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A Multi-Generational Perspective - Feeling Selfish In A Crisis

I am aware that others are facing larger challenges than I am during this COVID-19 pandemic.  This makes me ask myself, “Why am I so upset about my own situation?” We often take a self-centered approach to life.  We may even feel a sense of guilt when we get wrapped up in our own trials. Yet, we struggle with dwelling on them. But is this healthy or not? When it comes to the idea of crisis comparison—it is healthy to explore the deeper root of what we are thinking and feeling.

During the pandemic and in an era of social distancing, isolation can flood our minds with a negative perspective.  We know it isn’t healthy, but self-focused thoughts cycle. This is not a generational issue.  It is a human issue. Yet, as I discuss these topics with my son Jake, who is 23—we have learned a lot from each other.

Gen Z and Millennials have a reputation for being socially-oriented. They desire change in order to create a better future for everyone.  Studies show older generations tend to see things from a more personal perspective. They see the world as it relates immediately to them and their loved ones. Personal goals, career goals and success are big drivers for Gen X and Boomers. 

Neither perspective is wrong.  Neither group has an exclusive insight on the right approach during these times.  But, both groups have an opportunity to exercise Selflessness.

Why is Selflessness so important in today’s world?  Let’s start with Jake’s insight and hear his point of view.

Jake’s Perspective:

One of the strangest feelings during this pandemic, is my own sense of guilt. I feel guilty dwelling on my problems which might seem small compared to others. I have a lot to be grateful for. I am healthy. I am comfortable at home. My family has been shielded from the brunt of the crisis. I ask myself, “Why do I let my problems bother me when things could be so much worse? Am I being selfish?”

Yet, as I process, I recognize everyone has lost something—even me. Maybe it was “only” prom or a vacation. Maybe it was a job or a graduation. But these things were still valued and important moments or milestones. It is okay to be honest about how we feel when we lose them.

It’s okay to grieve the things we have lost. It is important we take time to heal our own pains. As we do so in a healthy way—it frees us to be able to exercise Selflessness and serve others.

  • Take time to acknowledge the pain you feel. You’re allowed to hurt. It is normal to feel like life is not going the way you wanted it to go. Taking time to admit what is most painful can help us find perspective.

  • Recognize the areas of your life you are grateful for. Are you and your family healthy? Do you still have a job? Can you still pay your bills? If the answer is yes, pause for a moment of thankfulness. Maybe none of those things are true, and that’s okay too. Take the time to acknowledge those losses. When you are ready, rebuild. Though it will take time and requires extra energy to rebuild—as that happens weave thankfulness into each hurdle you have achieved. It is worth celebrating.

  • Find ways to support others who are struggling. Being there for your friends and family is an act of Selflessness. Call those you care about and check in on them. Once the crisis is over, can you volunteer in any meaningful way to help others rebuild?

My dad always talks about how Selflessness and Positivity are closely linked.  His perspective has helped me to continue to work through my own sense of loss and disappointment.

A Dad’s Point of View

Here is my confession.  I have struggled recently with Selflessness and Positivity.  I am career-oriented. The goals I set for myself and our company, Becoming a Leader of Character, are on hold. I found myself so focused on missing those goals that I fell into negativity for a few days. Ironically, I was writing and publishing blogs on Positivity. In the midst of writing those blogs, I succumbed to my own selfishness and negativity.

I was not in a good place.  I knew I was doing exactly what I have always told Jake and his sister, Samantha, not to do.  I needed “wins” to lift my spirits, but they weren’t coming. This made me internalize each loss and led me to feel like a failure. But, a team member asked me a great question: “What does a daily ‘win’ mean to you, Dave?”

When I heard that question I realized I had an opportunity to pivot. What if a “win” for me was having a positive impact on the lives of others? What if it came down to me believing it was a good day if I exercised Selflessness? In these strange times, I know I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on somebody each day.  We define Selflessness as, “Putting the needs of others before our own needs, desires, or convenience.”  

When I refocused, my attitude changed. I realized I needed to switch my attention to what I could do for others. This pivot gave me the ability to feel like a winner again. I clawed my way out of my cloud of self-pity and emerged in a much better place.  It took a hard look in the mirror to be able to stop comparing myself to others and choose to serve instead. As I did, I recognized a few things I could do and welcome you to join me:

  • Look around you:  See what gifts you have been given in life and be thankful. Some of the gifts we have been given are due to our age and experience.  The tough times we have lived are opportunities for us to help others. Share how you felt in the past and offer perspective on what that time taught you.

  • Take more time with others:  Give the gift of your time to someone else - even when it feels inconvenient to do so. Listen to their stories longer than you want to listen.

  • Reach out:  Don’t wait for people to contact you.  Contact them.  Go through your list of old friends and colleagues.  Set a time to call someone on your work team each day.  Then, focus your conversations on them and their needs.

Selflessness and Positivity are intertwined just as selfishness and negativity are. Remember, we are not bad people if we forget to think of others due to personal pain or disappointment. It is a natural reaction to any crisis.  But, what separates Leaders of Character is the ability to pivot away from self-centeredness.  We make choices to focus on others.  We choose to exercise Selflessness. As we do, we leave a legacy and become the Leaders of Character we are all called to be – even during a crisis.

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