I wish I could convince you that you have never heard this advice before. It is something I had perceived to have a negative connotation, and I guess you also share(d) the same notion. But here I am, trying to change your mind and, essentially, change your life.
The advice is simply “always look out for number 1.”
My earliest reaction to this statement was to Ctrl+Del from my memory. But, like every advice built to tackle your insecurities, this one hit deep and was determined to remain in my consciousness, until I began to question what it really meant to look out for number one.
Does it mean I should put my needs before others? Isn’t this a selfish line of thought? You see, it is true that people criticize what they do not understand or things that touch sensitive spots. Let me call you out on this note: you give too much of yourself but barely get anything in return. You are your biggest limitation, because you do for others things you hardly do for yourself. The whole world’s problem is on your shoulders, as if you do not have problems of your own. Sound familiar? Please dear, these are proven foundational triggers of depression.
Do not get me wrong, I do not believe in taking a self-centered approach to life, thinking solely about yourself alone and carrying out actions that intentionally hurt people around you. My point is to give top priority to the pursuit of happiness, because happiness is no doubt the ultimate goal in life. In fact, you should guard your happiness so jealously that no-one will have the power to define it for you.
Let us begin by establishing that ‘number one’ is you and everything that’s important to you, everything you find fulfilling, everything that makes you strive to be better. There are quite a number of instances that if we think deep enough, it won’t be hard to recall when we put others’s needs above ours.
When you look out for number one, you are thinking and critically taking decisions that affect you positively. You must begin to question your motives to ensure that it benefits you in the long term. This is not selfish, especially bearing in mind that there is an existent ’cause and effect’ principle of life: meaning whatever you do will affect you either positively or negatively, the question is would you rather live with the negative, or perhaps, not so favourable effect?
The idea of looking out for number one also brings to the fore the importance of consciousness in decision making and questioning the norms. It also calls for a deeper understanding of what your values are: can any/everyone define your moral judgement and are you easily influenced by people in your circle. Can you also analyse this circle to ascertain whether or not it is facilitating positive growth?
Wondering why it may be hard to accept this advice? Well, there are two broad reasons.
The first is the fact that we live in a somewhat communal society, where families and associates are close knit. The implication of this is the pressure it has for individuals to ‘live’ for their families and people around them. The second is the fact that we are too quick to judge such an advice without carefully weighing its possible connotations.
Let me add a third one, which I find rather humorous: it is that a lot of selfish and self-centered people live by this principle. Which makes me question whether the concept was established by selfish propagators, or if the narrative behind the concept is facilitated by the kinds of people who practice it, thus creating a stereotype. A typical chicken and egg situation, don’t you think?
Bottom line is to first identify what your life’s goals are, and be determined to eliminate distractions that may hinder you from achieving them. Because at the end of it all, we are all chasing something. Will you help someone chase theirs while you leave yours to suffer?
This is what we mean when we say to always look out for number one.