It’s OK To Be Selfish

The word selfish is defined as: lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

The idea of being selfish has gotten a bad rep and is often used to criticize someone. After all, being selfish means that an individual is often unable to recognize people around him or her. I believe that when someone is selfish the majority of the time they can be difficult to be close to because the non-selfish person is left feeling unnoticed or devalued.

Have you ever thought about how it’s OK to be selfish? I would argue that being selfish can even be good for you and may at times be necessary. It is important to be able to put yourself first and do what’s best for you. If you’re always doing for others you’ll miss out on what you need.

Imagine that a friend asks you to dinner and you don’t want to go because you’re having financial problems. You say yes anyway. Maybe you’ll go and have an awesome time but then end up feeling stressed when your credit card bill comes in. Alternatively, maybe you’ll feel angry at having said yes and not be able to fully enjoy dinner. It’s not always easy to say no to people but what is the cost at saying yes?

It can be OK to go to the gym after work instead of meeting up with a coworker, friend, or family member. It can be OK to stay home alone and have time to yourself to decompress over meeting up with people. Some people re-energize through being around other people and some people need time to themselves. I recommend asking for what you need and sometimes allowing yourself to be selfish. You can be honest with others or you can keep the reasons to yourself. As an outsider, try to remember that someone saying no might not have anything to do with you.

When people say yes to please others problems may arise. Either they later resent their friend or themselves for saying yes or worse yet they become a person who consistently cancels on others and leaves people thinking they are selfish in the negative sense of the word.

Being selfish as a way to take care of you is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s sometimes necessary to be a little selfish. Taking time for ourselves makes us better people, parents, friends, partners, and employees.

It’s Not All About You

We, myself included, can easily forget that things are not necessarily a direct reflection on us. Sometimes people respond in a way that gives us reason to pause or upset us. Think back to an experience where a friend, colleague, or even a complete stranger said or did something that offended you. Our initial thought is to question ourselves. This is a natural response because if it’s something we’ve done to upset someone we can correct our behavior or explain ourselves. If it’s not about us then it’s not really in our control to fix.

Think about the following scenarios:

Someone isn’t as good of a friend to you as you hoped they would be when a close family member is diagnosed with a serious health condition. Maybe this person is not a bad friend but they have never experienced losing someone close to them and the thought of being in your shoes is too much to handle. Instead of being a comfort and a friend to lean on they shy away when you need them most.

A family member has a negative reaction when you share good news with them about your promotion at work. Maybe they feel stuck at their job so they point out all the negatives rather than celebrate with you.

A colleague responds harshly to a seemingly innocent question you asked them. Maybe that person was overwhelmed in the moment and could not handle any additional pressure.

One of your closest friends is not responding to your text messages. It may seem like it only takes two minutes to respond to someone but maybe that friend is extremely busy and he or she would rather wait until things calm down to give you the proper time to talk.

I use these examples as a way to help you think about what could be going on for the other person. At the same time, I think it’s important to remember that sometimes it will be about us and something we have done wrong. A friend may be annoyed or mad at you and not know how to tell you. Instead they act out. It’s not always easy to confront a problem. I encourage you to gently ask that person what’s going on. Let them know you care about them and you’re not sure if you did anything to upset them but you wanted to check in because something felt a little off. Remind that person that you want the type of relationship where you can both be honest with one another about how you feel. Hopefully, they’ll open up to you about what the problem is between the two of you or what has been going on with them personally. Even if they’re not ready to talk to you they know you care and are there to listen. Respect that.

People, especially those close to us, are not usually trying to be mean or hurt us. Try to think about what’s going on for the other person and also remember you have the right to express how you’re feeling and what’s going on for you.

One Of Those Days

In my experience most people spend their morning subway commute in solitude looking down at their phone. I wasn’t always a morning person so I understand not wanting to be bothered by anyone while on your way to work. Let’s not forget that rush hour also tends to leave the subway too crowded, filled with a strange odor, and either too hot or too cold. I tend to enjoy the heaps of people standing and sitting in silence.

