Downside Of Unselfish

Over the years one of the things I’ve observed is that people are more unselfish in helping others realize their dreams than they are in realizing their own dreams.

While being unselfish with others is a good thing, we should be equally committed to achieving our own dreams. I can’t say that I fully understand this tendency, so I’m going to simply explore this behavior and it’s implications in the remainder of this post. It’s akin to me thinking aloud when I’m asked a question to which I have no ready response.

Unselfish excuses

I believe that there are a variety of reasons why we tend to favor others over ourselves when it comes to the pursuit of dreams, they include:

  • Not feeling worthy of what we dream.
  • Feeling that we don’t have the talent, or resources, to make our dream come true.
  • Feeling that we lack the background or experience to enjoy our dream.
  • Vivid memories of other unrealized dreams; dreams forgone for whatever reason.
  • Feeling that we’re being selfish when pursuing our dreams.

I’m confident that there are other reasons, but these seem to be the most common based on what I’ve observed. As I review the list I can’t help wondering: “Are these reasons or excuses?”

Are we excusing ourselves from the pursuit of our dreams, using unselfishness as our rational for not putting forth the effort to make our dreams a reality? I fear that this is all too often the case.

When these excuses are employed, it’s often because the person either:

  • Doesn’t desire the dream enough to put forth the effort to pursue it.
  • Needs someone to let them know that it’s an attainable dream.

Lacking desire

People who use an excuse to explain why they’re not pursuing a dream when, in reality, they simply don’t desire it enough to put forth the effort, risk forgoing future dreams that they really do desire. If you’re one of these folks you can avoid this risk by simply acknowledging publicly that you are interested enough to pursue the dream.

The reason why I emphasized the word “publicly” is that you avoid having people continuously bugging you about why you’re not pursuing a dream when it’s obvious to them that you are very capable of making it come true. Going public also commits you to honest self-evaluation that enables you to become comfortable with your choice.

Needing permission

One of the natural tendencies we all possess by virtue of our humanity is that we see, and give credence to, the reasons why not to do something instead of the reasons why we should. It’s a tendency that does not serve us well.

When in this mode, we often don’t act upon our dreams until someone gives us permission to pursue them. This permission often comes in the form of reminders of attributes we possess that assure success in converting our dreams into reality.

One of the ways to remove the need for someone’s permission is to list all the reasons not to pursue your dream, then in an adjacent column list the ways you can overcome that “reason” for not pursuing your dream. In other words, you become your own unselfish advocate.

Now that we have a sense for why we do what we do when we forgo dreams, let’s see how to become as unselfish with ourselves as we are with others.

For you

Whenever you find yourself about to forgo a dream, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this something I really want? Or is it simply something that would be nice to have? In other words: “Do I want it enough to put forth the effort to make this dream reality?”
  • Am I employing any of the excuses listed above to avoid pursuing my dream? If so, remind yourself that desire overwhelms feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy.
  • What would my strongest advocates say to me if they knew I was about to forgo a dream? How would they refute my “reasons” for not pursuing my dreams?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether or not to pursue a dream based on unemotional, conscious, objective analysis. Decisions made from this mindset will enable you to be happy with whatever you decide because you made your choice consciously and objectively instead of emotionally. By using this approach, you won’t feel that you’ve given up on a dream. Instead you’ll know that you simply didn’t desire the dream enough to put forth the effort to attain it. As a result, you’re more likely to pursue future dreams because you won’t feel that previous dreams eluded you.

For our kids

First and foremost, live this message. Kids tend to trust what we do over what we say.

Second, when kids indicate that they’re about to forgo a dream, ask them the questions listed above. These questions will help them understand whether their reluctance to pursue their dreams is based on a lack of desire, feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy or the need for permission from someone they trust and admire.

Once you’ve helped them make this determination, you’ll know how to help them. In the process, they’ll develop the ability to employ these questions on their own and, in doing so, develop the ability to make conscious, unemotional choices and be happy with the choices they make. In other words, they’ll be as equally unselfish with themselves as they are with others.

Click here (opens in a new link) to get future messages delivered directly to your inbox.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

Readers would love to see your thoughts and experiences in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link).

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

Follow dfurtwengler:

Latest posts from

2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, As always great insight into a complex issue. My experience suggests that the original dream doesn’t always end up being where we end up in the dream. If you avoid getting started, you may end up just wondering about what might have happened. Why not just weigh the risks and the potential reward?

    • dfurtwengler

      Good points,Bill. Not only doesn’t the original dream seldom end up being what we dreamed, we are serial dreamers. As one dream is realized, albeit in a different form than originally envisioned, we develop new dreams.

      Risk and reward are always factors to consider. Unfortunately we tend to overestimate the potential risks and underestimate the potential rewards. To me, the real key to realizing dreams is assessing the strength of your desire up front. You can accomplish that by identifying the first 3 to 5 steps you have to take to realize your dream. Then rate on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being, your willingness to perform these steps. To me, high levels of desire minimize the potential risks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *