Samantha Szuhaj: Choosing yourself isn’t selfish

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 - 4:30pm

I constantly face this internal dilemma: Should I do what is easiest, or should I do what is best for me?

This school year has presented me with numerous situations of differing gravity with the common thread of internal conflict. Should I spend time with my friends that I have not seen recently, or should I take time to unwind alone? Should I say yes to something just because I know people will be disappointed if I don’t, or should I do what would be the more suitable option for myself? Should I act in the interests of others all of the time, or should I consider my own feelings more heavily?

I know some of the answers to these hypotheticals seem self-explanatory, but as someone who, like most, would rather entirely refrain from saying or doing something that upsets or disappoints someone, these situations pose genuine internal back-and-forth.

If college has taught me anything, it's that there is a beauty and a sense of maturity in determining that sometimes the decision that may not be popular or expected may be the best decision in the long run. I have and continue to struggle with accepting the fact that, sometimes, it is OK to put yourself first, even if it feels strange or will incur judgement.

An April Medium article critiques the construct of selfishness. It states that being selfish is conversely selfless. Putting yourself first, it argues, will in turn generate more positive personal outcomes, which will benefit the lives of those around you. This is a complete paradigm shift from everything we have been told. But is it true?

There is a societal stigma around putting yourself first that is synonymous with blatant disregard for others. Putting yourself first can be frowned upon, and we are socialized to think in this way early in life. I can vividly remember my parents and teachers reinforcing the concept that we should put others before ourselves and to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before we make a decision, and I know this was not a unique experience. These are all poignant considerations, and I, by no means, want to disregard or devalue them. I believe each of us should go through these thought processes intentionally and thoughtfully. Yet I also believe that there is value in prioritizing your own well-being.

It seems like an obvious conclusion to reach, but I know that so many of us struggle to make decisions that may be personally beneficial due to a variety of factors — including, but not limited to, appeasing other’s feelings, pressure from friends or family, or pressure from ourselves. I am guilty of this. I go places, watch speakers or attend events, just because I expect myself to, even if I genuinely have little interest in the matter.

With that, as this year ramps up, and I find myself running from one thing to the next, I am going to try and carve out more time for me. It could be as simple as giving myself a break to watch a show or go to bed an hour earlier one night. I think we could all do a little bit of the same.

It’s funny that the concept of prioritizing yourself can be seen as selfish, but picking to go to bed early over going to something that you feel obligated to attend just because, may make you overall just a happier human being. We have culturally shifted into a dialogue that sometimes neglects the importance of self-care and internal reflection so to ensure that others are appeased or that we are keeping up an image or persona that we have become accustomed to maintaining. I think we need to start moving away from those compulsions as a means to be a generally more fulfilled society. 

I am not advocating for cruelty or a general disregard toward others. Instead, I am advocating for your internal dialogue as a compass for your decision-making instead of what society expects or what those around you want. Start doing more for you, even if it may be tough. I know I am going to try.

Samantha Szuhaj can be reached at szuhajs@umich.edu.