Sunset image with caption Living Your Dream Is Not Selfishness for the selfishness essay
Living Your Dream Is Not Selfishness

You didn’t mean to make to people uncomfortable. You have just decided that you want to try something different – at work or in your personal life – and people say it is selfishness.

“Why do you want to do that?” or “Why isn’t what we have always done still okay?”

This often happens in workplace situations when people take promotions or choose to relocate.

“I thought he was comfortable here,” or, “I thought she was one of us.”

Often, in family and personal situations, choosing something contrary to ordinary is when you get the most manipulative pushback.

“I thought we were friends,” or “You can’t do this to family,” or the resigned “Well, I hope you find what you are looking for.”

Fact is, when you decide to step away from the herd and try different things, you are going to upset some people. Choosing to live differently than the timeworn ways of your peers often causes resentment. People think that by choosing something out of the ordinary, you are questioning their personal choices.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.”

The social comparison theory states that individuals derive their self-worth by comparing themselves to others. In other words, they evaluate their own opinions and abilities by comparing themselves to their peers. If they see themselves as more successful than those in their social group, they feel a boost. If they see themselves as less successful compared to others they know, they tend to be more deferential. A person not playing the social comparison game and living the way they want to live disrupts social order. This can threaten people who are too afraid to choose differently.

Starting different projects, striking off on your own, changing social circles or uprooting your life and moving half a world away upsets balances and makes comparison difficult. Sometimes the only way to deal with this is to label the person changing their situation as impractical, foolhardy or selfish.

Yes, some people will discourage you from breaking with norms for purely selfless reasons. They fear that things won’t turn out well for you. However, also common, are people who discourage you from living your dreams because they want the social confirmation that living as they do is the best way; even if it isn’t for you. It is easier to attack other’s values instead of defending their own.

“Why do you want to go there? Everything I need is right here.”

One of the biggest tragedies in life is losing your potential, or your dreams because others want control. “I could have been,” or “I wish I’d,” are two of the saddest phrases in the English language.

When I took early retirement and began exploring the world, opinion seemed to fall into three camps. Some were indifferent; busy living their lives and ambivalent to my plans. (Good) Some cheered me on and were happy to see a friend/family member stepping up and living their dreams. (Very good) And some wanted me to bury my dreams and not do anything off-script. Why do so many of us spend so much of our lives trying to appease the selfish ones?

The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Compassion does not mean molding your life to fit the expectations of others. Compassion is empathizing with others and being kind. Hiding your true self to appease people who expect you to be just like them is not compassion. It is a prison.

“How dare she take a different path.” “How can he be so selfish?”

Following your dreams, wherever they lead is an act of courage. There will always be those who say that looking after your self-interests is impractical or selfish. So what? Strikeout on your own and don’t worry about what the conformists say. Their words are more a reflection of their insecurities than a reflection of you.

Although some would disagree, self-care and selfishness are not the same things. Selfishness is asking someone to deny who they are, or to abandon their dreams, because it would make your life more comfortable or convenient.

We only get one shot at this thing we call life. Don’t let those who are truly selfish and self-centered dissuade you from your dreams.

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