I have been thinking a lot recently about this topic. Well, this topic along with what I wrote about on Wednesday – Burnout. I think we are all a little bit self-centered, probably all a little bit selfish on occasion. I know I can be, and I am grateful for a family that will call me on it. But I think we all know at least one person who can’t talk about anything but themselves. It can be a bit frustrating. I was thinking today about how social media and the ability to share every aspect of our lives with others affects this aspect of our lives. I know more and more I see things on social media or online in articles and things, that talk about how you need to take care of yourself, you need to get rid of all the negativity in your life, you need to make sure you’re needs are met before anyone else’s, and if anyone gets in the way of that, well get rid of them in your life.
I think about being a mom. What if I decided my kids were contributing to the negativity (because wow, sometimes they do!), or that they were infringing upon my ability to take care of myself (because that happens all the time, they’re kids)? What if I got rid of my husband because we didn’t agree on something or because he offended me by calling me out one day? What if I quit my job because my boss yelled at me, especially if it was warranted because I was so focused on myself that I didn’t actually do the job? There is so much in this life that isn’t convenient, that isn’t fun, and that causes stress and frustration. That’s just a part of living, part of the process of growing. We can’t get rid of this, and yet so many people really want to. They want to sail along through life without a care in the world. And it’s interesting, amidst the cares of the world, and all the things going wrong, a lot of people are working for that, the ability to live without care, without responsibility, with worry, without challenge, without change, without purpose.
The first few items on that list can be very tempting and aren’t necessarily bad desires in the right context, like retirement – fewer cares, having more time, having fewer responsibilities or worries. But the last few items on the list, I guess for me anyway are very scary – no challenges, no change, no purpose. What would be the point in life? Now, I am not saying that it’s bad to strive to save for retirement, to want to not have a 9-5 job at some point in time. But we shouldn’t want to just sit either. We need to have a reason to continue. There have been numerous studies done among retired people, who seemingly have nothing to do but float along through the rest of their lives. Which group did better, people floating along, or those with purpose? Those with a purpose, those who reached out beyond themselves and had more of a reason to be here, whether it was taking care of grandkids, volunteering in their community, or a myriad of other opportunities. And with that purpose comes challenge, change and growth, all things that can seem hard in the moment.
Selfishness and being self-centered are all affected by the same thing, having no purpose beyond yourself. Now, I am not talking about those who have goals, and work toward those goals, but remember, even in goal setting, one of the best things you can do to achieve your goals is to have someone else involved, someone to encourage you, someone to keep track of you, but also super important, someone who will keep your feet on the ground, and tell you when you need to adjust your goals so that they don’t become self-centered, or self-destructive. It’s also really great to be that person for someone else, because you learn a lot being the on helping someone else grow.
What can we do to be less self-centered and selfish? Focus on others. Service is a great way to do that. There are so many opportunities to serve people all around us. Last night we had a car break down in Wasilla, which is 30 miles from our home. While my husband was trying to get it fixed, we were watching people try to load stuff in the backs of their trucks with the wind blowing really hard. It was cold, and I’m sure the windchill factor in that parking lot was well below zero, it wasn’t much above zero without the wind. But we watched as a man, who was trying to load stuff into his truck stopped to help someone else who almost lost a large sheet of Styrofoam. This inspired one of my boys, who then took the opportunity to try and help someone else a little while later. They didn’t end up needing help, but I was so grateful for his example of stepping out of his comfort zone, and out into the cold, to go and help someone else. I was being selfish on the other hand, not wanting to get out of the car into the wind. Little tiny acts of kindness, yeah, they may be a little bit hard, yeah, they may take a little bit of our time, but ultimately, the effect on us as individuals, and those we take the opportunity to serve is huge. It helps us individually to feel a little bit lighter and better, and the other person will never forget the true act of kindness shown them.
Gratitude is another great way to be less selfish. When we can recognize someone else’s hand in our lives helps us to see that we didn’t get where we are without other people helping us. One of the biggest ways I see that in life is that of education. None of us educated ourselves. We went to school of some sort, and we learned at the hand of someone more knowledgeable than we were at the time. As we went along, we progressed and moved from class to class and subject to subject. At this point you might be the most knowledgeable person in your profession, but you didn’t do it alone. This is just one huge example of something to be grateful for. Once we start seeing others and those little acts of kindness though, we really truly start to understand how good most people really are. I remember one funny experience my son had. We were in Lowes buying Lime for our garden. The bags weren’t really big, but they weighed about 40 pounds each. We needed about 8 of them. As we started loading, an elderly man came to the same area and started loading bags into a shopping cart and he was struggling, so my son stopped and helped him first. When he came back, I commented on how nice that was, and his comment was something the effect of: “I’m sure glad his bags were a lot lighter than ours, I wouldn’t have wanted to do that twice!” He was suddenly grateful, even though it didn’t apply to our load, it made our loading lighter.
Helping our families, taking care of the needs of someone else before we take care of our own needs, saying yes to opportunities to help in our kids’ school, or our community events, and so many more ways, will help us see others. Being grateful to others and seeing how someone else, as well as our Heavenly Father, has positively affected our lives helps us appreciate what we have and helps us be more appreciative of our own circumstances a little bit more. All of these things keep burnout at bay in our lives. Whether you tend to be selfish or tend to look outside yourself on a regular basis, I hope you take opportunity to see others and be grateful in your own life.