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How to Exercise Selflessness - Leading in Your Twenties Series

Selfishness or Selflessness - practice makes perfect!

On our best days, most people will look in the mirror and realize they did something selfish that day. Selfishness is part of our human nature. Beyond that, selfishness becomes more and more ingrained in our character as the years go on. Why? Because practice makes perfect!

Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series of 12 blogs written directly to the Twenty-Somethings. This is about you and your future. As you read these blogs, please share them with other people who want ideas on how to lead now and how to develop the Twenty-Something Leaders of our future.

Each time we choose to be selfish, it makes it easier to be selfish again. You may think of yourself as a selfless person, but do your choices show you to be something else? Do you:

  • Expect something in return after you help a friend?

  • Walk past a need because it would be inconvenient to stop?

  • Wait for others to volunteer for the tough jobs?

  • Ask yourself, "How will this help me?" before you decide on taking action?

Selfishness and Selflessness in Your Twenties

Who do you want to follow? Someone who only helps others when it's convenient? Or someone who will exercise Selflessness despite his/her own needs, desires or convenience? It does not take a title for you to be a servant leader. All it takes is for you to serve the needs of others even when you would rather be doing something else.

Andersons' 12 Word (or less) Definition of Selflessness

Putting the needs of others before my own needs, desires, or convenience.

Let's face it. The opportunities to exercise Selflessness rarely present themselves when it is convenient. Your character is almost always tested at the most inconvenient times. The question then becomes, "What will you choose? Selfishness or Selflessness?"

I don't believe selfishness is a generational issue as some people like to claim. We are dealing with a battle inside of everyone no matter what their age may be. It is a battle between our inherently selfish nature and the greater good of being selfless.

How do you win the battle? By making consistent, daily choices to be selfless. The opportunities to exercise Selflessness in big ways are advertised in your inbox or on your television everyday. You could run a 5K for charity or give money to wounded veterans periodically for the rest of your life and still be selfish.

Those grand gestures are nice and can help people. But they do not always have a lasting effect on your character because they lack frequency and consistency. You would never expect to get in shape if you only went to the gym once a month. The same is true when you decide to exercise Selflessness.

Exercise Selflessness - At School

Being selfless does not mean you have to give away a lot of money or even spend every weekend volunteering for a good cause. But the opportunities to exercise Selflessness occur everyday on campuses.

  • Clean up your roommate's dinner dishes without complaining.

  • Help a professor straighten the room up after class ends.

  • Take class notes for someone who is home sick.

  • Volunteer to do the largest part of the project for your group.

Exercise Selflessness - At Work

Once you leave college, it can seem like everyone is just looking out for "Number One" at work. But you can be different. You can be a servant leader in simple ways that will build your character and set the example for others.

  • Give credit to others when the team does well.

  • Offer to help someone at work who is struggling at a task.

  • Volunteer to do something nobody else wants to do.

  • Take time to mentor "the new guy/girl".

Exercise Selflessness - Day to Day

Everyday life gives us opportunities to exercise Selflessness. Each time we choose to put the needs of others before our own needs, desires, and convenience, we are building a habit that will help us become the Leaders of Character people want to follow.

  • Park at the far end of the parking lot so others can have the best spots.

  • Help a single mom load her groceries in the car while she straps in her kids.

  • Give up your seat on the train/bus to someone else who may need it more.

  • Yield the right of way to another car that needs to pull out into traffic.

Becoming a Leader of Character does not take a PhD or some extra certification. It takes an individual who realizes that the role of the leader is to serve others. Who do you want to follow? The person who always thinks of themself first or the selfless Leader of Character who is in the habit of serving others.

Preparing to lead is more about developing your character than anything else. That preparation is up to you. What are your choices preparing you for - selfishness or Selflessness? With every choice you make, you are exercising one or the other. Who you are - your character - is determined by your choices.


  • What other daily opportunities to serve others do you encounter?

  • Who are you going to encounter today that you could serve?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

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