Being Selfish is Good For Your Career

by Sharlyn Lauby on June 29, 2010

One of the things ingrained into us as children is the idea that being selfish is a bad thing.  Wikipedia defines it as “placing one’s own needs above the needs of others.”  So if that’s what selfish means and being selfish is an undesirable quality, let me offer something to consider.  I saw this tweet the other day…would you define it as being selfish?

consulting, career, career development, strategic thinking

Clearly, Greg is saying this is the way I want people to ask for an appointment.  But I can’t help but think that’s not being selfish.  He’s managing his time.  And he’s telling people instead of spending 20 minutes making the appointment, use the 20 minutes during the appointment.

I’m using this example because I can totally empathize with Greg.  How many times do we get asked for 5 minutes that turns into 25?  Or someone wants to network with us and we give them an hour of our time – not because we believe there’s a relationship to develop but because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.  But if we say no, then we’re considered selfish or only out for our own self-interests.

Ever wonder how you’d get stuff done if you met with everyone who wanted some of your time?  I do.  I really struggle with this.  Where does taking care of business stop and being selfish start?

Exploring self-interest isn’t a new concept.  Author Ayn Rand wrote about it in The Virtue of Selfishness – the idea that it’s rational to act in your own self-interest.  And logically, it’s irrational to act contrary to yourself in order to serve others.  We serve others because we believe it’s in our best self-interest to do so.  Interesting stuff!

No ExcusesBrian Tracy put a modern twist on this subject in a piece about networking.  He recommends not apologizing for being a little selfish.  The article is a bit lengthy but a good read.  You can check it out here.  My takeaway from Brian’s article is, do things that make sense for you.  And don’t be afraid to nicely turn an invitation down.

Speaking of Brian, he graciously sent me a copy of his latest book “No Excuses! The Power of Self-Discipline.”  The book focuses on how to set goals and be more disciplined to achieve those goals.  If you’re interested in checking it out, drop me a note in the comments.  I’ll draw a name on Friday, July 2 and send you Brian’s book.

And, I’ll toss in a Starbucks gift card (because I have no self-discipline when a caramel macchiato is involved…)  Cheers!


Brian Reilly June 29, 2010 at 7:13 am

Relevant post for all of us being asked for time, the most precious thing in our day!

Would love to be entered in the drawing and thanks!

Mike Barker June 29, 2010 at 8:44 am

Good stuff. More people need to understand that your time is not their time to spend.

And I’d like to be entered in the drawing.

Ian Birney June 29, 2010 at 9:06 am

Hi Brian,

I would be interested in checking out the book and the Starbuck’s card.

Personally I think we’re losing that personal touch in alot of things but would be interested in learning more… all while sitting by myself having a smoothie at a Starbucks.

Susan Dragojlovich June 29, 2010 at 9:16 am

Your topic today is right on target. Hard to do but well worth trying.

I would also be interested in your drawing.


Michael Haberman SPHR June 29, 2010 at 10:24 am

Sign me up, big Brian Tracy fan.

Yveatte June 29, 2010 at 10:42 am

Thanks for a very relevant post. I would like to be included in your drawing. Haven’t seen you around in a while – hope to see you soon!

Sharlyn Lauby June 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments! And good luck on the raffle.

Midge Reichert June 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

All information was relevant and thought-provoking. Thanks! I’ll try to find Ayn Rand’s book. Please include me in the drawing for Brian’s book.
Good Stuff!

Pippa Freyer June 29, 2010 at 1:22 pm

As always, it’s about finding the balance (but you know that!). I don’t perceive it so much as ‘selfishness’ but rather an indication of a person whose career is focused in the ‘individual contributor’ phase. When (if) your career moves into management (people, project or program), you (hopefully) begin to make a transition from being focused on what you need to do to make an individual contribution to being focused on what you need to do to make your people successful. Some of your folks/contacts/customers will need that ‘touch feely’ approach, they will need for you to spend a little time socializing, chatting about the family, the team, the economy or whatever, establishing and reaffirming your connections, before ‘cutting to the chase’. One size never fits all when it comes to communications and people. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

evilcatbert June 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Love the Ayn Rand reference with her “Virtue of Selfishness”. “Atlas Shrugged” (besides being a great read) should be required reading in college now is also extremely relevant for our times.
Thanks for the portable notebook idea – I often receive requests while “walking fences” and then forget a few when I get back to the office until reminded by the employee who asked me for it.
Would love to enter your drawing – a bonus for reading your blog which I do regularly.

Charles Barragan June 29, 2010 at 1:59 pm

As HR professionals we find it hard to say no and leave it at that. We always try to find some qualifying language and engage in our own “sandwich” communications that add not only context but time in our interactions. Still, with age and an ever-increasing workload I’m getting better at saying “no” ever-so efficiently 😉

Sharlyn Lauby June 29, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Thanks for the comments. Glad to hear there are some other Ayn Rand fans out there!

