Why It Is Good To Be Selfish

Why It Is Good To Be Selfish

I recently saw this brilliant video by The School Of Life (all of their work is worth checking out) and it got me thinking about this topic.



More accurately, the video helped me to make sense of a few things that have been sloshing around my brain ever since I set up my own business and particularly once I started focusing on The Influence Expert.

As I have come from the charity sector the idea of selflessness and trying to do the best for others is a particularly important concept. Before that I was involved a little with politics (which I also studied at university) because I wanted to make my mark on the world and to help other people.

Many people who want to do good in the world don’t spend enough time thinking about themselves. I of course don’t mean that they are perfect people- but that they think that spending time on themselves is somehow selfish, or a waste.

However, the more I have thought about this and the better I have got at noticing when I am feeling burnt out and unable to do my best work, the more I have realised how important it is to care about yourself in the right way.

I now see this as a key part of growing your influence.

Aside from doing good for others it can sometimes feel that if we focus on ourselves that we will miss out on everything that the world has to offer. There is a real fear of missing out and the world moves very fast. However, sometimes it is important to take yourself out of that and to focus on the things that you know are really important to you.

In the past couple of years I have made a conscious effort to focus on myself. The biggest change has come about through becoming a digital nomad with my wife- and living in three countries so far as well as spending time in our home country of the UK.

Being a digital nomad has allowed me to:

  • Assess how I could make the biggest difference to the world- setting up The Influence Expert
  • Get better control of my fitness and losing some weight through more exercise and fresh air, healthier food and more sleep
  • Spend more time with my wife, the person who makes me feel happiest and most fulfilled in the world.
  • Take time to pause after a busy first part of my career
  • Get new inspiration from other countries and cultures
  • Get into some better habits around things like personal productivity and improve my skills in areas that I need to, to be a success in my area of focus

Of course, it hasn’t always been a smooth journey. I didn’t, for example, manage to get a bit fitter without a decent amount of effort- and I have a way to go before I reach my goals. But at least I have had been able to take the time to get myself on the right track and hopefully to put in place some things that will bear fruit in the years to come.

I now know that only by focusing on myself can I help other people properly.

One of the most important parts of influence is understanding what the other person wants and the only way you can do that is to cater to your most important needs first.

It is like on a plane where you are told to sort your own oxygen mask before helping others.

If you don’t focus on your important needs then you can’t hope to help other people with theirs.

Of course this doesn’t mean catering to your every whim without helping other people.

Nor does it mean not caring about the world around you just because you are busy. You will always care about the world, but you need to know when the focus should just be on you.

Focusing on yourself isn’t a licence to treat other people badly- (if you have made a commitment you should do your best to fulfil it- the trick is not to make it in the first place if you are at a point that you need to be focusing on yourself).

Another thing to think about is that sometimes you may need to be selfish because other people are being selfish- and for at least some of them, not in the right way. For example they may use the excuse of focusing on themselves to dump some of their work or stress on you. A lot of other people focus on themselves, so if you don’t, who will focus on you?

Let’s suppose we never focus on ourselves, what happens then?

Perhaps we get annoyed with other people

Maybe try to help everyone and end up helping no-one.

Or we can get burnt out and not be at our best.

So, we need to get better at articulating our needs to ourselves and to others.

Each of us will need different things.

For me I need a decent amount of time on my own- which I have found hard sometimes to explain to the people I care about because I love spending time with them too- but being true to myself I know that I need a balance.

I’ve also had some mental health issues- not a secret to most people who know me but not something I’ve discussed publicly before- and so I know some of the things I need to be careful of if I want to function effectively and enjoy the world. As well as knowing what to do to make myself feel more comfortable when I’m not at my best- I am a little more skilled at recognizing when I need some alone time, quiet time or recuperation time. Of course I don’t always get it right and sometimes life intervenes. At least I see it as an ambition though.

I want to serve the world and I am sure you do too. The point of influence is to have impact. To do that I need to be selfish sometimes.

If you think of most of the people you admire, they are probably selfish in a number of ways. In particular, if they are at the top of their game they probably need to be selfish sometimes in order to have the time and space to be able to achieve the things that they do.

Of course, to be selfish in the right way you first need to work out what is important to you. Both what is important to you for you to be able to function at your maximum potential and give the greatest service to the world- and also what is important to you in terms of what is the direction in which you generally want to be heading- where should you be focusing your attention right now?

Having enough time to focus on the things which help us feel grounded is a natural human emotion. It is part of the authentic human experience and authenticity is an important part of The Influence Star.

What do you need to be selfish about in order to get where you want?

How do you need to be more selfish in your life right now? How might you be able to help other people if you were more selfish?

I’d love to hear some of your ideas.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Why It Is Good To Be Selfish

  1. Excellent feature! I have recently discovered The School of Life and find that their work, like this article, completely resonates. After 10 years of working in digital I am having a short break in Australia and Indonesia (3 weeks) to gain perspective and assess next steps. I’ve had to be ‘selfish’ to do this – handover work to colleagues, let my partner look after the flat (he cannot travel far at the moment) and give myself some mental headspace. I’ve enrolled on The School of Life’s career workshop, so hopefully I’ll have some answers soon! Ultimately, a change is as good as a rest.

    • Thanks so much for your input Leila- you highlight exactly the sort of thing I mean- handing responsibilities to others can feel ‘selfish’ but sometimes it is the right thing for us (and it shows we trust them too). Very exciting to hear that you are signed up with The School of Life, would love to be kept updated on that!

  2. Hi Alex, You and I first me when I was leading School Governors One-Stop Shop; we had some difficulty deciding which station entrance / coffee bar we had planned to meet in! I was impressed by your energy then, and I can see no evidence of it reducing since. The thing that strikes me about selfishness is that the word itself carries negative conotations to the extent that in applying it to ourselves / our behaviour, we feel obliged to apologise. And yet…and yet…looking after ones own family in the face of serious adversity and to the exclusion of all other committments or considerations ( as I have had to do) could be descibed as a selfish act ? I would rather position it as charity beginning at home; and what a difference the change of wording makes. Perhaps in protecting yourself for the benefit of others, this is what you are practising too?

    • Thanks for the great comment Steve- great to hear your insights and thanks for the kind compliment too! I definitely think that this idea of caring about yourself is something that I am becoming better at over time (not sure whether it is best to call it selfishness, or something else…).

  3. Hi Alex:
    Your article on being selfish is quite interesting the way you presented it. However, I do not think taking care of yourself is selfish. No matter how much ambition and desire you have for helping and caring for others, if you do not take care of yourself you will fall ill and all your plans will fail. If you are not happy you cannot make others happy. In order to be happy you have to love yourself first, that means taking care of yourself, doing things you like, going to places you like, being with the people you like, or being by your self and searching for inner peace. If that is what some people call it being selfish then being selfish is the right thing for you. Carry on with your beautiful journey and I will try to read more of your articles. I will be in London for the entire month of July and if you are going to be in London we will meet up and have a pint.

    • I agree Vinukaka- but I think that a lot of people see it as selfish even though it is the right thing to do.

      Thanks for your lovely comment- wish I was going to be able to see you in London but we will be in Prague/then probably Budapest during July!