If you have read these weekly Insight articles for a while, you may have observed that, from a personal development standpoint, I prefer to emphasize what we should to do, rather than what we should not do.
However, over the last few weeks, both with clients and other people, I have observed the destructive power of selfishness in a major way. Today I want to discuss this destructive power of selfishness. I’ll also provide suggestions on how you can overcome it.
Several weeks ago, I wrote an Insight article in which I provided my definition of success. Just in case you haven’t committed it to memory, or you missed it, here is how I defined success: Success is learning who you are and using this knowledge to pour into the lives of the people and causes around you.
Becoming selfless – someone who places the interests of others before their own and serves the people around them – is one of the most difficult things to achieve in life. However, unless we master this, we will not be truly successful or happy. In fact, if we remain selfish and live our lives by putting ourselves first, we will eventually hurt the people to whom we are closest. And, ultimately, we will destroy ourselves.
If you are a parent, a grandparent, an older sibling, an aunt, uncle or other relative, you have observed that people are born selfish. Within months of their birth, babies exhibit selfish behavior that they were not taught. We are wired from birth to be focused on getting what we want, to consider our own needs and desires first. Whether it is wanting to eat now or not taking a nap, infant children want to do what they want to do. Once they become toddlers and older children, the emphasis on wanting their own needs met becomes more profound, and more difficult to deal with. And, as teenagers and young adults, selfishness often has begun to destroy the individual.
In modern culture, parents and others, often without realizing it, nourish the selfish tendencies of children. As a result, many children are raised in a manner that makes them believe that they are the center of the universe. They become American princesses or their own super heroes.
However, always putting your own needs first is not a formula for living a successful life. While initially looking out only for yourself may seem like a good idea, living life selfishly inevitably brings pain to you and to the people around you.
Maturity is the process of moving from someone who is only focused on their own needs to someone who is capable of loving others. Loving others means serving others. It means putting the needs of others before your personal needs.
It also means putting people and their needs ahead of plans, projects and personal goals. Focusing on goals and tasks is not bad. But the successful and happy person’s goals include things that directly relate to spending time with the people you love and meeting their needs. Successful people lead their lives with a balance between serving the people they love and accomplishing their goals.
The fact is that even though people are born selfish, it is inherent in being human that we are also born with a deep need to love and serve others. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we can embark on the journey of developing the necessary skills to live a happy and fulfilled life.
Maturing is the process of learning to curtail the drive to satisfy our own needs and replacing it with the desire to love and serve others. Maturity is not a function of age. It is a function of gaining a perspective in life that values people and therefore motivates us to care about and give to those around us.
How do we learn to love and serve others? The process begins by seeking out opportunities to serve others. Even if initially you do so without really having the feeling, the best way to learn to love is to find a place to serve others and start doing it. In others words, act like you love and care about others and eventually you will.
I recently watched a movie that illustrated this principle profoundly. As part of his law school course work, a law student was required to work with a single mom to assist her with legal issues related to her apartment. The young man resisted helping the young mother because he did not see how it related to becoming a good attorney. He had been raised in a wealthy family and had a strong sense of being entitled. As the story progressed, the young man realized that giving his time to help the mother provided him a sense of satisfaction and purpose that he had never felt before.
Sadly, many supposedly successful people are profoundly unhappy. Many who have centered their lives on always meeting their own needs die alone and unloved.
Selfishness destroys the people around you. This does not usually happen in one sharp moment. Instead, day by day, as people you profess to love measure the gap between your words and your actions, they realize that you really don’t care. As a result, they tend to push you out of their lives. Most sadly, your selfish acts scar the people that you pretended to love. It can deeply wound them or even destroy their lives.
Ultimately, selfishness also destroys the selfish person. Growing old and still being a selfish child is not a path to success. It is a journey that ends in loneliness, depression and despair. News stories remind us all too frequently of the disastrous outcomes of the lives of people who have not learned to serve others.
How do we become a selfless person and win the battle against selfishness? The key is to begin to proactively serve others. Start to look for opportunities to meet the needs of others. Selfishness begins when we are born. In order to counter that tendency, we need to make an effort to develop the habit of serving others.
Here are some practical suggestions to help you learn to serve others:
- Find ways to quietly and humbly serve the people in your home. Do the dishes. Vacuum the floors. Help in the yard. Do the grocery shopping. Find ways, men included, to serve your family in the little things.
- Spend time with the people you love. The concept of quality time is a lie. People associate love with the amount of time spent with them. Don’t fall for the selfish-behavior-justifying-lie that a few hours of “quality time” make up for a lack of actual time spent with loved ones.
- Meet others’ needs, especially when it is not convenient. Nothing demonstrates your selfishness and lack of selfless love more vividly than when you go to great lengths to not inconvenience yourself in spending time with loved ones. Love is inconvenient much of the time. If you don’t inconvenience yourself, then you don’t love.
- Look for opportunities to serve the needs of others in the workplace. What can you do to make those on your team more successful? Help those on the team who need help. Take more pride in the accomplishments of the team than from your own personal accomplishments.
- Find a cause or organization in the community where you can contribute your time. Most charitable organizations need help. Joining one of these organizations will put you in contact with people who know how to serve others. They will provide an example of what selflessness looks like.
- By the way, if you are single and are having trouble meeting people, serve with a charitable organization. Your service will put you in contact with people who are interested in more than their own interests and a good party.