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Why It’s Okay To Be Occasionally Selfish

I always hated the idea of being “selfish.” My parents are the type of people to give the shirts off their back and always create a strong sense of community. Even the word “selfish” accompanies the feelings of shame or embarrassment, something negative overall. I could have never imagined that there is positive and negative with the adjective. All I could think of was selfish equals not caring for people and stepping over them for your benefit. Yet, that’s not always the case. Selfish can mean prioritizing yourself over others. The word can mean that you hold yourself to a high standard and want to see yourself succeed. Selfish might be a day where you take a mental health break. All actions and then some can encompass being selfish. 

Tiles spelling out the word 'rest'
Photo by Sincerely Media via Unsplash

This individualistic attitude I defied for the better part of my life reveals a deeper cultural issue. To be selfish was not acceptable EVER. I grew up half Puerto Rican and half Eastern European in a predominantly Caribbean household. The first thing that everybody in Caribbean culture learns is the importance of community and caring for others. For so long, I thought that this was the only way to live. Serve others because of your heart, but do not expect anything back — this includes from yourself. I am glad that my compassion is incredibly rooted in who I am, and I would never change that. However, growing up, I didn’t really have a sense of who I was or what I liked. I am the type of person that always serves another person first over me. I didn’t mind hiding in the shadows and being #2 in my own life. Now writing it out, it seems a bit depressing and somewhat concerning. Yet, the reality of the situation was that there never was room for selfishness. It’s a huge lesson that I am trying to unlearn. There is this damaging stigma that the world will end or you will be “cut off” if you even attempt to be selfish. I was so fearful that if I did not obey, there would consequence, or my “Caribbean card” would be revoked. It sounds funny, but the fear is real for many of us. 

Woman sitting alone
Photo by Alex Green from Pexels

The biggest lesson I wish I could tell young me is that it is okay to put yourself first. It’s not going to ruin your character or how people will perceive you. Honestly, being selfish might be beneficial. It allows for introspection, praises mental health breaks, and makes you understand the importance of yourself. These small doses of selfishness help build inner confidence and make sure that you are the priority. I want everybody to stray away from the negative and start using this word in a positive sense. To be selfish is to be empathetic to yourself. To be selfish is to ensure your success in the world. To be selfish is to praise your accomplishments. That’s why it is essential to be selfish occasionally.

Amala Diamond

U Mass Amherst '23

Amala Diamond is a sophomore at UMass Amherst who writes and photographs for HerCampus. Her passions are social justice, woman's empowerment, and advocating for mental health. Her goals are to encourage and continue these difficult conversations and familiarize political issues with a younger audience.
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