Why It Pays to Be Selfish (stop compromising, start leading — and living!)


It’s Cold Outside…

There’s been a change in the weather here in the UK, a shift to autumn overnight. I went to get a pair of shoes from the cupboard — but I couldn’t, most of my stuff is packed away and I’m only left with a few summer items.

Why so foolish you ask (and, if you know anything about the British weather you’re probably laughing at my naivety.)

Because I was expecting to be moving this week. New house, new area, a house that we hoped would be home for the next decade or two.

And, it’s fallen through. Or, more accurately, we pulled out.

A beautiful house but not the one for us. We could make up reasons, tell stories about how it wasn’t quite right, or not quite the right location, or the sellers were causing a lot of problems, but we are where we are — which is, quite literally, in the middle of our boxes!

How to Get What No-One Wants 

Hubby and I were reflecting last night, and I remembered a time, a few years ago when we (more accurately “I”) decided to invest in some fitness equipment.

Off we went to the store. He dislikes fitness equipment but was prepared to agree to an exercise bike — which I know he uses in the hotels on his frequent travels. At that time, I still ran, and cycled, so I was more interested in a rowing machine — something to complement what I already did.

We found ourselves coming home with… ta da!

A cross-trainer…

At the time it seemed like a good compromise — let’s get something in between what each of us wants — a good idea surely? Something new?

But no. It turned out to be the perfect example of compromising on the thing that nobody wanted.

He used it once and I persevered a handful of times before it got put aside to gather dust.

Clarity Can Show up as Selfishness

A few years later we bought the exercise bike that I thought he wanted — I think even he thought he wanted it! And he does use it, but I use it more. It’s more important to me and I should have realised that this was a place to be selfish.

He doesn’t care either way so why not play in the arena I want to play in; pick a game that looks fun for me.

At that time, it looked like the rowing machine would be fun. It was more important to me than it was to him and therefore why not bring him along for the experience.

Or, rather, to be clear, to go with what I knew to be right. And sometimes clarity will manifest as decisiveness, which can look as if it’s selfishness.

We make many decisions like this — where to go to eat — he doesn’t care so I usually pick. I’ve learned that what’s more important to him is the sharing of the experience and so I stop asking and make a choice.

Mostly we have fun. Even a large plate of salad can be enjoyable because we turn it into a joke about how he hates salad: the fun is in the shared experience rather than the form of the experience.

Sure, we have preferences — clearly, I prefer rowing machines to cross-trainers!

But there are lots of areas I don’t mind either way — where we go for a walk, where we go on holiday — we bring the fun with us because we’re expressing ourselves through the experience.

Compromise Fosters Uncertainty

I suspect we’re doing a bit of the same with houses — I’m trying to give him what I think he wants, and he’s doing the same for me — we’re (mistakenly) thinking that it’s an expression of love for the other person if we can help them create what we think they want.

We’ve even tried to create a shared vision — I thought we were doing this with the last house, but, as I mused on the memory of the cross-trainer, I wondered if we were at risk of repeating the experience — getting something that, actually, isn’t quite what either of us want.

I said to one of the estate agents who was trying his very best to sell us happiness with the gorgeous house in front of us,

I could be happy anywhere.

His look froze slightly, and he said,

Oh no, don’t say that to me!

as he saw his whole raison d’être falling through and — I suspect — heard a little truth in the words. He’ll have seen all combinations of ugly and beautiful houses and happy and unhappy people.

We do this in many areas of life…

...I have to find the job that will make me happy!

If my business isn’t a success I’ve failed in life!

I need to find true love to complete me.

It isn’t about the house, and yet we think it is. Even if not for ourselves, then for the other person.

You are fine whatever…

What’s true for me is true for you (and for my other half): I can’t make him happy and no-one or no-thing can make you happy.

Sure, I can get to know his preferences — as with the exercise machine, I should have realised (and, indeed I did) that he probably wasn’t going to use it that much whatever we went with — so me stepping up and asking for what I wanted would have been much more powerful. If he really had a preference, he could (and would) have said.

We are good wherever we live. AND we can create what we want as part of the game in life. In fact, being decisive about what we want, knowing that we don’t need it, is the best way to move forward decisively, without wrapping ourselves in over-thinking the ‘best’ decision.

Playing the Game of Life 

Even though there may be things we want, or things we don’t want as part of our move, the important question is this…

Knowing that I can be fine wherever, what house game would I love to play?

I call it a game because that’s how I see it. As soon as I think that my welfare depends on the kind of house I’m in, I’m doomed to never quite finding the feeling I’m searching for. There’s no way in the physical universe that a house can make me happy, or unhappy.

We’ve lived in a sixteenth century farmhouse and we’ve lived in a 1960s suburban house and, sure, when we thought about it, we could look around the old wood, touched by generations of people and get a warm, fuzzy feeling, but my day to day experience of life is created regardless of my surroundings.

I have preferences. I don’t want to play the ‘take on a big project’ game, but I want a cool location and a cute house.

There are lots of things I can make-up that I’d like — space for the kids, space for guests, space for clients, maybe a small project, like a kitchen makeover, but nothing too intrusive. But this is just like making a photo-fit of the perfect boyfriend until the man who makes you laugh more than anyone ever has comes along and all ideas of blond bombshells fly out the window.

Same at Work… 

It’s exactly the same at work. I’ve seen poor recruitment decisions being made because one person doesn’t push for what they really want, or trust their judgement enough to overturn the professional recruiter.

In reverse, I’ve seen amazing results come from ‘out-there’ projects and decisions. And, I’ve also seen failures.

We’re told to “compromise and not make selfish decisions,” but what if being ‘selfish’ is simply being decisive in a situation where other people don’t feel as strongly as you, or don’t have the insights that you do, or where speed is simply better than continuing to prevaricate?

Honestly, 99% of the time, you’ll find we’re good either way. Once a decision’s made, we can get behind it and support it until it stops working.

Probably I could even grow to love a cross-trainer…

Or maybe that’s one compromise too far?

With love,


P.S. Where are you holding back? Where would it serve your team, your partner, yourself even, to simply be decisive (selfish even!), knowing that your well-being does not depend on what you’re choosing?