Is Self-Improvement Selfish?

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I wrote a self-improvement book. It’s called The Thrive Life and it’s awesome (ok, that’s enough shameless self-promotion). Writing this book was a huge undertaking and the process was much more in-depth than I could have imagined. One part of that process was allowing friends and/or close family members (called beta readers) to read my manuscript at different points during the writing/editing process and give feedback. As I started getting feedback from these people I was looking for common threads. One or two people that don’t like something doesn’t really matter, but if every beta reader didn’t like some aspect of the book I might have a real problem. The Thrive Life is all about self-improvement; how to make yourself better. Almost half of the beta readers had a comment similar to this – “Isn’t a book focused on yourself and how to make you better a little selfish?” They weren’t being condescending or standoffish; it was a legitimate question. So, is self-improvement selfish? I had to stop and think about that because I truly hadn’t considered the question before. Is self-improvement selfish? Part of me said yes and part of me said no. I had to let the thought marinate for a bit before I came up with my response. What I concluded was in a paragraph that I decided to add to the beginning of the book. Here is what I wrote:

“You may be wondering if such self-exploration and improvement is somewhat self-absorbed. After all, this book is about you. I will touch on our relationships with others and the importance of outside influences, but the crux of the book is personal change. So is it selfish to strive for personal goals? I would flip that line of thinking around; I think challenging yourself to grow and become better is selfless. If you have ever flown in an airplane you have no doubt sat through the mandatory safety briefing the flight attendants give before each flight. When they begin talking about the oxygen masks that come down during emergencies, they tell you that adults should secure their own masks first before helping their children. Uhhh, what? That flies in the face of all our basic parental and decent human instincts. Are flight attendants terrible people? No. The reality is that you cannot effectively help someone unless you are healthy and thinking clearly. Put your mask on first; then help others. This book and your self-improvement are your ways of putting on the proverbial mask. Helping yourself become better is not selfish; it is selfless. Selfishness would be to wallow in a mediocre life. Selfishness would be to continue eating and drinking whatever you want without thinking of the consequences. Selfishness would be to take the easy road and live a life that never dares to be amazing. Selfishness is the easy road; selflessness is the path of sacrifice and growth.”

So that’s my answer. Is self-improvement selfish? No. Self-improvement is selfless and necessary if you want to be well enough to help others. Not only that, but your journey could be what inspires others to get out there and make some things right. So get to work and make yourself better…it just might be the most important thing you do for others.

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