Being selfishly selfless

From a young age I’ve been taught to always do ‘the right‘ thing. I remember being told this was the most important thing in life and that the easiest way of achieving this was to treat others as you would like to be treated. It’s a great philosophy to live by and helps keep you smiling and be happy in general.

Due to some big decisions and life-changing events that happened to me at a very early age, I seem to always be fairly mature for my age. For instance, I was cooking and cleaning for myself all through my late-child/teenage years and holding down jobs while studying for a grand career I had in mind. This alongside multiple volunteering roles and the odd placement here and there taught me to constantly strive to prepare myself for the world. I have always been someone who thinks ahead.

Quick note: if you’re reading this as a student/young person contemplating their future, it’s perfectly fine and normal to not know. My advice is to try out anything that interests you. Email/call/speak to managers of companies that look like fun and see if you can get some voluntary work or even a job and work from there.

This all came crashing down during the placement year I underwent to prepare me for a PhD – the master career plan. Pretty much overnight the reality of academic science and relentless boredom of lab work/reading papers dawned on me and wasn’t something I was willing to endure for a further three years let alone a career in… I freaked out quite a bit as for the first time in years I didn’t know what I was doing with my life, why I was doing this placement and more importantly, what I was going to do in the future?!

I spent a while trying to figure out what I wanted in life, which is a damn hard question to answer. Well, it was for me anyway. As a result of this mid-uni-crisis and the constant daily de-stimulating nature of my placement I spiralled into a relatively short bout of depression. Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s sadness coupled with a complete lack of motivation to do absolutely anything due to this kind of overwhelming ‘why care?’ attitude to everything. It’s the scariest thing I’ve lived with and it’s been switched on and off a few times during my teenage years due to ‘traumatic stress‘ and a tendency to run and hide from issues.

I don’t actually know or remember exactly how I got out of it and maybe that’s part of the scariness of depression – it doesn’t really ever go away. You just kind of learn how to be happy despite it

From all of this pondering over my future and a desperation to find happiness, it dawned on me that the happiest I’ve been in my life has been when I’m just ‘having a laugh’ with friends and family. Whether that be messing about in a cramped hotel room in Barcelona or just sat chatting in a big group message online, sending each other stupid videos we found on YouTube. Also, Christmas is my favourite time of the year and not for any of the religious or gift-sharing reasons. It’s because people tend to be happierΒ and it’s a chance to get the whole family together to reminisce and ‘have a laugh‘. I was so excited to earn a decent amount of money when I was young from part-time work so that I could finally purchase some luxury items that I’d always wanted! But these things never made me happier than when I was joking around with friends.

When you’re young, you take for granted these every day social interactions and brush them off as ‘that’s just life, right?’ but when you grow up and move out and earn and pay bills I guess you lose touch with old friends – I find I miss the simple ‘having a laugh‘ moments more than anything.

As a result, I had a weird epiphany that I guess I’ve always wanted to just help others. I was voted class clown at school as I was always cracking out the funny funny jokes and it was great to make people laugh. Watching someone grow or be happy as a result of your help is a great feeling. When I was young I wanted to be a vet (helping animals), when I was a teen it was a doctor (helping people) and when I was a young adult it was a researcher (helping both animals and people?). Conveniently, a TeachFirst recruiter messaged me on LinkedIn and I am now enrolled onto the leadership development programme! I think I’ve found my calling with teaching as I really love working with young people and helping others, win-win!

I guess the point of all this is that being selfless and caring for another’s well-being before your own is a learned and valuable trait that actually usually makes you feel better too. However that’s not to say that being selfish is bad at all. Maybe if I had paid attention to what truly made me happy sooner rather than going along with ‘a proper career‘ that was shaped based on other’s opinions and not my own, I wouldn’t have gone through that horrible ordeal. Maybe I wouldn’t have put my other half through the agony of watching me cry every day and not know why or how to help me. Maybe I wouldn’t have applied for that placement and maybe I would already be teaching by now if I had spent more than two seconds dealing with me.

Maybe sometimes we all need a bit of me time to make ourselves better so that we can help others in a better frame of mind and essentially spread the love!

I call it, being selfishly selfless.


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