June 15, 2021

Is it Selfish to Live the Life I Want?

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It can be easy to feel guilty for wanting to live a life that would make ourselves happy. As a result, many of us end up living according to other people's desires for us instead of choosing a life aligned to our own heart's deep desire.

In this episode, I explain why listening to our heart's deep gladness is a necessary part of living a life that truly blesses others.

Share this episode via this episode page.

Blog Post: Your Life is About You (Too) 

(00:00:40) - Is it Selfish to Honour Our Desires?
(00:06:08) - The Danger of Not Listening to Our Desires
(00:13:22) - Respecting Our Design
(00:20:11) - Our Deep Desires Show Us Our Design
(00:26:07) - PRAXIS: Listen. Ponder. Act.
Available here.

Available here.

- As you listened to today's episode, what struck you? Does something resonate particularly strongly with you?

- How do you feel when you imagine yourself living a life that is aligned with your heart's deep gladness? 
- What emotions do you feel?

- Identify; on a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your life right now? 
- On a piece of paper, list down all the things that are holding you back from living your life at a 10. 
- Look at your list and ask yourself what step can I take today to begin making this list shorter?

Other episodes that would help you understand and apply the lessons in this episode:
- Ep 3 You Are Worth Becoming
- Ep 14 Where Do You End and I Begin?
- Ep 21 Safe Spaces For Becoming (with Edwina Yeow)
- Ep 22 Being A Safe Space For Myself (with Edwina Yeow)

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- Helps you integrate and apply the foundational principles to Becoming Me
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- Includes tips for partner and small-group sharing
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Is it selfish to live the life I want?

Welcome to Becoming Me, your podcast companion and coach in your journey to a more integrated and authentic self. I am your host, Ann Yeong, and I'm here to help you grow in self-discovery and wholeness. If you long to live a more authentic and integrated life and would like to hear honest insights about the rewards and challenges of this journey, then take a deep breath, relax and listen on to Becoming Me.

Hello again, dear listeners! You know, Becoming Me is all about the journey into authenticity and wholeness, right? And usually when we think of authenticity, we relate it to being real, right? – being honest and being true; there's no pretense and no hiding. But why is it that so many of us are living lives that – well, that are not authentic?

I think a big part of it, whether we realize it or not is that we labour under this misunderstanding that living a life that is true to what we want is selfish. So, just work with me here – how often have you heard the phrase: "Your life isn't about you"? Right, and usually, of course, this line comes when we are talking about somebody maybe we think is, you know, a bit too egotistical or really too self-centered, and we want to say: well, your life is not about you – don't get so self absorbed about your own issues. Turn outwards, look at what you can do for others.

Right? There's truth in that. There's truth in that – that we can't become happy either if we are only, you know, looking inwards at ourselves. But that is not the full truth either. You know, truth is often not either-or; it's often not binary.

Right, so stay with me here, in this episode, and let me try and explain to you why. I think it is very important that if we want to be authentic, we need to learn to embrace the deep desires of our heart. So, a lot of people I know, including myself, live lives of inauthenticity because there's almost this belief that if I'm very happy – if I'm living the life that makes me happy, then it's all about me and that's selfish. 

The ultimate goal of our lives is not about us – I totally agree with that, okay? Our lives cannot just be all about us, but that does not mean that our needs, our desires, and our happiness are not important. I mean, if we take that logic to the extreme – that our life isn't about us and that means that whenever we make decisions that shouldn't be what we need or about our needs, then why should we take care of our health if our life is not about us?

Why should we invest in our personal or professional growth; in learning, in becoming better people if our life is not about us? There is a danger to thinking that concern for our own welfare or happiness is selfish because – and I speak from personal experience, when we don't allow ourselves to listen to our needs...

And the needs are there for a reason, by the way; it's part of our design, right? It's like, why do we feel hungry? Why is it that our stomachs are capable of feeling hunger? Well, it's because our stomachs were created to receive and digest food so that there can be energy for our bodies to continue to function for us to remain alive, for us to think.

If we ignore the hunger in our stomach, and we refuse to listen to it, we're going to end up starving ourselves to death. So, there is a turning inwards, a listening to our needs, a honouring of our needs that's necessary in order for us to even continue to be alive – and even more so if we want to be able to thrive.

