How To Embrace Selfishness: 5 Ways to Put Yourself First

Yes, I’m avoiding you.

Nothing personal, but I need a break from time to time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? Typically, I take a hiatus from this blog (and most work) from June until August, and again from December through January, but this summer that hiatus started early. Why?

When this post was originally written, the early hiatus was due to me locking myself out of my administrative panel. (Don’t laugh.) This time, I have a lot going on. For one, I’m about to have another baby. She’s due June 15th, but these kids like to show up a few weeks early, so I’m probably not going to make it to June–and I hope I don’t, because the construction on our new house is wrapping up and we’re scheduled to close and move on June 9th. For some reason, plans were also made to expand Unvarnished to a second location, which means I’m also facilitating the build, staffing, marketing, training, and everything else that goes with opening a new salon, which we’re hoping to have operational by July 1st (but let’s be real, that’s a pipe dream–August 15th is more realistic).

But wait, there’s more… I’m also working on getting my next book finished because I have new consulting contracts scheduled to commence on August 1st. There are also new classes to develop for 2018’s trade show appearances.

Are you also a prime example of a person who takes on far more than any one person should ever attempt to handle themselves?

If so, keep reading. You can design systems, keep organized, and manage your life with impeccable schedules and processes, but sometimes, you have to be selfish and focus on you, otherwise, you’ll burn out…and that’s never a good thing. This post will tell you how to focus on you, and not feel bad about it.

My mantra has always been: If you don’t feel like doing something, and it doesn’t need to be done, then don’t do it.

As workers, parents, spouses/partners, and business owners, most of us spend plenty of time doing menial tasks we don’t want to do simply because these tasks need to be completed. Laundry, grocery shopping, vacuuming–none of that is fun. Nobody jumps out of bed in the morning and says, “Yes! Today I get to reconcile inventory in the salon! Replenishment day is the best!” Nah. We do that garbage because if we don’t, bad stuff happens. It’s worth the momentary unpleasantness to get it done because the consequences are more undesirable than the duty itself.

What about those unpleasant tasks that don’t come with undesirable consequences?

  • If you don’t change out that recessed light bulb in your dangerously high, vaulted kitchen ceiling for another week, will it detonate and kill you?
  • Will those friends, coworkers, and clients who beg favors be all that upset with you if you tell them you’d rather not?
  • Will your blog subscribers threaten to hunt you down if you don’t start posting again soon? (That’s probably a bad example, but just because mine do doesn’t mean yours will.)

Too often, I hear from industry professionals that they have a hard time declining the requests of others, and it’s not surprising to me. Many of us are drawn to the service industry because we’re “givers” and “helpers.” We live to make others feel happy and whole, and those are great qualities–to an extent. Unfortunately, a lot of us take it too far and allow others to use and abuse us. I see this time and again in the salon, with employees allowing exploitation, employers allowing employees to hold them hostage, and professionals in all positions allowing clients to trample them with unreasonable demands.

Sometimes it’s good to be selfish, so here are some tips in how to turn this year into the first of many “passion-driven” years.

1.) Assess tasks. Ask yourself, “What could happen if I don’t do this?” If there’s a negative consequence, chances are that the task needs to be done or is worth taking the time to do. If there’s no negative consequence (or a negligible one), ask yourself, “Do I really feel like doing this? Do I want to?”

2.) Recognize incentives. 

What’s in it for you? Yes, you’re allowed to expect some kind of payoff, whether it’s an emotional one or a monetary one.

Personally, money has never been a great motivator for me. Emotional rewards are far more powerful. I’m happy to help people because it makes me feel good to know I’ve done something to make someone else’s life marginally better (the money is just a great bonus). However, if I’m not in the mood to do something and there’s no need to do it, and there’s no incentive for me, I’m happy to decline and you should be too. It’s not your responsibility to sacrifice for others. Unless you owe someone the favor, you don’t owe anyone anything.

3.) Abandon guilt. Trash it. You have nothing to feel guilty over. We all know that death is an inevitability.

Your limited time as a conscious being is infinitely valuable, so treat it with the respect it deserves. (That’s not metaphysical mumbo jumbo; it’s mathematical fact.)

If a job, relationship, or friendship isn’t bringing more to your life than it’s taking from your personal satisfaction, sacrifice it. Start saying no with a smile instead of an apologetic wince.

4.) Quit justifying. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for anything. “Because I don’t feel like it,” might sound infantile but it’s a perfectly acceptable reason, particularly where personal favors are concerned. If the person asking the favor wanted the task done badly enough and is capable of performing it themselves, there is no good reason for them to push the task onto you.

5.) Listen to your heart. (“When he’s caaaaalllling for youuu”–obligatory Roxette reference for you 80’s kids. Good luck getting that song out of your head. You’re welcome.)

As corny as this sounds, ask yourself what it is that you want to do, then do it. When I want to write, I write. When I want to binge-watch TV, I drop what I’m doing and boot up Netflix. When I want to read, I stop what I’m doing and grab my Kindle. If no obligatory tasks are interfering there’s no reason why you can’t do what you want, when you want.

So many times, I found myself saying, “I want to do A, but I should be doing B,” but when I thought about why I “should” be doing B, I almost always find that there’s no good reason for me to prioritize it at all. “B” items (like that single burnt bulb in my kitchen’s 20,000 foot high ceiling, or that “friend” who only calls me when they need something), just aren’t important enough to justify my immediate attention.

Over the last year I’ve gotten much better at saying no and learning how to prioritize and my stress level has drastically declined. I feel more passionate about the things I do, I perform better at tasks when I feel driven to do them, and I feel happier having done them.

Best of all, I feel better about how I’ve spent my day when the sun goes down, and that’s important because at the end of each of our days, none of us is certain that it won’t be our last.

Steve Jobs lived his life the same way up until the day he died, asking himself every morning, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I’m about to do today?” Like Steve Jobs, an overwhelming majority of professionals in our industry chose our careers because we have a genuine love for what we do. Let’s bring that same level of passion to the things we do outside of the salon. I promise your life will be better for it.

Next week’s article (Brainwashing Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide), will contain tips for how you can create incentives and condition yourself to enjoy obligatory tasks (so you can actually follow through on your crazy New Years’ resolutions this year).

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. Edited version
    I read a long time ago that “burnout” comes from all the stuff we don’t want to do, NOT from the things we do. Great read! I will add though sometimes it’s feels good to be selfless and do some things we don’t want to do with no reward, simply for the sake of another

  2. I am so glad you are alive and in the living. Looking forward to you getting to your emails and hearing from you soon!!!

  3. Good for you Tina! I love your website! truly great stuff. I’m having trouble figuring out how to contact you and Jaime about a business opportunity that I am evaluating – understand that you are not taking new clients right now but hoping that you can recommend. Thanks! And thanks for the book and the website!

  4. I am about to get selfish. I have decided to leave the salon I’m at because the owner has gone whack. I rent a room from her but she says she can have control over what I sell and use on my clients. She told me my home made scrubs are not professional in her salon. She tried to tell me they were not approved by the FDA and therefore not allowed. I looked up on FDA.GOV and it is perfectly acceptable for me to sell and use on my clients as long as they are labeled correctly. She still says no dice it’s her salon and that does not say professional in her book. Can she do she tell me what I can and cannot use or sell?


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