Zak of All Trades: I'm really self-centered — and you might be too

I've been doing a lot of thinking and self-evaluating lately, with the new year and all. And looking back on the year, one of the things that has stood out the most is that I'm selfish.

And quite honestly, I don't exactly think that being selfish — or maybe self-centered is the better descriptor — is necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, as the title of the column suggests, I think you might be self-centered too. (Please, don't take it personally; I think we all are, really! And if we can keep it in check, I don't even think it's necessarily a bad thing.)

I suppose I should explain before I tick anybody off.

It started with thinking back on some of the highlights of my year. 2013 had some great moments to reflect on — moving into my house, welcoming my handsome nephew into the world and sharing Christmas with him and his family.

But the highlight that got me to thinking about my own self-centeredness came in the woods in the last month of the year, when I shot my first buck.

Now, it wasn't the act of shooting the buck itself that made me think I was self-centered. It was the thought process of being respectful to Mother Nature and her ways.

When I started thinking about that deer, and all the others who were with him that day, it made me realize that their only goal each and every day when they wake up is to survive — to get by.

Survival isn't something that we think about all that much anymore, I would guess.

We aren't faced with the reality of starvation (though it is still a very real problem globally) and even in sub-zero temperatures like those we had this week, we are able to stay warm enough to live another day thanks to technological advances in heating systems and insulation.
Uncomfortable? Certainly! Survival itself rarely crosses our minds, though.

But that doesn't mean we're not still wired like the survivalists in the animal kingdom.

The fact that I'm wired for survival — wired to get by — added to a conversation I had recently with a good friend that led me to fully support this idea — the one about me being self-centered.

You know me, I like my lists. Good news: This is a short list. It's only got two points that I think I need to come to in order to successfully live with the fact that I am self-centered. Then, perhaps, if you can associate with me, even a little bit, on the self-centeredness, maybe they'll help you too.

1. I think about myself a lot: This is really at the center of the point, because it's what being self-centered means, really.

Self-centeredness means that I'm spending a lot of time thinking about myself, and when I sit down to think about it — ironically, I have to do so, because I'm so good at it that I don't even notice I'm thinking about myself — I really do think about myself a lot.

Thinking about ourselves — as long as it's not done in a vain effort to "look good" or impress people — isn't a bad thing. We have to think about ourselves to a certain degree.

Most would definitely agree that if I immediately switch to thinking about other people and other things as soon as I wake up and I skip my morning routine of showering and taking care of my teeth, I'm not making the world a better place.

So, there is certainly a place for the animal instinct to take care of ourselves that we still live with. We have to think of ourselves to get by.

But just as is the case in most areas, when it comes to thinking of ourselves, it's "all things in moderation."

If I allow my self-centeredness to get out of hand, I become "selfish." See, that definition of selfish has quotation marks, because it's what the world thinks of when I say selfish.

Actually being selfish isn't a terrible thing, because we all have to think about what we need to do to get by — physically, emotionally, spiritually and every other way possible. But being perceived as selfish is a terrible thing, isn't it?

And being "selfish," at least in my own experience, is often tied to the second point, which I didn't come up with on my own. It came up in a conversation with a good friend, and it has stuck with me and came back when I was reflecting on those deer and their quest for survival.

2. Other people don't think about me as much as I think they do: Now, this may seem like something that I need to realize about other people, but it's actually something I need to realize about myself.

There is nothing that the people I run into on a daily basis do that would make me think, "Holy cow, they're making all of their decisions based on what effect they would have on me." And yet, I often find myself thinking that anyhow.

If someone pulls out in front of me when I'm in a hurry and has the audacity to drive five mph below the speed limit, I'm certain that they did it just to tick me off.

If someone is talking too loudly at work while I'm trying to proofread, I assume that they're doing it just to trip my trigger.

If someone at the grocery store talks to the clerk for a few seconds after they take their receipt, I assume it's a conspiracy theory to slow me down and make me late for whatever appointment I was already running late for.

When I honestly evaluate these situations and the others similar to them, it becomes obvious — and does so quickly — that these people weren't really out to get me. Their actions and decisions, in many of the cases, have nothing to do with me.

And even in the bigger situations, when they do have something to do with me, I usually assume that my role is much greater in the decision-making process.

We all want a little bit of control — over our lives and over the decisions others make that affect our lives — but we can't always get that. And the fact that it drives me crazy, I think, is proof that I'm self-centered.

Now, this column isn't just my confessional booth. I write a lot about myself here in hopes that the realizations I'm making about myself might strike a chord with some of my readers and maybe even inspire them to think about resolving to make some of the changes I'm considering making with myself.

And as much as I hate to say it — for fear of upsetting someone — I would bet that you're selfish and self-centered too.

Now, remember, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I want you to take care of yourself, and I want you to survive — get by — as best you can. And part of doing so means being selfish. Please be selfish in those ways.

But I think where being "selfish" — or being the type that others would call a selfish person — comes in is when we're faced with the the realization that we are self-centered and we refuse to believe it.

Self-awareness, it turns out, is the key to living self-centeredly in a world that demands that I interact with and "get by" with others. And if I'm not self-aware of the fact that I'm self-centered and selfish, I'm going to have a lot more trouble getting by and making the relationships that I need to get by.

So, since I believe we're doomed to live self-centeredly and selfishly, I suppose the most responsible thing we can do is take time to reflect on it every so often — the more often, the better, I think — and make sure that we take it into account when we're making our decisions. A little bit of self-awareness can go a long way.

Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit and has been self-centered for as long as he can remember.