From the moment I stepped outside this morning felt like one of those days. Leaving five minutes late is never great but especially less than ideal when it’s raining and you need to refill your metrocard. I was already asking for trouble. Since my metrocard was slightly bent I had the privilege of being charged for a new monthly while also having the machine tell me there was an error in coding. Translation: card won’t properly swipe at the turnstile and I paid for nothing. Looks like I will have to deal with the MTA later when I have more time. Fun times.

I finally managed to get myself on the train. Immediately I felt the stuffiness in the air but was also relieved that I was going to be on the move. As I’m grabbing the pole a man on the train bumps into my hand. I watch as my coffee mug (a cup of coffee everyday is an essential for me) falls to the gross subway floor. I stopped myself from saying I’m sorry because I realized it wasn’t my fault. He bumped into me. As I picked up my mug he looked at me and apologized. I felt relief that he didn’t shoot me a dirty stare implying that I am to blame. After all, some of my precious coffee spilled on his shoes. I remarked how it’s already one of those days. Instead of going back to the conversation with his friend he begins to talk to me. He tells me that he’s in a good mood because he got to spend extra time with his son that morning. He shares with me how incredible it is having his two and a half year old son tell him about his dreams from the previous night. Although I don’t know this man and will probably never see him again his smile was warm and seemed genuine. I have no idea what is going on for him but today he seemed pretty happy. Not only that, he apologized to me. At the time I thought it was his fault but who’s to say. Maybe I was juggling too much stuff and easily lost my grip on the coffee mug. It is only a cup of coffee so in the grand scheme of things it is irrelevant.

On another day maybe I would have stayed mad, maybe not. All I know is that today it made stepping in water (should have worn my rain boots), beating crowds at Herald Square, and spilling my coffee matter less. I kept things in perspective. This simple ten minute chat somehow made my entire day better.

I won’t deny that sometimes you need someone to listen to you vent and be angry or even irrational. But sometimes you need someone, even a stranger, to remind you of the bright side.

 

 

Making Friends Is Hard To Do

There’s an old song which reminds us, “breaking up is hard to do”. Everyone knows ending a relationship of any kind is difficult, even if you’re the one making the decision to end it. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to start a relationship? Whether you’re looking for a partner, best friend, a workout buddy, or a casual friend to grab coffee with at work, meeting that person might prove to be more of a challenge than you realized.

Having friends that are connected to your past is important. Friendships that stand the test of time are special because these people know who you once were as well as who you’ve become. What happens when these “older” friends are in different places in their lives than you and you two don’t have quite as much in common at the moment. You still love your friend but recently realized you need to connect with people who are in the same stage of life.

If your friends are married with children but you’re ready to hit up the town and party until 3:00am you two might not hang out in the same way or be up for the same thing. Or if you’ve moved to a new city your best friends might suddenly be 2000 miles away from you. It’s okay to branch out and meet new people who share your interests and live nearby.

Once you’ve decided you want to make new friends, following through might feel harder than you anticipated. Growing up people make friends through school, sports teams, youth groups, and other organized programs. It’s easier to meet people when you’re thrown into something and everyone there is also looking for the same thing. This is why college connects people instantly to others. Everyone there is starting fresh and is eager to meet new people and form strong bonds. So what happens when you’re in your thirties or forties and find yourself in need of new friends?

The truth is, making friends later in life can be challenging. It leaves you in a vulnerable situation and can stir up many insecurities you thought were long behind you. Suddenly you’re looking for cues through a text message to see if your potential new friend is actually sorry she can’t hang out or just not interested in getting to know you better. You’re giving deep thought as to whether or not you should friend someone on Facebook because you don’t want to seem too eager but you also want to continue forming a connection with your new buddy. You’re confused as to why you’re spending time giving thought to these questions when you previously considered yourself to be a confident person. You might find yourself simultaneously eager and anxious to make new friends which leaves you acting cautiously for fear of coming on too strong and pushing someone away. You may have found yourself in a situation where you need new friends but the people you’re meeting don’t have that seem need. As I previously mentioned, in earlier situations everyone shared the goal of meeting new people but later in life that might not be the case. So what do you do?

Start by getting clear about why you either need new or more friends at this point in your life. If you’re looking for people in similar stages in life, then find activities that can connect you with similar people. You can find hobbies you like and start joining clubs. Examples include a running group, an art class, a book club, a professional networking event in your area of expertise, or a mommy and me class. Even if you don’t meet people in the exact same stage of life as you you’ll at least find people who you have something in common with and can connect with on some level. Plus, the group will probably include at least one or two other people also looking for new friends who share common interests as them.

