(30 Things To Stop Spending Time On If You Want to Be Successful #27)
“We all of us need to be toppled off the throne of self, my dear. Perched up there the tears of others are never upon our own cheek.”
— Elizabeth Goudge
The world is a circle and it revolves around me. This is the sad philosophy of many people in our society. We each sit on our little man-made thrones of self and dare anyone to knock us down. It is so characteristic of human nature and human inclinations. But much of what we do, if we were to really look at it and be honest, is in the best interest of us to the neglect of everyone else.
The movement toward self-acceptance and self-affirmation has, in a way, helped to foster this kind of mentality and attitude. We go to work largely for the benefit of ourselves. We say it’s for our family and a small part of it is, but by and large it is for our own affirmation of personal value and self-worth. We sleep, eat, and play mostly for our well-being and enjoyment. We focus on getting things because we want them. We do things so we can feel a certain way or look a certain way or give off a certain image.
Without a doubt, there is a level — a healthy level — of self-focus that we all need to have in order to be successful in life. For example, in order to get ahead, we must be willing to set personal and professional goals and do whatever it takes to reach them. We must be able to discern when the wrong people are trying to enter our lives and have the courage to keep them out or make them leave. We need to have a vision for our future and be able to fight through when the people around us want to steer us in another direction.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that a self-actualized person is one who has learned to embrace their life’s purpose and live out that life’s purpose in a creatively self-expressive and self-rewarding way. This is why most people in the world are focused on being personally successful, rich, powerful or famous. It’s a basic human need and a common trait across humanity. For good or ill, all of mankind looks out for his or her own interests.
However, what makes self-focus dangerous is when we obsessively and compulsively turn the camera on ourselves and keep it there. Self-focus is very difference from self-awareness. A basic definition of a self-aware person (sans self-focus) is the fact that their gifts, talents, abilities, skills, attitude, behavior, and overall existence serve the best interest of other people, at the very least, one other person.
To be selfless is to embrace the hidden wisdom that one’s life journey is not a journey of self; it is a journey of service. It is to travel the road not of self-focus but of others-focused. When we intentionally turn that camera away from our looks, our achievements, our material possessions and point it in the direction of global humanity, we awaken within ourselves the desire to dedicate our lives to make a difference in some specific part of the world.
We can’t make a difference in everything. That’s impossible. But we have an obligation and duty to find one thing that involves other people and make a difference there. Making a difference doesn’t necessarily begin on a global scale. It begins with one person choosing to embrace the universal laws of empathy, compassion, and social connectedness with the person closest to them. When we make other people matter, we will find out just how much we matter.
Very few people are awakened to this sense of global responsibility. I’m afraid that we live in a society that not only lacks empathy and compassion, but we don’t even know where to begin to embrace these two gifts in our lives. We are so focused on our problems, our issues, our struggles that we don’t raise our heads up long enough to realize that we aren’t the only ones. It’s true that we shouldn’t compare. But it is a misguided idea to think our issues are like volcanos erupting every three hours.
Daniel Goleman, author of the New York Times bestselling book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, writes about obsessive focus on the self. He said, “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”
We all have a free will. God created us with the freedom to do whatever we like and to be whoever we want to be. We’re free to be selfish, self-focused, and self-absorbed. We’re free to ignore people and deny problems exists because they don’t directly affect us. But when God gave us free will, he added in a strange mechanism that pushes past our self-focused facade and forces us into awareness. He will put us right in the middle of some horrifying situation or in the presence of people who indeed have it far worse and he will leave us there.
After all, for so many people, that’s what self-focus is — a facade. It gives us an outward appearance of superiority and “fineness” to cover up a less than happy existence on the inside. Because a person wrapped up in herself or himself can’t possible be genuinely happy. And every day that unhappy person has to look in the mirror and every night that unhappy person has to sleep with himself. Self-focus begins to create panic attacks, anxiety, social phobia, and a host of other problems.
Let’s just face it, we will never be the total package or fully “be it all” on our own. We are and will remain forever inadequate to satisfy our own hearts, minds, and souls. Until we learn that life is not just for us to serve ourselves and be happy ourselves, but to serve other people and be a light for them to find their way home, we will continue to discover that there is no end to selfish living because our deep problem is never resolved. Just when you think you have it all or know it all, you’ll blow it, make a fool out of good opportunities, or otherwise disappoint yourself.
And then, well, the self isn’t so great anymore. Like that hamster that spins on its wheel day in and day out, moving fast and going nowhere, self-focused people rarely get to the finality and end game of self which is important. When you get to the end of yourself and purposely put yourself on the back burner or in the back seat, you get to see what life and living is really all about. You get a bigger, more beautiful picture of what you’re supposed to be doing on this moving ball we call earth.
Life can’t possible be about you. It’s got to be about so much more than that. If you love yourself so much and spend most of your time preoccupied with you, I can guarantee you’re living an empty and very boring life. None of us are that great or wonderful or kind and good to charm and fascinate ourselves. So it’s best we turn the focus on others, put the spotlight on a global problem, turn the attention to someone or something that really matters — and that’s not you.
“Love is always ready to deny itself, to give, sacrifice, just in the measure of its sincerity and intensity. Perfect love is perfect self-forgetfulness. Hence where there is love in a home, unselfishness is the law. Each forgets self and lives for others.”
— J.R. Miller