If you’re reading this, know that it is okay to be selfish sometimes.
Just a few years ago, in high school, I was homeless. My parents were substance abusers and I slept anywhere from in my car to motel rooms; from others’ couches to secret ‘sleepovers’ in my school. The constant worriment of where to sleep each night shredded my self confidence to the point where I worried about nothing but survival. I found myself lying to everyone about my circumstances, and I justified it by telling myself that I didn’t want to worry my friends and teachers. After some serious self-reflection, I’ve realized that although I was in fact trying to spare them the worriment, I was mostly concerned with protecting my own ego, status, and perception of worth as a human being. Everything and everyone became my enemy- worried friends, concerned teachers, police, and even the mere idea of happiness. I trusted no one and had the mentality that I was alone in the world, with myself being the only person I could trust. Eventually, my mother was arrested and my sense of loneliness was exacerbated, and I felt that my last crutch, my mother who I still love dearly, had been kicked from under me. I felt as if I was truly alone in the world, homeless, misunderstood, and confused.
I’ve read several posts on IfYoureReadingThis.org, and I’ve noticed that most of them speak of loneliness and depression, and I couldn’t help but write this, feeling a deep sense of connection and relatability to their stories.
Something that I realized very recently was that your past, and mine, do not define us. It is easy to believe that where you come from defines you as a person, but it doesn’t. Your story is responsible for shaping you into who you are today, but ultimately, the person you are right now is gauged by your values and how you treat others.
After years of living this lifestyle of lies, insecurity, and deceit, I actually became content with my life. Yes- I was homeless, scared, and constantly stressed, but over time, my individual understanding of “happiness” completely changed. My personal values shifted to align with MY reality.
During this time in high school, I kept my lifestyle as one of my highest guarded secrets. I overextended myself in hopes to not only make up for my misfortunes, but also to raise my own bar to an equal height of my peers- which is unexplainably exhausting.
Near the very end of my high school career, I finally confided in one of my close friends and to my amazement, he offered me his spare bedroom where I could live for the remaining months of school. I distinctly remember laying in bed the first night I arrived, brought to tears by how I was finally free of the weights that constantly dragged me down for the past couple years. I was laying in a real bed and would be safe there for the foreseeable future. It was truly the most happiness that I have ever felt in my entire life, which I now understand was because my own perception of happiness was scaled so far down in the years prior. This change had surpassed every positive stimulus I had received in years, and it changed my world.
My purpose of sharing this story is to inspire you that although making change may be the most difficult decision of your life, it pays off, and it pays off well. Growing up, nearly everyone was taught that selfishness is a negative trait, but one of my close teachers once told me that sometimes you NEED to be selfish. You can’t take care of others if you can’t even take care of yourself. So be selfish. Make the conscious decision to change your reality. I made the decision to tell my high school friend of my circumstances, putting everything on the line. I was petrified that he would think of me differently, treat me differently, and value me as less of a man than everyone else. Even today, I believe that even if someone says they won’t think of you differently, or even genuinely tells themselves they won’t, there will always be a very deep, subconscious influence that manages their perception of other people, whether they want it or not. Here at UVa, I’ve shared my story with one other person, and it has fostered an amazing connection between us. He admitted that it did change his perception of me, but it was for the better. He explained that even though my story lingers in the deepest parts of his brain, he came to the realization that he had the choice to negatively judge me for my story, or use it to strengthen our bond and make a very deep, special connection.
It took me a long time to realize that I was the only one who could control my circumstances, and so I had to make the very difficult decision of acting for myself. I encourage you to identify what is holding you back, and take the risk- figure out what you need to do to fix it, and stop at absolutely nothing to accomplish it, even if it means being selfish sometimes.