The Importance of Being Selfish


As Catholic Mexican-American, I can tell you that the three most important characteristics of any angelito are the following: 

  1. The ability to repress everythingRepression is the 8th sacrament – I don’t care what you say. The more you bottle it up, the more holy you are.
  2. Dry hands: No one wants to hold hands with you during the Our Father, you clammy SOB.
  3. Absolute selflessness

Whether consciously or unconsciously, I believed, from the time I could talk, that the best thing I could be — better than being kind, compassionate, loving — was selfless. I should give everything that I had and, more importantly, I should give and take nothing for myself. To take — things, time, love, compassion — for yourself was not just rude, but it was morally reprehensible. So for years I went out with friends when I didn’t want to, Skyped for hours when I was tired, went to family functions that I hated, did things that, to this day, I question the value of – all in the name of being “selfless.” Or at least that’s what I called it. Slowly, I felt myself slipping away, crawling inwards, resenting myself and others, hating where I was, incessantly complaining about things that could have been prevented if i only said, “No” or “Not today” or “I don’t want to do that.” Like butter spread over too much bread, I was stretched thin. I had nothing to give because I didn’t give to myself.

Honesty has never been one of my strongest suits – I’ve always thought it was easier to make an excuse or to color the truth in order to protect people’s feelings, even my own. Whenever someone wanted to hang out and I didn’t want to, I would say, “My parent’s won’t let me,” or “I have too much homework.” By doing this, I was doing a disservice to the people I cared about and also to myself.

I don’t know when I decided that I had to finally assert myself, but I do remember that my new year’s resolution a couple of years ago was simply saying “No.” So often I had heard, “Say yes to everything!” or “Be open to everything and take every opportunity.” But I can say that when I had the courage to say, “No” and be the very thing that I had been trained to eschew — selfish — I began to live a little better. I learned to be brave and to be honest with myself and with others. It paid off. That honesty laid the groundwork for stronger relationships. I reconciled with my introverted personality and started to spend nights by myself, choose what things I wanted to attend and why. Instead of reverting into my mind, I began to discover myself being more present in those times I did go out. I gave even more of myself to the people I cared about, but just in lesser doses, which to me felt more special.

I still struggle everyday. I struggle with honesty and courage for myself and my friends, but at least the struggle is not to say no to everything. The power of being selfish is that you get to set your own agendas and your own limits, giving you a chance to know yourself intimately. This time of my 20s is the first time that I can do things purely for myself – unapologetically. I don’t have the rules and boundaries of the parental structures of my youth and I don’t yet have the responsibilities of a family of my own in the future. I have the ability and I think, the obligation, of doing what I want now.

I am, by no means, giving credence to being self-serving and egotistical, but taking the time to get to know yourself is a such an integral and often undervalued part of life. We should take things for ourselves so that when we enter serious relationships or go back to the ones we have now, we can be fuller beings and, in turn,  have fuller relationships.

Now, please excuse me while I’ll listen to Kelly Clarkson’s Miss Independent and eat ice cream.

- Raquel Olvera

Image: More Solitude by Tracey Emin (2014)

Raquel OlveraComment