26 July 2013

Go Ahead -- Call Me Selfish


*gasp* Oh, the horror!

What a terrible thing for someone to call you, right? There are times when I feel I care a little too much about other people, so for someone to accuse me of the exact opposite would hurt, for sure.

Have you noticed how selfish has become a really vile insult to toss at people? Or is that just my own perception of the word clouding my judgment? As a childfree woman, I've read plenty of articles about how women who choose not to procreate are obviously selfish (and maybe a bit immature). But that's a whole 'nother post. I've also noticed that selfish is an accusation lobbed at my generation quite often, especially when it comes to the workplace. Matt Bors summed it up brilliantly in this comic strip.

As much as I try not to worry about how others perceive me, I often do, and the selfish stigma is something I've worried about on more than one occasion. Most often regarding my career path(s). First, a little background.

I've been in retail since I graduated college. I've worked at several different places, in a wide variety of positions. A few of my job changes have come about as a result of relocation and company closures. One (soon to be two) came about because I became terribly unhappy with where I was and what I was doing, even though I loved the people I worked with. I even loved certain aspects of those jobs, at certain times. Yet with every job so far, I keep growing discouraged after a while. My husband has been working for the same company since we moved after college, and he sees himself there indefinitely. Why hadn't I found the same satisfaction?  Am I selfish? Am I lazy? I know it's called "work" for a reason, but is this all there is? What's wrong with me?

Well, screw that. It's time to set the record straight:

Selfish ≠ narcissistic.
Selfish ≠ entitled.

Can we stop using selfish as a vile insult, meant to shame and bully others into conforming to our preferred life script? I'm not saying all-selfish, all the time is anything we should aspire to. But let's face it - we make decisions every day, every month, every year that are inherently self-serving. Splurging on those new shoes or a new car, deciding to have a baby, deciding not to have a baby, moving across the country for a job opportunity, taking a vacation overseas. None of these things hurt anyone else, but we also don't choose to do them solely for anyone else's benefit, for the most part. There are, in fact, times when we should be making decisions based on how the outcome will affect us, and only us. No one will fault us for that.

Until it runs contrary to what they think we ought to be doing.

In just a few days, I'll be quitting my job. My full-time job that I'm good at, where people like me, and that I was crazy excited to start only a year ago. I don't have anything 100% solid lined up for after I leave, and we really can't afford for me to make much less than I do right now, but I know I have to get out. NOW. I'm underpaid and overworked, and the advancement opportunities at my company don't thrill me. I know this is where quite a few people older than me might be tempted to throw out the dreaded s-word. Selfish because they don't think I'm willing to "pay my dues." Selfish because the consequences could be pretty bad for my husband and I if I don't find something else that pays enough to help cover our bills, and I'm quitting my job anyway. Selfish because I have the gall to say "I'm worth more than this."

Maybe I am selfish, but I have to be right now. My mental health and happiness is my responsibility, and I can't keep putting those things on the back burner in favor of being a "real" adult following someone else's life script.

Yes, I am worth so much more than I'm getting from my company. That's not entitlement or narcissism speaking, that's experience. I have paid my dues over and over again being corporate retail's bitch for the past eight years. I know when I'm underpaid. I've long been a fan of creating change from within, playing by the rules you dislike until you're in a position to advocate for change and win. Sometimes it works brilliantly. Sometimes, though, you have to be a little selfish and make your own damn rules.

I'm thrilled to be leaving the retail world behind. It may sink its teeth into me and pull me back in temporarily in the future, but I'm determined to stay away. I still love clothes, and I love merchandising and making things look fabulous, so I'll be looking into other creative career options that let me use those skills. Until I find it, I'll be calling on my other creative skills to work on my next book(s), provide freelance transcription and copyediting services, and any other odd writing jobs that come my way. The financial uncertainty is scary as hell, don't get me wrong. But I know I will ultimately be happier and healthier.

I've lost too many people in my life in the past few years, met too many people who hate their jobs well into their 50s and beyond, and watched too many other people find their own bliss to let the fear of being called selfish stop me any more. Work doesn't have to be something you hate. Life is too damn short to be miserable.

So go ahead - call me selfish. Why aren't you being selfish, too?

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