Self-interest can be a powerful lever in our life’s outcomes if appropriately used. Sometimes it’s our friend. Other times, our foe. I define self-interest, for this conversation, as wanting to benefit in some way from any interaction/relationship we participate in or in the choices we make.
Self-interest is different than ego. Ego is too messy and most times unrecognizable, by ourselves, in our behavior. Self-interest is consciously considered. Selfishness is the extreme of self-interest. We want what we want regardless of the costs or damage done to get it..
A healthy self-interest is one where in any situation there is thought given to what would either help or benefit me or my company/organization. The calculation could be over professional, organizational, or personal goals. You will find some perspective given to short vs. long-term needs or objectives.
Patience is a large part of healthy self-interest in those achieving things that will benefit us usually takes time. Small steps get us further than jumping at one big step. Self-interest acts like a compass, while taking small steps, it keeps us focused on where we want to get to.
A healthy self-interest is necessary in many of our life choices. Building a career certainly needs an awareness of your own self-interest in taking on new jobs, or projects, or in deciding to change career paths. Businesses definitely need owners who have a strong sense of self-interest when building a company. Non-profit organizations need to understand and make explicit their self-interests in order to get good alignment amidst their constituencies.
Asking why someone is doing something is the most basic way to identify self-interest. When the interests of the environment you are working in don’t align with your self-interests; you have a problem. This is where frustration, disappointment, and stress manifest themselves.
Are there any situations that call for no self-interest? Organized religions might be one. Where in order to provide boundless love, and charity, and show patience, compassion, and humility towards others requires us to deny our self-interests for the good of others. The other might be when you find the person you truly love for the rest of your life. Your actions in this relationship are to benefit the other person, to make them happy and not yourself.
Where life becomes challenging is in trying to find that balance between selflessness, self-interest, and selfishness. Not easy. The balance at times changes by the situation. Other times this balance may change with age and increased responsibilities.
I grew up in a world where my most powerful mentors were priests. Incredibly dynamic individuals with super above average emotional intelligence and people skills. They taught me a great deal. So as I became an adult, my awareness or desire to internally define my self-interests in situations was low. My personal choices for my own good were never part of most of our discussions. So I had little practice.
It wasn’t until after the age of forty that I became more aware of what I wanted out of life. Only after the age of fifty did I really begin to challenge and question myself about what I wanted out of my business. Becoming aware of your self-interests, I believe, is a prerequisite to personal success. No matter how you define that success.
Your self-interests may not be practical or possible. Life will test your hopes and dreams giving you clear feedback on where you need to either change your tactics, choices or your environment. Few ever achieve what is truly important to them in a day. So perseverance becomes a component of this journey.
But first you must pay attention and reflect on who you are and where you want to go. Understanding your self-interest can be a powerful lever in your life if you accept the challenge to first become more self-aware.