Why being selfish can not only good for YOU, but ultimately good for EVERYBODY.
I was nursing my first cup of coffee and poking around my blog stats this morning. (I know we’re not supposed to care, but come on–we all do it!) I found a link to a blog by Twisted Thicket, a gourd and rock artist.
I saw the title of the artist’s current post, “Being Selfish”; it stopped me dead in my tracks.
The artist wrote, “Do you ever feel the need to just pick up your paints and brushes and paint something, anything, just for you? I do. I need to let myself go and paint without boundaries and time constraints. It may seem selfish….”
It hit me hard because it cut so deep.
Twisted Thicket went on to talk about her latest work (yay!), but the train of thought she started carried me here.
‘Selfish’ is probably the worst thing you can call a woman. Especially a mother. Well….that, and the other word I used in the title.
Aren’t we supposed to be compassionate? Aren’t we supposed to be supportive? And giving? Giving, to the point of self-sacrifice? Don’t mother animals actually pull fur and feathers from their breast to make their nests for their young? Aren’t we supposed to be….
I have no idea when or where, in what context or how often that word ‘selfish’ was applied to me as a young person. My parents are pretty nice people. As I go now through the difficult stage of parenting teens, I’m guessing I heard it most often when I was a teen.
Because that’s what teens are. That’s where their brains are at, developmentally. They are ‘selfish’, ‘self-centered’ and ‘self-absorbed’ at that age. I’m sure I heard those words pretty regularly during my young adulthood. I know I have to bite my tongue now to keep them from popping out when I’m dealing with my son.
I bite my tongue because I know those words have staying power. How do I know?
Because at some point in my teens (and I’m sure I deserved it) my mother, berating me for some stupid, selfish thing I said or did, said I had “a vile personality”.
And in my deepest, darkest moments of depression, I can still hear her saying that.
This is not to blame my mom, who is kind and generous person. I know she loves me and wants only good things for me. I’m sure I stretched her patience to the breaking point that day.
It’s about the fact that sometimes, the words we hear go far beyond that moment, and burn themselves into our hearts.
And never go away.
When I talk to other creative people–singers, writers, painters, designers, musicians–when I ask if they’ve set aside a separate space for their craft, or a time to practice it, I’m dismayed by how many do not.
They carefully explain how they can’t do that, because that would be selfish.
Whether they are just starting out or beginning to hit their stride as artists, I’m amazed how many have to carve tiny bits of time around their kids’ naps. Or work on a kitchen table, setting up and clearing away their projects every single day.
I remember a woman whose husband had an entire room for his cigar collection, but she painted on an easel in their bedroom.
I myself often chose the role of ‘rescuer’ to such women. I would give hours, entire days, to help someone deal with their latest crisis. And when I wasn’t needed any longer, I drifted on to some other drama I could play a part in, some other person who “needed” me.
It feels good to be needed, doesn’t it?
We give up our time, our space, our attention–willingly, unasked–because we think others deserve it, and we do not.
Here I am, after ten years of making good work, enjoying some success with my art, making good money (or was), finding it difficult to figure out what I want from all this.
Or rather, not what want–but what I want.
Because making time for ourselves, making space for ourselves, making art that pleases ourselves, seems….selfish.
What I’ve learned is, you can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself first.
That old flight attendant metaphor of putting your own oxygen mask on before you help kids on with theirs is a good one. Because it’s true.
The best way I can help my kids in their young adult years is to model the kind of person I hope they’ll be. Self-reliant. Confident. Open to change. Focused on what matters to them. Er…me. Creating good energy in the world by being….
Caring for others, yes, but not at our own expense. Being there for our friends, but not losing ourselves in their issues. Encouraging our spouse, but not sitting in the back seat because we’re too afraid to drive the car ourselves.
Self-sacrifice should only involve a life-or-death situation–not your daily practice. (You have to ask, who would even want, or expect that from you on a daily basis??)
I’m told there comes a time where we will not care (so much?) what other people think of us.
I’m told that when a woman reaches menopause, her priorities shift. The years spent nurturing and supporting others ease off.
This will be the time when we step forward to claim what we want. A time to speak up with our voice.
We will not be judged any longer. We will only….be.
We will be the artist, the writer, the activist, the community organizer person, whatever we dream we were meant to be.
It can’t come soon enough.
I can’t wait to be a selfish bitch.