Step one: Find something you want to do, eat, read, try, sing, experience, avoid, write, touch, smell, grow, cut, photograph, make, keep, throw out, and/or enjoy.

Step two: Do it.

Step three: Stone yourself with grief and recriminations for doing what you did until you’re emotionally broken and bloody, or soak in the satisfaction, smiling so wide your ears hurt.


 Selfish is a cranky word, all spikes, hisses and barbed wire. I know very few women who haven’t – at some point – chewed their lip or hangnail, worried that they were being selfish. Not because they chatted to their eighty-five year old neighbour for ten minutes, but because they didn’t talk to her for longer (even though they had to pick up the kids from school, or get to work, or any number of equally necessary and/or important responsibilities). Selfish not because they donated money to the latest disaster fund appeal, but because they didn’t think to give more, and cancel the book they’d pre-ordered which was now waiting for them at the bookstore. Selfish for not going to the temple, Relief Society meeting, and Tupperware party this week when she was PMS’ing so badly the cat curdled, the milk molted and she snarled daggers at everyone who dared even breathe in her general direction, let alone suggested she was mixing her metaphors…

I know so many, myself included, who surmise that I/we are selfish for choosing Action X over Verb Y, when someone better – more righteous and Christlike and wonderful – would have obviously and cheerfully chosen both Y and Z and cured all forms of thrush at the same time.  Like that woman from Proverbs, More Than Rubies. SHE would never be selfish. Too busy being productive, organised, always caring and working for the good of others, she obviously chose actions A through Z, and is commended publicly through the ages for it, right there in the scriptures. Frankly, reading about her makes me exhausted. If she gained satisfaction from it, chronic insomnia notwithstanding, I commend her, and return to contemplating if my floor can go another day (or two, or seven[teen]) without being mopped. The thought of which has usually occurred as I’m reaching down to unlace my work-boots, and somewhere around the time of wondering what it was I’d planned to cook for dinner. I’ve learned to have self-control when it comes to comparing abilities, although it can be incredibly difficult not to (especially when PMS’ing).

The fact is, for the great sweeping geography of it, the scale and variation between self and selfish is constantly changing and often wider than we let ourselves see. I’ve learnt that if I don’t practice some self-care, I become a malignant, growling ogre, as incapable of performing delicate heart-to-heart maintenance with my sons as a fish is of riding a bike. I’ve become self-aware of what recharges my batteries, of what brings me comfort and calm. My best friend makes quilts when life is full of challenges, changing decisions and frustrating days, because when she makes a quilt everything is in beautiful straight lines, exactly where she wants it, ordered and soft and lovely. Finding ways to self-medicate calm and relief is a powerful strength and refuge, not a selfish frivolity or useless pastime.

I imagine the same was true of More Than Rubies, (just for a moment making her a real, warm, fragile-skin-wrapped bundle of responsibilities, thoughts and emotions, just like us). I don’t doubt she had busy days; clothes to wash, meals to cook, choices to worry over, children to watch and yell at and kiss goodnight;  but I have to say I think that for all that she accomplished, she must have added oil to her own lamp. Maybe the land she bought was found during early morning walks, fog and prayers mingling against her skin. Maybe the scarlet threads were her comfort and inspiration, a task made joy for nobody but her. Maybe – when the evening stained the hills a sweet, hazy lavender – she sat on her roof, watching the purple bloom into stars, and smiled.

Do you ever worry about being “selfish”? Do you allow yourself to do something you want? What do you do for self-care? Are you self-aware about what you need to do to avoid becoming an ogre? How do you recharge your batteries?


  1. Olea

    June 26, 2013

    I worry about selfishness in my interpersonal relationships – when what I would like and what someone else would like is different. I am learning to notice the things that make me happy, and do them more often. I can tell when I’m happy, because my hips rock side to side when I’m standing in the kitchen, or my legs swing while I’m sitting, I hum out loud, or I simply have a swelling in my chest that feels like my heart could reach out and embrace everyone and everything around me. I don’t think that’s selfish, and it often helps me notice opportunities to serve others. Yesterday, taking fifteen minutes to sit in a park in the sun and eat a whole punnet of strawberries made me happy 🙂 and thinking about it now makes me happy all over again 🙂

  2. Angela H.

    June 26, 2013

    Kellie, I hope you are selfish enough to let the floor go a few more days (or weeks) and keep writing, writing, writing. You’re so good. That said, I struggle continually with the selfishness necessary to write and write well. Thanks for this.

  3. annegb

    June 26, 2013

    I kind of cringe when general authorities admonish us that life is not about having fun. (Buzz kill)

    I read something recently in a magazine recommending having fun, playing, as a way to fight depression.

    I think our church’s focus on tasks, works, and perfectionism (not as doctrine, but as unwritten rules and sociological mores) are a huge reason for the depression among our members, especially women.

    I am saddened when I hear women tell about fun times with a hint of guilt in their voice. Women are that they may have joy, too, and sometimes we need to get on that playground swing and go high, high, high!