Right, so our stomachs are capable of feeling hunger; it's meant for food, but if we just put in any old junk or, you know, we eat grass or whatever it is that is not enough to nourish us, then we are still going to be weak. We're not going to have strength to be able to do the things that we need to do – to think properly, right?

When we are overly concerned about not being selfish and being selfless, that can often lead us, ironically, into living a life that is –how should I put it? Like – that attempts to be selfless on the surface; to look selfless, but that is really, really all about trying to fulfil our needs without looking like we're concerned about fulfilling our needs.

So for me, I grew up – you know, one of the values and, you know, very good values that has been ingrained in me since my early childhood is that my life should be about service. It should be about serving others and not expecting others to serve me. That my life isn't about me; that I should always choose to take the lower place and give the better place to others.

Now, this teaching came both from my culture, as well as my religion. Right, I'm Catholic and in the Bible, Jesus also does – you know, also says the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. So, it is ingrained in me, both through my culture and my religion, that I should be less and let others be more.

Right, and I ended up believing and living in such a way that I would feel ashamed if I felt any desire to be seen; or to be acknowledged, to be affirmed, to be praised. It was this weird combination of there is this, you know – obviously very powerful desire in me or this need to be affirmed. And I would be very, very happy, very pleased when I was affirmed.

But at the same time, I can feel guilty or ashamed that I shouldn't be needing this; I shouldn't be wanting this affirmation or this attention or this acknowledgement. So, because I was constantly telling myself that I should be giving without conditions – that I should be serving without conditions, it never occurred to me to discern how I could be of service to others.

Pretty much, my life ended up being dictated by whatever needs surfaced in the people around me. And I thought that was humility. I thought that was the true spirit of service; to do what is needed and that my own desires and wants were at best secondary. At worst, you know, shouldn't be in the equation at all. 

So, I pushed my need for love, for recognition – my need to well, any of my wants or my emotions, you know – I pushed them so far down my consciousness that in my relationships and friendships, which I shared in the previous episode; I ended up trying to get the love that I craved, that I wanted without asking for it – does that make sense?

I could not be open and honest about my need for friendship; for love, about my wish sometimes – that someone would take care of me. I mean, that was a big one for me. I felt that I needed to be the one to look after people because that was what it meant to put myself in the lower place and serve others. And that it shouldn't be about asking other people to help me.

And that meant that there were many times, even when I was lonely or when I was sad, I actually held back from reaching out because I thought that was about me. When my healing journey began, one of the first things to change was this recognition that it is perfectly healthy for me to want to feel alive – to be happy.

That being happy was a sign that something's going right in my life. And the thing that made me realize that this was okay, was I – well, I looked at the rest of nature. I mean, if you were to receive a bouquet of flowers and they were all wilting and, you know, maybe torn and broken. Would they brighten your day? Would they really give you joy? 

I mean, you probably would say, oh, what a pity, right? I mean, they're all – they're in such bad shape. I mean, if you – I'm not a gardener, but those of you who have gardens, or even those of you who are plant parents; who have plants at home – you can tell whether your plant is doing well by whether it was wilting or whether the leaves are green, right? – Whether it was standing straight.

And you would feel happy if your plants were doing well, wouldn't you? You would want – if you had flowers, for the flowers to be blooming and well. Those of us who have pets – I have a pet, I have a dog. I'm happy when the dog is healthy, right? When the dog is well, and that my dog is healthy.

And she brings so much joy, you know, to me and to my husband – and to any guest really, that comes to our place. When she is not well, and when she's very insecure, that brings our mood down a little too, you know? And imagine that those of you who are parents to children would say the same. I mean, your children being in a healthy place, in a good place – when you see them alive and joyful, that blesses you too.

So why is it that we can see that this law seems to hold for, you know, the created world and for other people – and yet, somehow, we cannot see that it applies to ourselves. Why can't we see that if we were fully alive and happy, that we would be a much greater blessing to the world, than if we were shrivelled and, you know, and dried up and burned out.

Well, over time, that saps energy and life, not just out of ourselves, but out of the people around us too. We can't give what we don't have. We cannot pour from an empty cup.

