Why Putting Yourself First is NOT Selfish

*8 minute read*

Another massive week has transpired here for me at The Place and while at the end of last week I was on a wave of high energy awesomeness, I’ve ended this week in a state of near exhaustion.

For most of us I’m sure 2013 is now in full swing and the goals and intentions that we commenced the year in such clarity with are increasingly being challenged by ‘real life’. I don’t exactly know how this always seems to happen for me but all of a sudden my calendar is jam-packed full of ‘stuff’ for as far as I can see!

I want to acknowledge the awesome feedback and discussion that took place around last week’s post ‘Creating Space for Serendipity to Take Place‘ both here on the blog and on the Facebook page. I’ve been moved by the fact that this idea has resonated for other people too and I hope its been valuable in creating some positive change in people’s lives.

Through the experiences of the last week I’ve come to realise how this process of weekly sharing is as valuable for my own learning as anybody else’s. In sharing these experiences and the lessons that have come out of them, I’m reminding myself to put them into daily practice. I appreciate I am well and truly a work in progress and I’m grateful that some of my close friends this week have kept me accountable to putting in practice what I have shared here at Be Awesome.

And for me this week that has been to create space for myself.

Somehow, in my ‘busy-ness’ moving house, my work commitments, my support and committment to my friends, family and faith and in the pursuit of my goals I’ve neglected to invest in myself and I’ve found myself quite exhausted and at times off centre as a result.

The unpacking continues

The unpacking continues

I love how messages can arrive just when you need them from unexpected sources. This weekend the message to create space for myself came from a friend however about a year ago it came from a taxi driver during a memorable lunch time taxi ride.

At the time I was really stressed, preparing for an exhibition that I really shouldn’t have committed to be involved in. I was dashing out in my lunch break to buy a touchscreen display for the exhibition and it was during the cab ride from work to the touchscreen supplier that my taxi driver presented this pearl of wisdom. Out of the blue he quietly said to me:

“It’s crazy you know, people spend their whole life trying to understand the world and yet they understand nothing about themselves.”

He was right. The truth hit me like a punch in the face. This was his lesson and this is the lesson for all of us:

Putting yourself first is NOT selfish.

That’s right (deep breath), putting yourself first is NOT selfish.

In fact I believe, putting yourself first is the most valuable thing you can do for others and for society at large.

In the past I have put other people’s needs before mine in the hope for some kind of acknowledgement or validation. In my experience, seeking this kind of external validation can become an ego trip and while it might have made me feel good in the short-term it wasn’t a sustainable feeling as I would grow to resent putting my needs second.

In the last two years particularly I have observed that for every moment I have invested in myself I have been able to give exponentially more to others and in a sustainable way.

I met another valuable messenger Glen, in 2004 while I was in my fourth year of studying architecture. Glen was a guidance counsellor at the uni that I was seeing to help me through some of the stresses of study and also a difficult relationship I was in. He introduced me to this idea of consciously investing in myself without shame referring to it as ‘sharpening the axe’. He’d say “how can you make anyone else happy if you’re not already happy yourself?”

This was really empowering for me because it allowed me to acknowledge and forgive myself for some of my poor behaviour. Being exausted or flat is not really an excuse to act poorly however I’ve been able to recognise that I am not my behaviours and at times observe my behaviours as a sign from my psychology that I need to stop and create space for myself.

In this moment right now, stop and consider.

By putting yourself second you are denying the world, your family, friends and associates the opportunity to experience and share  in all of your greatness. You are denying the world the true expression of your most authentic self. What could possibly be more beneficial to others then to give of yourself completely, coming from a place where you are already enough?

I received some constructive feedback from my post last week that asked: “Can you focus on ‘how to’ in your next post?….”

So, here are some practical thoughts for us all on how to create space for putting ourselves first:

1.  Learn to become an observor of your behaviours. Are your automatic, everyday behaviours starting to tell you something about your need to invest in yourself?

For me, behaviours that act as signs that my ‘axe needs sharpening’ are pessimism, cynicism, sarcasm, ‘cheap shots’ (often at friends or family) and petty thinking.

