Why Being Self-Centered is Good

January 27, 2009  

This may seem like an odd blog entry, but it has been the topic of conversation over many dinners recently.

Although we are taught from a young age that being self-centered is a bad thing, I think that more people would benefit from being this way. Let me explain.

To start off, I am not suggesting that people should be selfish. I think of selfish as being “exclusively concerned with oneself.”

Being self-centered – in my opinion – is entirely different.

Centering is what you base your life on.

My parents are children-centered. For them, my sister and I are the most important part of their life. They live vicariously through us.

I have friends who are spouse-centered. They do everything in their power to please their partner.

Too many of my friends are work-centered. Their job is the most important aspect in their life. They get meaning from their career. It is no surprise that men are twice as likely to die during their first five years of retirement, than they are prior to retirement.

Others are service-centered. They give their lives to charity and others. They sacrifice their own well-being in the name of contribution. Oprah may fall into this category. One of the reasons she claims she put on all of her weight is that she did not spend enough time taking care of herself.

Which leads us to the benefits of self-centering.

Throughout your life, there is only one constant. You. Your children may pass away before you do. Your spouse may, in spite of all of your loving, leave you. Your job (as many people are finding out) is only temporary. Even service to others can be fraught with challenges.  If you center on someone or something else, you may be giving up control of your life.

Only YOU will be around for as long as you live.

Therefore, instead of centering your life on someone or something that may not be around as long as you, maybe you should try being self-centered. This gives you some level of stability in an unpredictable world. Even the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition – “independent of outside force or influence” – supports this notion.

Anyone who has flown on a plane has heard the flight attendant say, “If the plane loses oxygen pressure for any reason, the oxygen masks will drop down out of the small overhead compartment. If you are seated next to someone who might need some assistance, you should put your own mask on first, and then breathe normally as you assist the other person.”

Take care of yourself first. Be centered. Be grounded. Take control of your life and don’t get derailed by circumstances around you.

Being self-centered is NOT the same as being selfish. Those who are self-centered are NOT narcissistic, hedonistic, or self-absorbed. Because self-centered individuals are more grounded, they are able to give even more to others.  They have the potential to be even more generous and to make even greater contributions.

In some respects, this is in line with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured above). Self-actualization (which is where I put self-centering) is the highest level, higher than esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs.  Interestingly, creativity is listed under self-actualization.

What do you think?

P.S. Some may argue a more theological perspective. For example, Stephen Covey (of the 7 Habits fame) authored, “The Divine Center: Why We Need a Life Centered on God and Christ and How We Attain It.” As I try to avoid religion and politics in this blog, I’ll leave this discussion for another time.

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18 Responses to “Why Being Self-Centered is Good”

  1. Steve Livingston on January 28th, 2009 9:42 am

    Stephen

    Good post. I suspect that the majority of people would agree with this argument (myself included) at a rational or conscious level but would in reality struggle to internalise this at a deeper day-to-day subconscious level.

    Before ‘Self-Centred’ comes ‘Self Acceptance’ and I believe most people in their adult lives struggle with the latter after a lifetime of knock-backs etc which are recalled to mind more readily than past positive experiences culminating in a dominant negative ‘mind chatter’.

    This is why most people attach themselves to jobs, families, communities, causes etc – anything that points the focus and attention away from having to rely on themselves.

    As they say: “The biggest resource in life is resourcefulness” – disappointingly most people go through a lifetime never getting close to tapping a fraction of their own.

    Regards

    Steve

  2. Stephen Shapiro on January 28th, 2009 10:01 am

    Steve

    Thanks for the great insights. Interestingly, I did not make the connection to “attachments” when I wrote this article. I have an entire chapter on the topic in my “Goal-Free Living” book.

    What you say seems to be in line with Maslow. Self-acceptance/esteem come before self-actualization. Love and belonging are below that. Hence it is easier to become attached to love and belonging, because you don’t need self-acceptance.

    As an aside, I do think there is a flaw in Maslow’s thinking. For TRUE love to exist, I think that you need self-actualization. Most love is superficial and self-serving. When love comes after self-actualization, it is less about “fixing yourself” and about creating something bigger than you.

    Thanks again.

    Steve

  3. Fran Goldstein on January 28th, 2009 10:56 am

    Steve,

    Only you could take this stand and make logic out of it!!!
    Seriously, the term “self-centered” has such a negative connotation to me, I find it hard to get past that.
    But your perspective gives us something to really reflect on.
    What I find you are saying is self- centered is an integral part of “wellness” and that is a very positive concept these days.
    You have to take care of yourself first and foremost.
    A mentor of mine taught me “You are the CEO of You!” That really responated.

    Your writing is terriffic. Continued success and thanks for giving us something to really think about.

    Fran

  4. Ramona Seay on January 28th, 2009 4:41 pm

    Thank you Steve!! I’ve been saying this to my close friends for the past year!! We’ve equated (particularly women) being self-centered as being selfish. Giving our last dollar, energy, time so as not to appear “self-centered.” Thank you for giving voice to this.