I encourage you to be yourself when meeting new people. You’re looking for people who you want to spend time with so trying to be someone else would mean you’re doing yourself a disservice. If someone doesn’t like you chances are you wouldn’t like them either. Why would you want to spend time with someone who didn’t appreciate you for who you are? Sometimes two people don’t connect. You might feel hurt if that happens but remember there are lots of other people out there who you will feel a connection with and you’ll get more from that person in the long run.

Sometimes making new friends is about needing someone who understands where you’re at in your life right now. These friends might turn into forever friends or they might simply serve a purpose in this present moment. Either way is okay. Friendships ebb and flow over time and you learn and grow from each new experience.

 

 

Love

Since today is February 14th, also known as Valentine’s Day, it is only fitting that I write a post about love. On this Valentine’s Day I found myself wondering how one can even begin to describe love. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a simple definition of love includes the following:

  • A feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
  • Attraction that includes sexual desire
  • A person you love in a romantic way

I think that love is such an intense emotion and therefore almost impossible to define. If I were to grade the Merriam-Webster dictionary I would have to give it a B. The definition is missing a few key elements.

First of all, the dictionary focuses more on love in either a romantic or sexual way. Love is about so much more than that. Love happens between friends. Love takes place between family members. Love is felt for one’s mentor. These types of love are too often forgotten. Valentine’s Day isn’t just about buying candy or flowers for your partner. It’s about appreciating all the various kinds of love in your life.

Love is not only about the strong affection you feel for someone. I would argue that love is about the dislike you sometimes feel too. Loving someone means loving everything that is wonderful about them as well as everything they do that irks you. The people we love will annoy us because they will let themselves be who they are in front of us. Part of love means letting your guard down and showing someone who you truly are. People are imperfect so forgiveness has to be part of love too. When we get to see the good, bad, and downright ugly side to someone and still want to be around them then you know the relationship is real. That is love.

The biggest piece missing from this definition of love has to do with time. I’m not saying that you can’t love someone quickly but in my opinion love grows stronger and deeper with the passing of time. One reason is because time allows you to get to know someone better and fully appreciate who they are. It also enables you to see how much that person is capable of giving you. Over time two people experience more things together, which means they’re able to see each other in various facets and realize they keep proving who they are to one another. Inevitably, they are constantly reaffirming their love for each other. I’m still talking about all types of love, not simply a romantic love. A child grows up and learns that their parents are human and fallible but continues to love them. A friend helps you through a death in your family and you realize how grateful you are to have them there. Your partner buys you your favorite chocolate on their way home from work because you had a bad day. The simplest or most extravagant gesture reminds you how much you love someone. Time helps us get to know someone better even if it’s someone we’ve known our entire lives.

On this Valentine’s Day let’s think about all the types of love that exist in the world and celebrate each and every single one of them.

 

What’s Your Word?

Ten years ago a dear friend of mine, Jordana Jaffe, started a new tradition where instead of creating a New Year’s resolution she picked a word for the upcoming year. She put careful thought into what that chosen word represented. I didn’t like the idea of a New Year’s resolution very much but choosing a word felt different.  When the time comes to choose a word my gut usually helps me out and one quickly pops in my head. Although my first choice is typically in line with my final decision I still spend time carefully choosing. I think about what I want for the year ahead as well as what the past year has meant to me. Instead of setting an individual goal I ultimately think about my life as a whole.

This year I chose the word presence. Lately, I’ve realized the importance of being present in each distinct moment. Being present in a moment means carefully paying attention to what’s happening. This may sound easy but in an age where multitasking has become second nature this is quite difficult. People tend to believe that it’s beneficial to get multiple things done at once but is it? Doing more comes at a price. Not only are you doing each thing more poorly you’re also missing out on the opportunity to immerse yourself in what you’re doing. When we live in the moment we allow ourselves to experience whatever is happening to us more deeply.