2.  Ruthlessly put yourself first by creating time and space in your calendar for yourself!

This is the hard part. For me, over the weekend I looked at my calendar and realised that I was busy every night, not to mention a full schedule at work during the week. I had planned to have dinner with an awesome friend on Monday night and to provide some support to her for where she’s at at the moment. However, I realised I can’t support her if I haven’t been supporting myself. So I made the call to cancel the dinner and she respected my decision. I’ve also had to make a strong decision about no longer pursuing a relationship that I feel won’t be entirely rewarding in the future. With these two strong decisions I now have two nights just for myself this week!

3. Do the quiet things that make you happy and fill you up.

I’ve learnt these serendipitously over the years: washing up on cold mornings in winter, Bikram yoga, meditation, listening to records, reading, cooking, playing guitar, doing laundry and doing housework while listening to my iPod!


I challenge all of us in the week ahead to consider these questions:

  • What are your current day-to-day behaviours telling you about your ‘inner health’? Are you following your purpose or are you in need of some re-charging?
  • What can you ruthlessly cut out of your life right here and right now to create some space to invest in yourself? 
  • What are the small and quiet things you do that make you happy and allow you to ‘sharpen the axe’, / ‘put petrol in the tank’ / ‘charge the batteries’? If you don’t know, start experimenting and see where serendipity takes you!

I’d love to hear your responses to these questions so if it feels right, please share. Til next week, invest in yourself and Be Awesome!


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6 thoughts on “Why Putting Yourself First is NOT Selfish

  1. Hi friend,
    Another really provoking blog this week. I really resonate with what you have written as it is something that I have been doing for myself in the last 12 months. Putting myself first was the next step for me after learning to say no, or in other words setting healthy boundaries. It’s amazing that in creating this space for myself I found new aspects of myself to explore and make more awesome. There is a delicious little phrase that Italians swear by as essential to their happiness and that is ‘il dolce far niente’ – The sweetness of doing nothing. It is in these moments when I think that I am doing nothing that I have often had my greatest thoughts or ideas that allow me to define a moment, rather than the other way around.
    Christian thanks again for your thoughts, intentions and challenges that you share, definitely helping me to challenge myself to Be Awesome everyday.
    B x x

    1. ‘Il dolce far niete’ what a beautiful phrase! Thanks for sharing your insights again B. For me, I feel like the process of setting boundaries, creating space and doing ‘sweet nothing’ is cyclical and every time I’m faced with burn out I’m forced to learn the lesson a little better than the time before. That’s growth I suppose!

  2. Thank you Christian, such a positive message to encourage us all to find a little bit more love for ourselves! I am really enjoying the weekly updates and your authenticity, stay awesome! xo

  3. I came across you blog by typing in “it’s not selfish to put yourself first”. I like your encouraging words. My friend recently taught me about putting myself first. It was hard to get past the thought that I was being selfish. But he taught me no. If I put myself first above my wife and my kids. I can do so much more FOR THEM by putting myself first. My job, my health, etc… I was always thinking of others before myself. If I came into some money THAT I NEEDED FOR ME, I always thought of others first. I realized after, I wasn’t doing 100% more to help them. I think I was doing as to say… alright.. here I am to the rescue. I’m going to help them, they’re doing to love or like me better. This is most defiantly not the case. Helping others for that reason is not a good one. Because when my own relative doesn’t treat me better for helping them, then it causes resentment. I never said it, but I wanted to. Well, hello, I helped you, now you’re treating me like dirt??!! When in reality, if I gave them something for that reason, to have validation and not the goodness of my own heart, than I’m an idiot!! LOL Truly. It has to be from the heart, but I just realized that it won’t make them like you any more.

    1. Hi Christine. I’m really glad that Google brought you here and want to acknowledge these great realisations you’ve made. Good on you for choosing to Be Awesome and for sharing your experiences here. You’re lucky to have a friend that can inspire you in this way. Good luck and I hope you can continue to listen to your heart and put yourself first. Christian

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