You’re selfish. Self-serving. Self-interested. Self-motivated. Self-centered. Self-preserving.
You didn’t like reading that sentence very much, did you? Yet it’s true.
Despite the negative undertone associated with being self-interested, it’s actually a good thing. Self-interest is what drives capitalism and what turns the lights on at night. People innovate for self-interest. Start businesses. Produce goods and services. If you take away the incentive of personal gain, it’s very difficult to get people to do anything.
When was the last time you cleaned your own toilet?
And when was the last time you cleaned the public toilet?
It’s simply the truth that most people would do more for self-interest than they would for the general collective. Even the people who seem to have the most selfless motives have are inherently self-motivated. Perhaps by running an NGO, they are looking to fulfil their personal calling or purpose in life. Perhaps they dedicate their lives to helping animals because it’s what they care about.
But the idea that the individual is inherently ego-driven is one that makes most people uneasy. Ironically, their ego would prefer to think themselves a selfless, benevolent creature who always shares their ice cream with others.
But what we often fail to realise is this:
Serving your self-interest is often the best way of serving others. The reverse is also true. Serving others is the best way to serve your self-interest.
This is not some advanced mental calisthenics or existential side-stepping. It is simply the reality of how things work.
For a restaurant owner, the best way to serve his own interest and make the most money is to serve the best quality food possible to other people at the best service possible.
For the aspiring actor, the best way to get rich and famous is to bring the largest amount of entertainment and enjoyment to as many other people as possible.
As a property investor and developer, the best way for me to serve myself and my company is to provide and manage the largest amount of comfortable and desirable homes for other people to live in.
The best way to serve yourself is to bring the most benefit to the largest number of people.
Although it’s often forgotten, this shouldn’t come to you as a surprise. If you’re in business, at some level you recognise that it’s not all about you and that your products and services have to help other people. The difficult part is where you put your focus. You can either focus on yourself and your own benefits, or focus on the people that you’re serving.
The paradox of capitalism is that the more you forget yourself and focus on others, the more self-gain you get as a side-effect. The more you focus on yourself and what you’re getting, the less you get.
It may be your business, but it’s not all about you. Who are the people that your business serves? What do they want? Why do they want it, and how do they want to get it?
If you and I put our focus on these questions instead of ourselves, we’ll be millionaires 10 times over.
So go ahead. Be as selfish as you can be. Self-serving. Self-interested. Self-motivated. Self-centered. Self-preserving.
It’s the best thing you can do for others.