Most people use the movies as a time to tune out the world. You sit in a movie theatre with your drink and snack and let yourself get engulfed in a story on the big screen while forgetting about life’s daily stressors. Some people are checking their phone while in the movies but most people turn them off because they want the full movie experience. How many other times do people let themselves be absorbed by an experience? I’m going to guess not many other experiences are lived without distractions. Imagine if they were. What would it be like to start living in the moment? I’m not suggesting that this will always be possible but it’s worth a try. Let’s be honest, if you’re doing more than one thing at once you might not value what you’re doing because you’re essentially saying you would rather be doing something else. Fully devoting oneself to the good moments allows them to be more intense and meaningful. Being present for the bad moments has its advantages too because it allows you to process what’s happening and move forward more quickly.

Whether it be exercising to help both my physical and emotional well being, writing a blog post, watching a TV show at home, or spending time with family and friends I’m going to be more present. If I can’t be present and enjoy what I’m doing then I need to reevaluate why I’m doing it in the first place. For me presence is my word of the year. What’s yours?

 

 

We Don’t Always Need Lemonade

Sometimes we need a friend, significant other, therapist, or family member to remind us of something we already know. This post is dedicated to a very dear friend of mine who knew exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it. Logically we all know that life does not always go according to our plan. In fact, the majority of time it throws us curve balls that can be either pleasant or unfortunate and sometimes even both simultaneously. So what happens when we have an idea of how things will play out and then it doesn’t work out that way? If things happily work out better than we hoped or imagined we will most likely go with the flow without giving the matter much more thought. The same cannot be said for when things don’t go as we hoped and we’re left feeling worse.

When life throws you lemons I don’t think you need to jump up and make lemonade. Instead process what’s happening and let yourself grieve. Grieving doesn’t just happen when someone dies. In fact it happens much more often than that. It happens every time we’re faced with an upset where life doesn’t go according to our personal plan. Grieving might entail sadness, anger, avoidance, and/or denial. Everyone needs a chance to grieve the loss of the ideal. Once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve you can move forward and accept the way things are. During this process try not to be too hard on yourself, it’s not your fault that things don’t always go according to your plan.

Changes

“I’d love to go back to when we played as kids but things changed, and that’s the way it is”           – Tupac Shakur

Many children get to be free and ignorant of life’s challenges. While going to school everyday and playing with your friends you don’t stop and notice how quickly life changes. Our younger and more innocent selves don’t have to pay attention to how much is actually happening on a regular basis. Then we suddenly grow up and realize change is inevitable. Some people are overwhelmed with anxiety at the thought of change and others are excited with anticipation over the unknown. Or you might be one of those people who allow yourself to experience both the excitement and anxiety simultaneously.

There’s no right or wrong way to manage the unknown. After all, how do you manage something you can’t fully anticipate? There are changes we have played a part in creating such as shifting careers, getting married, or moving to a new city. These shifts in our lives are scary even though we’ve put conscious thought into making the decisions that create the change. If the change has been planned first allow yourself to feel stressed and anxious if those feelings come up for you. Next, remind yourself why you wanted it to happen and what you anticipate gaining from this new way of life. Too often people forget to acknowledge the difficulty of life changes if they fit into the good and exciting category. People will easily remind you that these are things you want so you should be happy. While this is of course true, it is also true that positive life changes come with challenges and stress. Even “exciting” changes call for sensitivity from others. Ask others to join you in celebrating as well as being understanding and patient about the stress around these events.

There are other changes that sometimes sneak up on us such as being laid off, a loved one suddenly passing away, or experiencing a serious health problem. These unexpected changes are often visibly upsetting and may garner more sympathy and support from other people in our lives. Changes like these examples feel negative and troubling. The key to getting through the struggle is to allow yourself time to process what is happening. The surprise and shock needs to settle in before you can manage how life will become different. Then think about what can be done to make the change feel easier. Ask for support from friends and family. When possible find ways to de-stress and manage your feelings. Examples include exercising, yoga, cooking, hanging out with friends, or joining a support group.

Since we know not all changes can be planned or expected start thinking now about the concept of change. Try to accept that you won’t always have control over what happens or how things in life happen. Change will occur but things will also find a way to be okay.