  4. Rosalyn

    June 26, 2013

    Kel–this is so beautiful. I agree with Angela–please keep writing!

    I’m still trying to find a balance where I feel like I’m giving enough to the important parts of my life while still reserving some me-time. Right now, that’s writing, but I have a sort of obsessive personality and sometimes projects (like trying to write a novel!) can take over. I worry, too, that if writing is only ever a means to escape and recharge, can I justify spending so much time on it, if it’s only for me? I don’t have good answers yet.

  5. M2theh

    June 26, 2013

    I find that the people who truly are selfish are not the ones who are worrying about whether or not they are selfish. Most who worry about being selfish aren’t, just the act of worrying about it means it’s on your radar.

  6. Sydney

    June 26, 2013

    I think that you are exactly right. Nothing good can come from overzealous amounts of stress. That just causes more stress and contention. I think that you can still care about yourself while still caring about and doing nice things for all of the people around you. After all, I never, never, ever want to do nice things for people when I feel tired and stressed and picked on. It is so much easier to care for others when you are caring for yourself too. God doesn’t ask us to forget about ourselves, he just asks us to also care about others, enough that we aren’t too absorbed in our own self interest. It’s really a delicate balance.

  7. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    June 26, 2013

    I read a great book on clutter (It’s All Too Much) a couple of years ago and one point the author made that really stuck with me is the idea that we just don’t have enough time to process everything. He was talking about information/junk mail but I’ve thought a lot about that in terms of how I use my time. I think a lot of problems can be resolved by priorities and simplification–in other words by tossing stuff or perceptions. It’s easier said than done, but I can automatically reduce guilt for not doing X or Y if I just eliminate X and Y from my life. That still leaves a lot for me to do however and not all time-consuming aspects of life (think children) can (or should) be jettisoned so easily. President Packer said once that there would always be church and family responsibilities. I don’t remember the exact words he used but the gist of it was that we need to break loose from time to time. And Joseph Smith said the same–about being strung up all the time. And President Uchtdorf is all over that principle–of renewing self and recharging. Even Christ said we have the poor with us always and to bring our burdens to Him. I don’t think any of them were advocating shirking responsibilities, just doing all things in wisdom and order. I have many memories of my mother reading books for pleasure. I like to do that too and have noticed that I tend to be crabby(er) if I don’t have a fun read on the back burner. Sometimes I feel like I am just limping (LIMPING!) toward Friday night when I get to cut loose and go grocery shopping with my husband, then home to watch a movie and eat fruit and chocolate. It sounds so simple but it works. I guard Friday nights zealously and notice a definite uptick in my stress levels when we don’t get to celebrate them like this. (It’s okay to celebrate surviving another week to Friday, right? ;))

  8. Heathermommy

    June 26, 2013

    I have an unstated goal for myself to become more self-aware this year or sometime in the next decade. I worry about being selfish all the time. Right now I feel selfish when I take the time to take a shower. And I know that is ridiculous but there it is.

  9. jks

    June 27, 2013

    I don’t have a problem being selfish. For instance, I want to get lasik on my eyes, but there are so many other things I would rather do with the money for my family (and it is always my choice). So the years go on.
    But recently because of other cricumstances it has come up again. I am trying to force myself to spend the money simply so that I don’t feel resentful about not doing it and I can tell there is some resentment starting to build.
    However, I think I really would rather have new carpet.

  10. Chris

    June 27, 2013

    I highly recommend the book by Dr. Kristin Neff entitled “Self-compassion.” Here is a post about her work:

  11. Random

    June 27, 2013

    A couple of years ago, I read an article containing the comment (paraphrasing here. I can’t remember it exactly) “If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?” If I say yes to the PTA whatever, what am I saying no to? My kids? My sanity? My time?
    In college, I learned the valuable lesson that if it’s a trade off between sanity and finances, take the sanity. I can make more money later. If I can buy my way out of a fundraiser, for example, instead of spending hours on it with my kids for the same result (and going slightly mad in the process), here’s my check.
    I also try to use the “Five perspective idea”. Will this matter in five minutes? Will this matter in five years? Will this matter in eternity?
    Hanging out with my kids? Five minutes, five years, eternity.
    Mopping the floor? Five minutes, yes. Eternity? I sincerely hope not.

  12. Michelle

    June 30, 2013

    Such a tension to dance in!

    I loved how you used words like self-aware and self-care. I think the spirit of those things are different from selfishness. The former connotes wisdom and order, the latter more unbridled inward focus.

    I think the former also can invite personal revelation. No two days in our worlds are the same. God can help us balance if we will let him.

    I’m still trying to learn how to do that’ and it’s more about Him showing me glimpses of how DIFFERENT His voice is from that pesky, poisonous voice of shame that leaves me self-flaggelating for not fulfilling some fantasy expectation for my behavior.

    P.s My cheap self splurged tonight and bought my favorite ice cream bars and hid them in the freezer. I can’t say that was inspiration, but it felt good to just let myself do a little something for me today. For me, the deliberateness of the choice meant something for my soul, of that makes sense.

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