Those of you who have a car – what happens if you don't take care of it? If you don't send it for servicing when you're supposed to, most likely the lifespan would be shortened, right? And that would mean that your car would actually serve you for a shorter time than it potentially could. Okay, what if it's not a machine or a car that we're talking about?

What happens when you use any object in a way that it is not designed to be used? What if you tried to use a fountain pen as a screwdriver, or if you tried to use an artist's paint brush to paint your house? In both cases, the fountain pen or the artist's paint brush would get destroyed pretty fast. And also it wouldn't do a very good job.

Why? Because that's not what they were designed for. It's not just my opinion. I mean, there's so much literature out there, both in the secular space, as well as in spiritual and religious literature – talking about how there was a live that were designed to live. There is a true-north in each of our hearts, okay?

 We have some kind of a navigation system that can help to orient us and it's built into us. This true north in our hearts is experienced as a deep desire for happiness – not just fleeting pleasure, okay? It's not just some kind of high that makes us feel, you know, all goose-bumpy for a while and then fades away and leaves us even more dry and empty.

No, we have a desire; a very deep desire, maybe really buried under a lot of those more superficial desires for pleasure – for deep abiding joy. And that's the kind of joy that comes when our lives are aligned with the purpose for which we were designed. So, we often hear about the importance of living a purpose-driven life.

It's good to have a purpose-driven life, you know, as compared to a life that is aimless and not going anywhere. But not just any purpose-driven life is good for us. It is only good if the purpose that we're trying to live out is the purpose that we are designed for – because or else we would be miserable. And in time we will make the people around us miserable too.

And just like, you know, that fountain pen that was used as a screwdriver, we probably wouldn't be very good at whatever we're trying to do either. And oftentimes, when we come across as being incompetent or lazy, it could be very possible that we're just trying to do something that is not what we are really designed to do.

Of course, in every life, there are many things that we need to do that we're not specifically, you know, gifted to do. But the larger direction of our lives – the big decisions really, really should take into consideration that deep desire in our heart. There is this beautiful quote about vocation by the theologian Frederick Buechner.

And it says that the place you're called to be is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep need meet. Your deep gladness, or your heart's deep gladness and the world's deep need meet. Both those things. Not just one or the other. What happens when we refuse to listen to a heart's deep gladness? The deep desires of our heart are meant to be the fuel for our lives to seek out, and receive, and be nourished and ultimately, to pour out what is good, what is beautiful and true. 

I used the example earlier of our stomachs: our stomachs hunger – it's meant to get us to seek out food, right? Food: nourishing food that is good for us. To receive that food, to eat that food, and for that food to be digested, nourish our bodies and then, ultimately for what purpose? – So that we can live and do what we need to do and pour our lives out for others.

Something has to go in to feed us and make us strong in order for us to be able to serve. These desires are powerful stuff. I mean, desire is always powerful, right? And all powerful things can be potentially dangerous if we don't know how to handle them. They're like dynamite, right? And I think that's also why so many of us are a little scared or very scared of our desires because we may be afraid that we can't trust our desires because it'll lead us astray. But really our desires can be our most powerful allies and they can help us achieve unimaginable things – not just for us, but for the world.

But on the flip side, they could be our worst enemies and lead us down paths that would wound ourselves and others in inconceivable and unimaginable ways as well. So, what determines whether they become our most powerful allies or our most powerful enemies? I think a lot depends on whether we have learned to listen to our lives. 

In the episode about being a safe space for ourselves, Edwina and I talked about how every emotion is friendly, even if they may not appear to be – even when they are negative emotions. Right, and if we learn how to welcome them, how to relate to our emotions, we can glean a lot of wisdom from what our emotions are trying to tell us. Sometimes the immediate emotion that we encounter may seem negative.

But if we learned to stay with it and listen, they reveal to us some deeper truth about a need that we have – that if we knew how to address it, just opens up like, you know, infinite possibilities. So, it is not selfish to learn how to be good stewards of this powerful gift that we are each given: the gift of desire.

In fact, I would argue that it could be the most generous thing we could do for the world; to learn how to listen to our lives and develop the unique ways that we are gifted. Our giftedness always comes with an inborn desire to use those gifts. 

