Selfish is OK

Several years back during a time when introspection was greatly needed, I came to the notion that my fatal flaw was that I was selfish, but that I was OK with that and I was going to embrace it and work with it. It didn’t strike me as that horrible as fatal flaws go, but I took some shit for it when I told people. When I thought about it more, I realized that I didn’t truly mean the same thing as the dictionary definition.  In fact a dear friend pointed out that I absolutely was NOT lacking in concern for others, and that I should reframe it as “being good at self-care”.  In addition to meeting pretty much all the needs of my still young at the time children, I was also quite capable of saying no, taking time for myself, pursuing interests that I enjoyed, and perhaps more often than others, putting my needs before the needs of others. There had to be a better way to express that.

SELF·ish /ˈsɛlfɪʃ/ adj. lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

A year ago today, I made a plea on Facebook for “a word (a simple word, not a phrase) that would mean much the same as selfish, but without the ‘complete disregard for others’ it connotes? ” I was looking for a word I could use to describe this feeling of taking care of my own needs in the face of conflicting needs from others. What I got was a deluge of negativity regarding my inquiry.

Egocentric? Narcissistic? Greedy? Self-centered? Self-absorbed? Inconsiderate? Inwardly focused? Self-indulgent? Jerk? Egocentric? Cavalier? Thoughtless?

I was shocked! Such hostility and rancor towards the subject. I hoped that people simply misunderstood my intent and that the entire world did not think that putting ones own needs and desires above others’ was inherently bad. So I clarified, ” OK. Clearly I was not as concise as I wanted to be. I wanted to TAKE OUT the negative element. Selfish, according to the definition, means to focus on one’s needs to the exclusion of others. I was looking for a word that would positively give a sense of focusing on one’s needs, perhaps not always acting the way others would want, while still being aware of them. “Self-focused” was the only one that got close to what I was really looking for. Now that I am clearer, any other options?” What followed was a little better, but not much.

Internally focused? Self-contained? Centered? Grounded? Autonomous? Individualistic? Self-directed? Empowered? Self-care? Boundaried? Authentic? Self-interested?

Still not great. More in line with what I was thinking, but not a simple adjective to be used in everyday life to concisely express what I was meaning. I think my sister got it right when she postulated, “… that could be part of the whole concept’s issue. Maybe it’s not a mode one ‘lives in’ but maybe a vital process one engages in to bridge to a more whole self?” The CONCEPT has an image problem. It’s not somewhere you are supposed to live. And I wonder why not?

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Someone suggested trying to make a new word – selfishless was their suggestion. To my ears, though, that sounded more like “to be without selfishness” which was again the opposite of what I was going for. I thought maybe “selfful” might work, like helpful, but for yourself. But someone characterized it as being “full of yourself”, which is a phrase that is distinctly negative in it’s connotation, an exaggerated sense of self-worth in a way that annoys other people.  A word won’t work if it “sounds bad” and that did.  So back to square one, no good, simple word to describe a maligned concept that needs a good PR firm to bolster its acceptance.

It’s sad to me that the people I polled immediately defaulted to thinking that this type of feeling was “not good” and that we don’t have a better word to describe the positive, necessary element of what I really mean. I bet the Germans do. They have great words for lots of things we can barely say in a sentence – schadenfreude anyone? Looking back, too, I realize that simply classifying my feelings of self-care as a “fatal flaw” had me falling into the same negative stereotype that I am now trying to dispel. It’s not a flaw, it’s a strength.  And I am going to try to respect it.

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The Kids Are Alright

I have a terrible confession. I don’t miss my kids when they are gone. Not now that they have been whisked away for a week with their father during Evan’s spring break, not in the past when they went to boy scout camp, not when I went away for a stint somewhere for something, not ever really. I actually wondered once just how long I would have to be separated from them before I would actually miss them. Clearly it’s not two weeks.
I have pondered as to whether an element of this was that, especially when they were young and needy, I spent *no* time away from them, as in no date nights with a babysitter, no weekends away, no vacations with family watching them.  I was always the primary parent and am still. Add homeschooling on top of that and you have a pretty intense parenting situation. It has definitely changed the tenor of my relationship with my kids (as well as the relationship they have with all adults, really) for the better, but it certainly was ALL KIDS ALL THE TIME.  That had to have affected me. In spite of my entrenched extrovertedness, when my kids were young, my Myers-Briggs actually swung ever so slightly into the “I” (introverted) side because I so desperately needed time alone that I wasn’t getting.
Perhaps, even still, time without them feels like a precious gift. I am all too aware that the time is fast approaching when one after the other they will leave my house and start lives of their own. I’ll miss them then I am sure. I can only hope that they will choose to live close enough that we will be able to visit each other like I am able to do so with my parents and sisters. But who knows, maybe I won’t miss them then either?
So what did I do when they left? Well, as I write this, I am sitting in the sun-drenched front room of a friend’s beach house, I’ve been eating fresh seafood for every meal, got a massage, and am headed out thrift shopping. I do pretty well in my own.
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Gorgeous sunny day with a perfect summer drink. Sometimes life is great.
As a side note, I hit up a liquor store too and discovered the drink of the summer – Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach.  So many possibilities, I’m drinking it with seltzer right now, but in champagne it would be divine!