 

Depression

Feeling depressed is an emotional state that is difficult to describe. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines depression as a state of feeling sad. Most people have had some period in their life where they have felt sad. Sometimes this is situational, such as a loved one passing away, experiencing a break up, or feeling stuck in a job. Situational sadness is easier to understand because people can relate to it. Feeling sad for a specific reason is not exactly the same as feeling depressed.

I want to take the description of depression a step further. Yes, it includes a feeling of sadness and a loss of interest in regular activities but I think there is more to it. Depression isn’t necessarily associated to a situation. Imagine having to tolerate feeling sad without any real reason to be sad. Nothing bad has happened. Life is actually wonderful. The person who has so much going for them feels sad and can’t explain why. They simply don’t feel like themselves. Something feels off. It’s harder to get out of bed, hang out with friends, work out, and do everything they’re used to doing. Maybe they’re still able to push themselves but they can’t get rid of this nagging feeling that something is not right. To someone who has never experienced depression (that wasn’t situational) it would be nearly impossible to understand why this person can’t just snap out of it.

When someone is feeling depressed and they don’t want to do much of anything how do they get through the difficult time? Their options may feel somewhat limited. Here are some recommendations:

  • If this is something you’ve never experienced before go to your primary care doctor for a thorough check up. It’s a good idea to rule out any potential physical problems that may be affecting your mood and energy levels.
  • Consider talk therapy. Trying to explain how you feel to someone who hasn’t experienced these feelings will be challenging. A therapist won’t judge you and has experience helping others through times of depression.
  • Consider medication. Anti depressants can be extremely beneficial and often have limited side effects. When depression isn’t situational it’s most likely chemical, that’s why medications can provide relief.
  • Combine talk therapy and medication. Research has proven that a combination of talk therapy and medication can be what’s most beneficial to someone at this time of struggle. One or the other will help on it’s own but it’s more beneficial to try them both together.
  • As difficult as it might be to continue living life in the same way try to anyway. Distractions can be helpful during this time. Examples include, working out, seeing friends, reading, and continuing to go to work regularly.
  • Talk to people close to you who have gone through bouts of depression. They won’t necessarily have answers for you but it will be nice to know you’re not alone and you’re not at fault for feeling this way.

If you feel as though you are suffering and having difficulty tolerating even little things in life get help immediately. It’s hard to see how things will/can get better but try to believe in the possibility. Unfortunately, some days will be harder than others but not everyday will be awful. There are ways to get help and start to feel better.

 

The Lost Art of Honesty

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times that talked about “ghosting”. While I wasn’t familiar with this particular term I was well aware of the concept. For those who don’t know, ghosting means, “ending a romantic relationship by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out”.

Unfortunately, I work with many people who have encountered this experience. They’re dating someone, either casually or somewhat seriously, and all of a sudden that person vanishes without any explanation. This unexplained disappearance happens in therapy as well when clients suddenly leave treatment. I often wonder what makes it so hard to be honest. I understand endings can be difficult. Endings can also be extremely valuable.

Why ghost someone? For many people it feels easier to leave rather than deal with a less than pleasant conversation. Confrontation isn’t top on people’s list of things to do. I can’t really blame someone for disliking conflict. Even if talking with someone directly about ending a relationship leads to an uncomfortable conversation why is that so bad? The other person might feel hurt, upset, or angry but they’re allowed to feel however they feel about the situation. Similarly, the person ghosting is allowed to end the relationship and have whatever feelings they have.

What effect does ghosting have on the other person? One problem with ghosting someone is that it ultimately sends a message of disrespect. There probably isn’t even intent behind the disrespect. Ghosting someone is saying more about the person committing the ghosting rather than the other person. Only the receiving person probably won’t see it that way. If you’ve been involved in a relationship, of any sort, with another individual you’re going to leave them with a lot of unanswered questions if you just disappear. In most cases the other person is going to blame him or herself and wonder what they did wrong.

What are some of the benefits associated with talking through an ending? Talking things through might seem like the more difficult option but it’s more beneficial for everyone. It allows both people to work on their communication skills. The person ending the relationship is able to express how they feel and explain why things aren’t going to work out. Sometimes the explanation might just be that something wasn’t right or something felt off. While the other person might not be happy, in the end they’ll respect the honesty more than the alternative option where they’re left guessing what went wrong. Both people will experience pain and hurt but this will help prepare them for their next relationship.