  5. Stephen Shapiro on January 28th, 2009 5:36 pm

    Thank you everyone for the comments. Clearly this post has struck a chord. Please help spread the word!

  6. bob on February 20th, 2009 2:44 pm

    How about self-mastery?

  7. Dave on February 20th, 2009 3:36 pm

    “Self centered” – I like it. I had some guidance once that suggested I need to focus on me a little bit more instead of giving my all to others first. I pushed back saying “I don’t want to be selfish”. Their repsonse: “think of it not as selfish, but as ‘self-caring’.” That did the trick!

  8. Stephen Shapiro on February 20th, 2009 3:40 pm

    Bob, I love the idea of self-mastery. I suspect that is the highest level of being self-centered.

    Ramona, you are so right. Women have a tendency to give too much – especially when families are involved. Only by taking care of yourself – and making you a priority – can you truly give to others.

    Fran, thanks for the kind words. Being self-centered is not only about wellness and taking care of yourself. It is about centering. Like in karate, you need to be centered to be powerful. If you force too much, you lose power. And if you are like a feather you have no power. Centering is what gives you power with minimal exertion of energy.

  9. Stephen Shapiro on February 20th, 2009 3:41 pm

    Dave – self-caring – that is fantastic! Thanks for that.

  10. Braden Kelley on February 20th, 2009 5:14 pm

    I’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of employees building a personal brand that they leverage to benefit their employer, instead of allowing themselves to only be part of their employee’s brand. This trend I refered to as ‘personal innovation’ in article from January 2008 which you can find here:

    http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/2008/01/personal-innovation-shine-your-star.html

    I hope it is useful in this down economy.

    @innovate

  11. Stephen Shapiro on February 20th, 2009 5:21 pm

    Braden, I love the tie in to personal branding and innovation. Perfect! Steve

  12. Alice Inoue on February 20th, 2009 6:51 pm

    Thank you so much for offering this clear way to explain what I have been trying to say for “years” without the same effect. You are amazing Steve. Thank you for all you do.

  13. Yew Kam Keong (Dr.YKK) on February 20th, 2009 7:08 pm

    I agree with you on self-centredness. You spoke about leaving out religion. But all religions began with self-centredness. The great prophets received their revelations when they meditate alone, totally self-centred. That’s where they began to ask questions about life’s purpose and their destinies after death. Their ephipanies then served as the basis of their teachings. Isn’t it all about self-centredness?
    Dr.YKK (Yew Kam Keong)

  14. PTLdom on February 21st, 2009 8:48 am

    . Being self-centered may imply, above all, the conscience of self-being, as a conscious living been, who, above all, deeply feels alive and find it good. Then, we leave through core values and beliefs. Ah, and affections. Not to mention impulses and instincts, regarding the efforts and some degree of welcomed sacrifices to protect our family. Children become an intrinsic part or us, of our self-being, and anything that happens to them will impact on our state of being. Then, being self-centered implies, also, an acquired sense of increased self-responsibility for others, meaning we, voluntarily, give up of some “self” to extend ourselves, instinctively, to reinforce the life of others. In the end, not all cultures are equally born from the affiliation point of view, nor in the way of what is seen as acceptable or not, regarding how we feel better with our selves and with the ohters.

  15. Stephen Shapiro on February 23rd, 2009 4:34 pm

    Alice, my pleasure! Thanks for the kind words.

    Dr. YKK (I am a fan of yours), I love your perspective. I never thought of it that way, but you are SO right.

    PRLdom, fascinating point of view. I like the concept of “extending the self” to include more than just your own physical being, the idea of “increased self responsibility for others.” The one challenge I have with this is the concept of “control.” We have control (to some degree) over our own actions and responses. We don’t have the ability (or even desire) to control others; they have their own self interests to look after. Regardless, your perspective is thought provoking and appreciated.

    Steve

  16. Kemi Jeje on August 13th, 2010 5:09 pm

    Thks so much Steve, was just wondering if bin self center is same as bin selfish…
    Guess people need to learn to be self centered, to be able to have any substance to give to others.

  17. Stephen Shapiro on August 14th, 2010 9:51 am

    Hi Kemi…

    From my point of view, selfish is NOT the same as self-centered. They are often used interchangeably.

    Selfish, from my definition, means that your actions are truly coming from the point of view of your own self interest.

    Self-centered means using your life as the “grounding” to help you then play full out in life, making contributions.

    When you “center” or “ground” yourself on something other than your own life, you run the risk of losing that center if something goes wrong.

    Thanks for asking.

  18. jeannie on September 20th, 2010 9:29 pm

    thanks for the information on self-centered. family and friends thing that i am self-centered. but i am not. i am a late bloomer, but now i stand up for my self. individuals are not use to this behavior. oh well. i am enjoying it because i can be myself.

    thanks again,

    Living