So often when we feel like we really, really want to do something with our lives, especially – you know, like I said; not just the superficial desire of the moment, like, oh, I really want to eat fries or chips. I mean, sure, yes, you know. Sometimes, we have a craving, right? But no. I'm talking about deeper desires. Like, for example, the desire for thinking deep thoughts and finding that it's so challenging to do that because our lives do not allow us that kind of space to reflect.

Or someone who maybe really loves to use her hands to create things. And she has no place and no time to make things with her hands; whether it's to grow plants, or to cook and bake things – because you know, maybe her life is all about spending her whole day in front of the computer. There are so many possible ways that the lives that we lead could be misaligned with our gifts and with the deep desires in our heart.

To turn a deaf ear to those deep desires would be like turning off that navigation system that we have inside of us, right? That would guide us to the place in the world where our gifts and our very presence can best meet the world's deep hunger. 

Why the interior journey is important is because many of us, or I might even argue, I think all of us – to some extent have turned off our navigation system and we're suffering the effects of that, often without even realizing. We want to live productive lives, useful lives, good lives, you know – maybe get a good job and feed our families, and try to make some difference in the world for good. But we don't listen to our hearts.

We don't look at the clues that our life is trying to throw us about where our gifts are. And often the hints and clues about where our gifts are, tap into our desire and our joy. So, we end up trying to live the life that makes everyone else happy. 

And that's so ironic because nobody else – not our parents, not our spouses, not our teachers, our bosses, our friends, our relatives – whoever it is, whose opinion seemed to rule your life; none of them possess that unique navigation system for your life. Only you have that, and it's in your heart. And your deep desire; the deep desire of your heart is proof that the navigation system is there. 

So, rather than try and turn it off or ignore it – which often really leads to that powerful dynamite; maybe just, you know, going off at the wrong time, at the wrong place, some other way, because energy can't be destroyed, right? And desire is certainly some kind of powerful energy; even if we try and repress and suppress that, it comes up some other way.

So, the journey and authenticity and wholeness is also a journey into the life that we actually most deeply want to live. The life that we were designed and created to live. This deep desire is not the superficial wants that we notice day-to-day. But these desires can only be heard when we learn to delve honestly and lovingly into our inner selves.

So, that whole journey about – that whole process about living from the inside out of descending from just the outer layers of our life, into listening to our emotions, our desires – and through that to getting to know and remember who we really are at our core: that is so necessary for us to live a life that is aligned with our true north; live a life that we are designed to live. 

So, here's the closing thought for this episode: to love ourselves enough, to want the life that we are designed to live is not only not selfish (unselfish)it is the only way we can live a life that bears abundant fruit that blesses others.

Let me repeat that: to love ourselves enough, to want the life we are designed to live is not only not selfish, it is the only way we can live a life that bears abundant fruit that blesses others. So, I'm going to ask you today: do you let yourself want the life that you desire? Even before you let yourself try to live that, do you even allow yourself to want that life?

So, for the Praxis prompts for today, the first prompt: Listen – what struck you in today's episode? You know, what about the stories that I told, or the points that I made resonate with you?

Two: Ponder – how do you feel when you imagine yourself living a life that is aligned with your heart's deep gladness? What emotions do you feel?

[00:26:42] Three: Act – on a scale of one to ten; with ten being a life fully aligned with your heart's deep gladness, how would you rate your life right now? Then, on a piece of paper list down all the things that are holding you back from living your life at a ten. 

Then I invite you to look at your list and ask yourself this question: what step can I take today to begin making this list shorter? What step can I take today, okay, if not, this very day – soon – to begin making this list of things that are keeping me from living a life that is aligned with my heart's deep gladness. How can I begin to make this list shorter?

[00:27:44] CONCLUSION
Thank you for listening to Becoming Me, where new episodes drop every first and third Wednesdays of the month. Remember, the most important thing about making this journey is to keep taking steps in the right direction no matter how small those steps might be. And no matter where you might be in your life right now, it is always possible to begin. 

The world would be a poorer place without you becoming more fully alive. Don't forget to visit my website at becomingme.sg and to subscribe to my newsletter as well as to this podcast. Until the next episode, Happy becoming!