Friday, April 22, 2011

Redefining Selfish

When a flight attendant on an airplane describes how to use the oxygen mask in case of emergency, she advises passengers to firmly secure their own masks before assisting others.

In many ways, this instruction is counter-intuitive to the ideals many of us have been taught.  Christianity teaches us to serve God and help others in need, and put our own self-interests on the backburner.  I hate to be an irreverent heathen, but... I call bull on that one, Jesus!  While I'm certainly not saying we should all turn into egotistical self-centered jackasses, seeking happiness and fulfillment in our own lives is what makes us better able to serve God and more apt to help others.

While selfishness has gotten a bad rap, I've come to celebrate its importance in my life.  I think it's all too common--especially for women--to get caught up in the role of caretaker.  For years, I bent over backwards to care for family, friends, co-workers, and strangers on the street.  I learned that while it wasn't wrong per se, focusing all of my time and attention on others was actually a coping mechanism for me to take the emphasis off of my own problems.  Caring for others made me feel good about myself when I otherwise wouldn't, and while that type of altruism puts you on a high, the high doesn't last. 

One day, I woke up and realized that the one person in my life who really needed my help was me.   I learned how to make time for me first, then others.  I learned how to tell people no, even when they begged or had very good arguments for their causes.  And once I realized that the world wasn't going to collapse if I wasn't there to hold it up, I was free to do what I needed to do to make myself whole.  A few years later, I woke up and I wasn't sick anymore, I had more energy, and I could more thoroughly enjoy my life.  Looking back, I can honestly say that learning to be selfish has made me a better, happier person.

Distance running is an inherently selfish sport.  The amount of time that goes into marathon training leaves little time for much else, and sometimes that can be a difficult trade-off in relationships. Along with taking up huge chunks of my free time, running makes me annoying to listen to when I ramble on and on about it.  (Thanks again for being my sounding board, Mom.) 

Being a runner's friend, family member or significant other can be as exhausting as if you were running the race yourself.  And, certainly, there is a balance to be struck.  But, anyone who really knows (and gets) a runner would tell you that they would much rather have a somewhat self-absorbed and needy--yet happy and healthy--version of that person rather than the less happy version that came before it. 

When it comes down to it, this hobby that takes up all of my time right now has changed me for the better. While I've rested on Fridays when I could have been out celebrating with friends and was on a treadmill during precious hours I could have spent with family, I've found self-discipline, and a sense of accomplishment and pride in my acheivements.  And I don't care if that's selfish.

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