28 February 2020, Day 7 of funemployment:
Prior to resigning from my job, I asked a friend how he makes decisions.
Part of the reason for why I was taking 12 months off was because I find it difficult to know what I want or like.
I was impressed by his apparent clear-sightedness of his own direction in life.
Friend: “Well… I am very selfish.”
Me: “Selfish? What do you mean?”
Friend: “Whenever I make decisions, it is very simple. I put myself first, before considering anyone else, even my wife.”
Friend: “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mistreat my wife.
Once I have decided this is right for me, then I start the work of showing the other people impacted by this decision that it is also right for them.
We work together to seek out win-win solutions for everyone.
But, my starting point is always me.
That’s what I mean by selfish.”
That, for me, was extremely interesting.
In listening to this friend, I realized that a big reason why as an adult I’m uncertain about my own likes and wants is because:
1. I feel guilty about putting myself first, and
2. Over-compensate when putting others before me.
In this way, I tend to constantly ‘erase’ myself in most of my decisions.
‘Self-sacrifice’ seemed to be the noble thing to do.
However, in practice, this often just frustrates.
A person who never asked to be put first may not appreciate the lengths I had gone to.
In turn, I end up resenting that person for not recognising my efforts, and also regret not putting myself first.
That person may also get frustrated when I try to be accommodating and say yes to everything.
I admit to constantly frustrating my partner with the same answer whenever he asks me any of the following:
- What I want to eat – “anything”
- Where I want to go – “anything”
- What I want to do – “anything”
For him, saying “anything” all the time means I’m giving him the entire weight of making the decision for both of us, rather than participating.
Even though I am genuinely trying to make sure he gets to do what makes him happiest by self-effacing…
In the end, we’re both frustrated.
Being overly accommodating is not helpful, even if well-intentioned.
Right after resigning, I decided to buy a whole cake.
Initially, I was going to buy the cake to share.
I started debating on which flavour to get:
“Wow! Earl grey! My partner would like that.”
“Maybe chocolate matcha, which my mom would definitely enjoy?”
“Oooh, there’s hojicha matcha! That’s intriguing!”
I sat on this for an entire day and wasn’t able to make a decision.
- If I got earl grey, would mom enjoy it?
- Would partner even eat the cake?
- I’m okay with all three flavours, but hojicha matcha is really what’s interesting for me…
And then I realised, what I was doing was self-effacing over something that the others hadn’t even asked for.
I was tying my happiness to theirs, and imposing it on them.
It was me who wanted cake, no one else had asked for it.
I also tend to overestimate how much others will enjoy my ‘sacrifice’, and underestimate how much I dwell on the ‘missed’ want.
For example, I might estimate that earl grey would be a 9 out of 10 enjoyment for partner, and a 7 out of 10 for me.
Here’s the likely reality of buying cake for someone else:
Let’s say I get the earl grey.
“I can live with a 7 if it makes him happy”, I think.
My first thought will be: “hmm… I wonder what the hojicha matcha would have been like…”
I go over to surprise the partner.
Because he hadn’t asked for it, he might say “oh thanks”.
“How is it?” I’ll ask eagerly.
“It’s just so-so,” he’ll say honestly.
It’s a 5 out of 10 for him.
Deflated by his lower than expected enjoyment, and because hojicha matcha is still on my mind, my own enjoyment is a 4 out of 10.
The whole cake, instead of garnering the expected 9+7=16 pleasure points, only nets a dismal 9 out of 20.
Throw it on the ground!
So I decided to practice being selfish this time.
Last Saturday, I went ahead and put myself first and bought the hojicha matcha.
Here’s how it actually went:
Partner: “I don’t want any cake.”
Mom: “I don’t like it at all…”
Me: “THAT’S GREAT! MORE FOR ME!!!”
Frankly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of it either. It was probably a 6 out of 10.
But there was an immense lightness in taking full ownership of the result.
In making the choice for myself and not having any regrets, I was able to be happier myself.
I also made my loved ones happier by not imposing or unconsciously blaming others for a lower than expected happiness response.
And that was completely worth it.
I’ll probably buy a second cake.
Practice makes perfect after all!
I might not share cake, but I will share my journey during this one year break!
If you’re on mobile, you can sign up for this blog’s newsletter at the bottom (after the instagram widget!)
If on desktop, on the right sidebar.
PS: which of the three flavours would you have gone for?