Enlightened Self-Interest

Selfish. Self-centered. Self-interested. She only thinks about herself. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, there’s an odd tension between our value of individual freedom and individualism and our values of family, community and good citizenship. If you don’t give back in some way you run the risk of being branded with the dreaded S—any of the three words above.

There seems to be a moratorium on this expectation of service and altruism. It’s called your twenties.

Adults are seen as developed. They have responsibilities. But if you’re in your twenties, you get to use your get-out-of-jail free card and live with wild abandon. Or at least with disregard for anyone but y-o-u.

This has been my experience at least. I’m a late-twenties gal now and for the past four years I’ve been adventuring around the U.S. and the world cooking up a storm, hiking mountains, and playing music on porches with friends. When I relay my stories to people more senior than I (even folks in their early 30’s), they say, “Ah. Good. Do it while you’re young.” (By all accounts, “young” ends when your twenties do & adulthood begins at 30, 31.)

Yet all that time I spent adventuring, I had an ulterior motive. On the outside it may have looked as if I was acting selfishly. I left ma and pa and the farm and ultimately became expert at saying goodbye to people I love and care about to pursue whatever called to me. And aside from the people, I’ve been betraying a cultural ideal of working hard and paying my dues by bucking the 9-5 (and all that goes with it) and truly loving my life.

But I never felt selfish. Not in a “I do what I wanna do” kind of way. See, I haven’t been adventuring for adventures sake. This lifestyle has helped me to see what stays with me in an ever-changing landscape of people and place. I’ve been on a quest to learn more about myself, to tune into my purpose(s) with a deep desire to understand some fundamental truths. Answering age old questions like: Who am I? What are my values? What’s the meaning of life?

I’m doing all this with a sincere and deep hope to learn how I can ultimately serve others with the utmost integrity and authenticity. This is enlightened self-interest—do for yourself so that you can do more and better for others. This requires self-knowledge and awareness. Constantly checking in and asking: what are my energy reserves so that I can give in a sustainable way? What are my values and will this work/job/project/service opportunity be in alignment with them, allowing me to act with integrity?

Know thyself by acting from a space of enlightened self-interest and then you can give BIG.


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