dreams, and well-being matter just as much as those of others. This boost can have a profound impact on our life and leadership approach, infusing a sense of confidence and assertiveness that is truly infectious.

So, healthy selfishness isn't about dismissing the values of empathy, kindness, and consideration. Rather, it's about striking a balance between our personal needs and those of others. It's about understanding that we can't pour from an empty cup and by nurturing ourselves, we can more effectively nurture those around us.

Healthy selfishness is a doctrine of self-care, self-worth, and self-improvement. As you begin to implement it, you'll discover a more balanced, fulfilled, and empowered version of yourself - a version that's not just a better individual, but a more impactful leader.

Take care of yourself. Prioritize your needs. Allow yourself to fulfill your dreams and ambitions. Your journey towards healthy selfishness will serve as an inspiration for others, demonstrating that true leadership starts with leading oneself with kindness, respect, and care.

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