NOREEN B June 30, 2010 at 10:08 am

The only flaw in this is if you work somewhere that the corporate culture allows meeting notices and emails to remain unread and unresponded to! Of course, in that situation a phone call can be pretty useless too. glad I don’t deal with that anymore. Please enter me in the drawing!

Greg Strosaker June 30, 2010 at 10:13 am

I love your reference to Ayn Rand’s work – her ability to redefine “selfishness” was one of her most powerful contributions to philosophy, and is often overshadowed because most associate her most strongly with “laissez faire capitalism”. Even altruistic motives are truly selfish, so it does come down to a matter of discipline in channeling your selfishness into productive uses. And I’d be interested in the drawing for the book and Starbucks card as well – thanks!

Miri McDonald June 30, 2010 at 10:16 am

I think there is a balance between prioritizing your needs and making time for others. I agree, there are times email is more efficient but relationships don’t get built with 2 minute emails. We have to be selective about who we spend those 20 minutes exchanging pleasantries with and when we do it. But in my experience, I’ve found that if you make time for others, you get it back many times over. Karma baby.

Please include me in your drawing! I can sure use some self-discipline tips and a latte’ 😉

Mary June 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

This is a good reminder. – However, I sometimes will just pick up the phone to set up an appt. – back and forth email is just as time consuming.
Focus is so key – before I start a networking meeting I will ask the person what outcome they expect for this meeting. I’m really annoyd when someone can’t tell me!
If I give someone time I would expect them to reciprocate. When I ask for something in return please be polite enough to at least listen.

I need the book – my July project is process mapping – Yikes I need some focus.

Karen Miller June 30, 2010 at 11:09 am

Thank you for writing and sharing this article on a very important (and sometimes misunderstood or overlooked) topic.

Please include me in the drawing for the book and Starbucks gift card.


Mary Tronsberg June 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Plenty of time is extremely valuable in my book.

Email is a great Tool when used as that –
a Tool.

We can get more done and reduce the stress factor somewhat.

But when email starts to take the place of most interaction it can backfire … like spinning your wheels.

Sometimes you just need that balance …

Jamon Heller June 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Please enter me in the drawing.

I am an active networker and try to help others, even strangers – I believe in “paying it forward.” But, to be disciplined with my limited time, I need to set limits. I find that people understand that–and appreciate it when you’re honest and up front about those limits. That’s much better than not responding to such networking requests at all.

Vijay July 1, 2010 at 3:46 am

‘hmm, its not so black and white as you put it.

Game theory shows that individually rational behaviour leads to a worse outcome for all (e.g., prisoner’s dilemma) and corporate environments are not an exception to this rule:

In a corporate environment where you often have to get things done without formal authority you rely on other’s time and assistance as they often do on yours. So will your refrain stand next time you need their help?

Sharlyn Lauby July 1, 2010 at 7:44 am

I’m really enjoying the different perspectives everyone is offering to this post. It’s great reading! Thanks so much for contributing.

Mary Hennessey July 1, 2010 at 11:10 am

I love the meeting maker in Outlook, although it’s frustrating with people who don’t keep up their electronic calendar. In those cases a phone call is a must. Emailing or texting back and forth gets more time consuming, especially when your concentration is broken with every bing of a new mesage.

Can’t wait for the drawing!

Gina C. July 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Sharlyn, I’m another visitor who would love to read Brian Tracy’s book. A book on “no excuses” and the power of self-discipline has to be highly motivating.

RMSmithJr.SPHR - Bob July 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I’ll add my comment first, then peruse these other.

I have a code to live by. One item within that code states, “Self first is not selfish.” Only by meeting my needs will I be prepared to meet the needs of others.

Put me down for the book drawing.

RMSmithJr.SPHR - Bob July 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Greetings to all my fellow Ayn Rand fans.

David July 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm

I would selfishly be interested in the book and Starbucks card.

Sharlyn Lauby July 2, 2010 at 7:45 am

Thanks everyone for the comments. I’m happy to see I’m not the only one who thinks about this stuff. 😉

Sharlyn Lauby July 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Thank you again for the comments and conversation. The winner of the Brian Tracy book and Starbucks gift card is Karen Miller.

Karen – please send an email with your address to and I’ll get the book/card to you.

Laura Schroeder July 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

Self-inerest is not only good, it’s inevitable:

Sharlyn Lauby July 7, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Thanks for sharing Laura. I read your post this morning. Awesome!

Laura Schroeder July 8, 2010 at 7:11 am

Thanks, Sharlyn – have you read Atlas Shrugged? Except for the 90 page ‘everyone sucks but me’ rant at the end, it’s a brilliant book.

Sharlyn Lauby July 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged in years. I’ve been thinking about going back and reading some classics…might have to add it to the list. Thanks for the reminder!

Sharlyn Lauby July 12, 2010 at 10:02 am

Hi everyone. I didn’t hear from Karen, so I’m drawing another name. The new winner is Charles Barragan! Please send your address to and I’ll get your book in the mail.

Charles Barragan July 28, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Sharlyn, I recieved my goodies, thanks for drawing my name!

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