The “Self” in Selfless and Selfish

By Catarina Massa, Women’s Wilderness Instructor

I am a selfless selfish human being.

I know it sounds impossible, but people can be selfless and selfish at the same time. I have learned the hard way that being either too selfless or too selfish is damaging to myself and the people around me.

My journey to discovering the balance between these two forces began in my teenage years. Predictably, I was only selfish. Instant gratification was a constant in my life but not just for material things. I wanted to move out of the house NOW, not realizing I was hurting my mother with my hurtful words. I wanted to go to college without making any financial contributions myself NOW, not thinking about the long hours my mother would have to work in order to help me go to school. I wanted to do things MY way, and in the process I damaged my relationships with family and friends; some of those relationships are now irreparable.

After my first year of college, I matured quite a lot. I was not the same brat I had been a year before. I got a job to help pay for school; I phoned my mother more often, even if I was extremely busy; I became less bossy and more communicative. Soon, I became completely selfless. One job turned into four jobs; assignments would go untouched in order to talk to my mother consistently; two-way communication turned into a one-way street in which I was on the receiving end only. Eventually, I felt stretched so thin that I thought the tiniest gust of wind would rip me apart. I was doing everything for everyone and nothing for myself.

When graduation suddenly appeared, I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff. In the vast openness of the valley floor was my chance to do something different – something for myself. I could leap off the edge of the cliff and find out what happens next – fly or crash and burn? Behind me was the safer option – find a job, find a home, and find a proper American life. However, which option could make me happiest?

I jumped.

I write this blog post from Ireland, where I currently live and work. I have absolutely no idea where I am going next or what else awaits me in the future. I do not even know yet if I am flying or crashing. By jumping over the edge of that cliff, though, I made a choice. I decided to be selfish: leaving my home country for myself and my own happiness. I also decided to be selfless: remaining loyal to my mother and my friends. If anything were to happen to them, I would be on the next flight home. For now, while everyone is healthy and embarking on their own paths, I choose to venture on my own.

It is time to remove the negative connotations around selfishness and selflessness (yes, selflessness IS seen negatively, but that is a post for another day). Our physical time on this earth is finite, and we must use this time wisely. Write, explore, breathe, meditate, eat dessert, and laugh. Create a list of your own and set out to accomplish every single item. Make time for yourself, while also being aware of the relationships and needs of others around you. As women, we have been brainwashed to be selfless at all times, especially for the men in our lives. I am here to say from experience that selfishness and selflessness are two parts of an equation that add to empowerment. I am in control of my life, and I can decide how much of myself I give to others and to me.

People will call you too selfless or too selfish. Just remember the appropriate response is to smile and say, “thank you.”



  • Tarsh

    Thank you for the inspiration. I was struggling with this dilemma. I find strength from your post.