The Surprising Importance of Selfishness
Accomplishing What Makes You Happy
It may seem an odd choice for the holiday season, but this column is about the importance of focusing on your own needs. Some may call this being selfish, but I don’t agree. In my view, it’s the perfect time for this column. I understand that these are “first world problems”. I am fortunate to have shelter, warmth and food. I appreciate and am grateful for this. But as we all know, stress occurs even when these needs are met.
How many of us struggle to find the time to do all that we think we need to accomplish? I know that I do. It’s a no-win situation and it comes at a price. Whatever you think about her, Cheryl Sandberg knows we can’t do everything. Melissa Mayer knows it too. What about the rest of us?
Are you spending your life taking care of other people? Have you worked all day, rushed through dinner, driven the kids to programs and skipped your workout? Are you too busy to make a hair appointment, never mind attend it? Have you worked for days to prepare a Martha Stewart-esque meal but felt too tired and resentful to enjoy it? You have accomplished what you set out to do, but how are you feeling? I know what my answer would be.
Set out below is how I deal with this. It works for me; it may not work for you. People have different and equally valid priorities. These are my priorities – I have three children and a husband, I work full-time as a lawyer, my family eats breakfast and dinner together almost every day, I exercise four times per week and I get eight hours of sleep each night, more or less. Before you metaphorically start chucking rotten tomatoes, ask yourself how this is possible.
I can’t do everything. My spouse and I have always worked at positions in which the hours were manageable, but this required sacrifice. I didn’t enrol my children in dinner time activities, because we decided that family dinners (and our sanity) were more important than rushing off to weeknight lessons. I don’t attend school meetings or volunteer at the school; I am grateful to those who do. I rarely go out socially during the week. My weekends are busy and I don’t have a lot of free time. I love to cook and entertain but I save that for important occasions.
I accept help/share the responsibility. My spouse does a great deal of the work. He works from home and prepares dinner so that we can eat early and exercise some evenings. I am extremely grateful for his view that we are true partners. But that means that I am not always in charge. It’s a trade-off but that help from spouses, grandparents, friends, nannies and others, is invaluable.
I am careful about my health. I make exercise a priority so it actually happens, no excuses. I eat and cook delicious, healthy food. I trained my children early to sleep through the night and never let them sleep with me. Some take a different view but my bed is for us; not for them. Without a good night’s sleep I am not a nice or happy person.
I acknowledge that I make choices. When I do go above and beyond the basics, such as entertaining family over the holidays, I try to be mindful of the fact that this is my choice. I enjoy planning and the cooking, and if I do choose to do something, I do it right. I try not to be cranky about all of the work that goes along with it, although I am not always successful.
So what’s the point of all this? To give you some words of encouragement. It’s your life, take advantage of it. Think about what is important to you and what makes you happy, and take some time to do it. Get rid of the guilt. Enjoy the holidays.
Naomi Bussin is a lawyer, fitness enthusiast and healthy cook. It is a mystery why she wasn’t writing for Tonic earlier.