“Don’t worry about the whole world: if you do it will overwhelm you. Worry about one wave at a time. Please yourself. Do something for you and the rest will fall in line.”
~~David Seabury, from The Art of Selfishness, 1937
In my bookcase, edges tattered and torn, is a copy from 1971 of the book, The Art of Selfishness. My father gave it to me the year he died. He gave it to me because he saw I was disappearing in the effort to be everything my first real boyfriend expected. And those expectations weren’t really coming from him; they were coming from my own ideas of what it meant to love someone.
In my family, to love someone else meant to lose the self. And losing the self is painful.
At the time I thought the book was a bit hokey and very outdated in the situations it described. It was actually written way back in 1937. The stories in the book aren’t necessarily relevant to our modern times and certainly the language is not of today but the lessons I learned within those tattered pages were vital ones for me in finding my way to living a happy and fulfilling life.
It was the title that intrigued me and it still does. I think of it as the ‘art’ of self-care – really the art of soul-care.
The Art of Soul Care
I call it ‘soul-care’ because when you live life according to other people’s needs and expectations, your soul begins to sicken. And, if your soul sickens over a long-enough period of time, so too does your mind, heart and body. To choose what is good for you in any situation is not selfishness but the highest form of self-love.
If you struggle with self-love, then you need to learn the art of selfishness.
Self-love grows as the self is honored through choices and actions that acknowledge your deepest needs.
Self-love grows as you learn to stand in your own skin without compromise.
Self-love grows as you learn to be authentically you regardless of circumstance or societal expectations.
To know yourself and your needs is one key to a truly successful life. But you need the matching key if you are to move away from pain in your life towards joy.
The matching key is your ability to choose to act in accordance with your self-knowledge. To say ‘no’ to what is not in alignment with your deepest self and to say ‘yes’ to what is.
A Method to Work with the Art of Selfishness:
- Make a list of where and how you are living in a way that is not what you truly want.
- Make a list of where you are acting out of ‘duty’ not to self but to others or a concept of what it means to be a ‘good’ person.
- Make a list of when and how and where you feel most joyful and carefree.
Once you have your lists, there is a secret to working with them.
First see if items on List 1 and List 2 are related. Here’s an example from my own life:
When I was in my late twenties I found myself spending a lot of time with a college friend who kept dragging me out to bars every other evening so we could each meet that perfect partner.
Now I really don’t feel comfortable in bars coming as I did from an alcoholic family and having my own struggles with drinking. But off I would go having a completely miserable time because I felt obligated to do what my friend wanted.
I hadn’t yet learned to stand in my own skin without compromise. When I finally did it felt as if a giant weight had been lifted from me.
It takes courage to stand in your own skin.
It takes courage to change.
It takes courage to choose yourself and your highest and best over what others want you to do.
Once you have studied your Lists 1 and 2, then look at the items on your List 3 – the ones that contain those moments of joy and happiness.
You’ll discover (as I have) that some item on List 3 holds the antidote to the pain you feel within the confines of the items on Lists 1 and 2.
List 3 is the way forward – the way forward into a life that you love and that loves you back.
I encourage you to take some small steps towards real soul-care.
Every time you do, I feel empowered to do the same.
As you learn the Art of Selfishness, the Art of Soul-Care, you bless the world with the most beautiful of gifts – your unique expression of love and light.