When it comes to crushing your career aspirations, being a team player is important. Not only will it help your colleagues and company, but you’ll prove you’re a solid collaborator who can work well with others toward a common goal.
As awesome as being this kind of employee is, it comes with a surprising risk; being too generous with your time and energy can cause you to lose sight of your personal values, miss opportunities, and de-prioritize your health.
Studies show that people who are appropriately selfish tend to fare well at work. So we asked professionals how they put themselves first in their working lives.
1. Finish Your Work on Time
“When people ask for recommendations or managers are considering promoting you, one of the first things they’ll look for is your ability to meet deadlines,” Erika Ashley, a business strategist who works with female entrepreneurs, reminds us. “If you spend all your time helping coworkers or prioritizing your clients so much that you don’t have the opportunity to focus on your own growth and productivity? You’re the only person who’ll end up being disappointed in the end.”
Katherine Power, the CEO and co-founder of Clique, swears by saying no. “I once heard this advice from another CEO: ‘Only do what only you can do.’ This might sound idealistic to some. But it means saying no to the less important tasks — and it’s up to you to determine what those are — and prioritizing your work and life. Understand what you do best. Focus on that.”
2. Protect Your Time
“I will happily give my time, attention, or energy for people or causes that can benefit me in the future. After all, it’s important to lead with value and generosity when establishing relationships,” Ashley says. “But if someone can’t be clear about the value they can bring me? Well, they haven’t shown me why it’s worthwhile for me to interact with them. It’s nothing personal; I’m just busy. And in order to respect my time, I need to be sparing about who I give it to.”
3. Stay on Track
Nicole Swartz, founder and attorney at Sprout Law, tells us that when you take care of yourself and your work projects first, you’ll have much less time to get caught up in office drama or toxic work culture clashes. “Because, while everyone else is caught up in who did or said what, you’ll be laser-focused on what matters.”
4. Banish Burnout
Keeping a pulse on how you feel and how you’re progressing toward your north star is a surefire way to preserve your time and energy before you have a chance to burn out. Saving your energy for the tasks on your list will help you preserve your attention and focus. It will also keep on your own track can be key to ensuring you have enough personal time.
“When you finish your work on time, you can go home and spend more time on valuable self-care at night,” Swartz offers. “You’ll keep yourself healthy, refreshed, and ready to take on work the next day!”
Mary Pharris, director of partnerships at Fairygodboss, agrees. “Burnout is real. So it’s important to create established boundaries that allow you to get your work done and protect your personal time so you can recharge. So, being selfish in this way will only make you a better employee.”
5. Stay Healthy
Pum Lefebure, the chief creative officer and co-founder of creative agency Design Army, says that being selfish at work goes hand in hand with staying healthy. “To truly be successful, you have to first take care of your mind and body. When just starting out in my career (and for many years after), I didn’t make my health a priority. I’ve since shifted priorities. I have found a better balance, and now have more energy to give to my staff and clients.” In addition to her improved health, Lefebure credits being selfish with helping her be more productive, focused, and efficient — and happier.
Sarah Robb O’Hagan, the CEO of Flywheel Sports, echoes Lefebure. “I believe there is a correlation between physical strength and mental and emotional courage and resilience. The stronger you are, the bolder you will feel. So, how does a great day at work start? With the selfish act of a great workout to get your body, heart, and mind in the game.”
6. Think More Creatively
Having more time also means you can really dive into each of your work projects or problems you’re responsible for solving. “With this space to think, you’re more likely to brainstorm and develop creative solutions to problems that you haven’t figured out yet,” Swartz says.
7. Actually Get What You Want
Being selfish is a key component when it comes to getting what you want at work, be it a title, salary, project, or something else. “When I set aside what I thought would be allowed, or what I thought others would think, I negotiated a work-from-home arrangement one day a week. Then and there, I was able to work on more projects that I had a passion for,” Amanda Berlin, a communications consultant for entrepreneurs, explains. Know how you work best and treat yourself well enough to ask for it.
8. Grow and Improve
Karilyn Dearie, hiring manager and career expert at CV Genius, says being selfish can help you grow and improve. “In order to tackle personal goals and accelerate one’s own success, a degree of selfishness is essential,” she notes. “We often neglect our own self-improvement. Wy prioritize the improvement of others; so it’s time to realize that we deserve to be our own priority.”
9. Set an Example
Believe it or not, being selfish can also inspire others. “When it comes to women in the workplace, the reality is that we’re in the midst of an important transition,” Dearie says.
“The efforts women at work make today will set the stage for how females are treated in the future. Women need to say ‘sorry’ less, say ‘no’ more, and be selfish when it serves their own professional betterment.”
For this post, we’d like to thank our friends at Levo.