thinking – self…ish

Not long ago, I was told I was selfish. It was the sort of conversation I’d rather not engage in, so I didn’t respond at the time. Since then, that comment has provoked a cascade of thoughts that reflect on what it really means to pursue my dreams.

As an insult, being called selfish is relatively easily absorbed. I’ve always admitted that I am self-absorbed, I always have been. As a homeschooled child I spent a lot of time on my own, left to pursue my own interests, and it prepared me for a career that is very solitary indeed. Independence has always been a determining factor in what I do, personally and professionally. I am self employed and childless, by preference and by nature. You could say that all of these things are by choice, and they are, but in another sense, I never chose to be the person that I am. Like everyone else, I am a mess of traits, some better and some worse.

One of the things that fascinates me endlessly is learning about the lives and careers of other creative people, especially in fashion. How do people make a living in such a precarious business? What separates the people who become legends from those who just make a living? Why are some remembered and some forgotten? For every career trajectory, and they are all different, there is something that all creative people share in common – ego. To me the definition of an artist is the need to express, a need so compelling that artists are willing to sacrifice a lot in order to realize their vision. Being driven to express yourself is not usually altruistic – it is not a service, it is not helpful or useful, it doesn’t save lives. In fact, the creative ego can be a liability, sometimes making it very difficult to have what most people would consider a well-balanced and happy life. The fact is all creative arenas are so fiercely competitive, in order to achieve even modest success, you have to look out for yourself and your interests first. That is just the way it is.

Of all creative pursuits, personality blogging in particular is often criticized for being very selfish. A website full of pictures of yourself and things that you like, and your own thoughts, and the things that you make? The bald ambition of seeking an audience is particularly apparent in this medium. Like many people who’ve been blogging for a significant period of time, I’ve struggled with the notion that what I am doing is so self-centered, and at worst, self-aggrandizing. On closer reflection, though, the experience of personal blogging has had some very counterintuitive results.

Weirdly, many of my most popular posts are posts I would consider to be very self-indulgent. Posts full of “I” and my innermost thoughts and feelings. From the outside, this seems incredibly selfish. Not only is it all me-me-me, I’m being rewarded with attention for it! At a slightly deeper level though, it is an act of sharing. Especially when I reveal my own vulnerabilities, when I am candid and flawed, people feel compelled to respond and connect.

Critics of personal bloggers fail to see the aspect of sharing for being as generous as it is. Putting yourself out there for scrutiny is not as easy as it seems. It takes a lot of effort and the rewards are very ephemeral. Bloggers aren’t foisting themselves, unwanted, on a captive audience. The internet has a zillion possible pages that anyone could be reading, the act of giving attention to a blogger is incredibly voluntary. It may not be the most altruistic pastime, true, but it is also utterly harmless. Often, the effects are positive – people make and read blogs because the net results are enjoyable. Ironically, it is often people who are secretive with their ideas and distrustful of the internet, who accuse bloggers of being selfish. I have met a lot of bloggers, and far from being insufferable, they are usually open-minded, helpful, curious, generous people, who are very willing to share experiences, contacts and opportunities.

A final thought on the upside of being “selfish”. We live in an age where it is possible to do almost anything. Dream it, and do it. If you’re going to pursue your dreams, you have to be selfish. After all, they are your dreams and not anyone else’s.

6 thoughts on “thinking – self…ish”

  1. This is spot on, and rather synchronistic. Where one does not express, one inhibits. This is the reason why I laugh at all of my own jokes. If it’s a choice between coughing, and laughing, I laugh. Hopefully, others will too.
    And, really, how is sharing being selfish? It’s not like blogging is an interruption, or even a screaming voice which must be heard above all others. People choose to visit, and to read. If they find it too obnoxious, invasive, corrosive, egotistical, and arrogant – well, obviously….
    For instance, I’ve actually witnessed (on TWO different occasions, by TWO different people) people “hi-jacking” a wedding reception in search of an audience by bringing a guitar – AUDACITY! SELFISHNESS +++!
    p.s. Calling someone “selfish” is a pretty bold statement coming from another’s Ego, btw. And, if true, would not have provoked any thoughtfulness on your behalf. But, that’s just my opinion.

  2. Hey Dan,

    You are silly. Is it selfish to share your illustrations, for free, for the whole world to enjoy? Or to share your insights, skills and hard earned advice with others – again, for free? You’ve certainly inspired me to draw more from time to time – and don’t forget that you spent quite a bit of time teaching kids how to draw through PACT and YES. They haven’t forgotten what you taught them, believe me! Some of them are working on their Ryerson portfolio’s right now, and you definitely helped… Was it selfish to give away all of your belongings when you moved? They’ve almost all ended up in the hands of kids who are eager to learn and to draw. And it’s definitely not selfish of you to be a GREAT role model for girls who are interested in running their own business/fashion/illustration. Please don’t worry about this for another second!!! xxo

  3. Irene, careful, I’ll write a post about how awesome it is to be silly. I’m so glad the kids at PACT still remember me and are using all the art and sewing supplies!

    Mark – yes thankfully my blogging is a lot less intrusive than my guitar-playing, which is really quite terrible.

  4. I actually think we’re talking about two different things here. Being “selfish” carries the connotation that you don’t care about anyone else (and might take callous or mean actions against others), while being “self-absorbed” means you’re inwardly-focused to the point of looking for attention or being unaware of the impact you have on others. They’re not the same thing at all, and it’s worth making the crowbar separation for the sake of this discussion.

    For this reason, I find it much more hurtful to be called selfish than self-absorbed, and when you first mentioned it’d been put on your head, I was hurt for you. You’re not a selfish person; you’re self-absorbed. Being self-absorbed is part of a lot of people’s personalities, but it doesn’t make them “bad” or “attention whores” or anything like that. It simply means you’re focused inwardly. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – it’s not selfish.

    As for getting more attention when you’re being self-indulgent on the blog, I’ve found that to be true in my experience, as well. And I still find it just as baffling. But I think you’re right in saying that it’s a form of sharing; it’s not intended to be all “hey lookit me!” or to hurt anyone. When we write about ourselves, we’re opening our experience to the world and seeking common ground (whether acknowledged or not) with other people. Nothing selfish there, either.

  5. I think people respond when you put yourself out there. People are fascinated by the personal feelings and experiences of others, far more than anything else. I’ve learned that by watching other bloggers. It’s human nature, I guess.

    Blogging is not selfish at all. Blogging is a way to share without forcing it on anyone. Selfish is not caring about others, if you didnt care about others, why would you bother to share? Perhaps the person who made this comment didn’t mean it the way it turned out? As long as you know the truth about yourself, that’s all that matters! xx

  6. A superbly written piece. If you were truly selfish, you wouldn’t be self-aware enough to write such a precise piece. So no, you are not selfish, at least not any more than the rest of us.

    Blogging is expression. It’s as selfish as expressions get, and it’s as unselfish as expressions get. People who call it self-aggrandizing are just ignorantly elitist.

    Your blog, by the way, is one of my favorites. I absolutely come here to soak me up some inspiration.

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