Two and a half weeks ago, during the last few hours of my last day of work at my old workplace, my boss and I had a chat. Perhaps interpretating my decision to move onto a bigger organisation as ambitious and thus worrying about me being overly focused on my career, she advised me not to make work the centre of my life and neglect everything else such as starting my own family. I immediately dismissed her concern with a wave of my hand and assured her that work has never been and will never been my top priority in my life, and that it is at most a fifth or a sixth.

I had blurted out the figures without much thought. I had never given a serious thought to the importance of work in my life. I simply thought that work would merely deserve at most that much. However, now my boss was curious to know what would rank before work for me. I already had the answer at the bottom of my heart and I replied, “Myself, my family and my friends”. I couldn’t give a fourth, so we decided that that would probably be where work could come in.       

I had just given an overall description of the conversation, but the actual scenerio was that the moment “myself” came out from my mouth, my boss was kind of taken aback and flabbergasted at my answer and said, “Wait a minute, you mean yourself?” To which, I had looked her firmly in the eyes and replied, “Yes, that would be myself.”

If I had heard that from someone maybe two years ago, I would have regarded that person as self-centred. Now I cannot imagine why others put people other than themselves as their top priority in life.

I fail to pinpoint a specific time in my life when my thinking changed but I would say that it was most likely to be in the last one or two years. You may wonder if something had happened. Nothing did, I guess. My mind has numerous switches and sometimes, without any prior warning or sign, something just clicks, and the circuit is now closed and electricity flows. For the Chinese, we would call it “顿悟”. Of course, that doesn’t just occur on its own. I’m constantly thinking about something. It’s like talking to yourself in your head. Arranging your thoughts. Often, I understand something new in the process and I start to see life in a slightly different light. This is important to me. I think this is what life is about – discovering yourself and making sense out of life.

More than five years ago, I read an article by a famous Taiwanese author which said that we ourselves are the most important people in our own lives, and that no matter what we do, it is always for ourselves. It claimed that even when we are doing something which makes people we love happy, it is in reality for our own sake, because when they are happy, we are happy. Ultimately, it is all about ourselves. All my life, I had placed my family, in particular my mum, as my first priority in my life, followed by my friends. I had considered people who placed themselves before others as self-centred, selfish and egoistic. I could never have imagined myself being one of them, which was why I completely disregarded the article even though the author is one of my favourites.

Looks like I’ve spoken too early. In the past one or two years, however, perhaps as I get a better grasp of my personal identity and make better sense out of life in general, I start to acknowledge the fact that we should be the centre of our own lives. Maybe seeing how people around me make themselves miserable and screw their own lives because they place others before themselves helps too.

Honestly, why shouldn’t we be the most important person in our own lives?    

I mean, it is our own lives, isn’t it? Whatever that we feel or experience, happiness, sadness, pain, misery, we are the ones who feel all of it. Sure, people around us can feel or share it with us, but never the full load, always just a small part of it. When the world crashes down and it is a bloody mess to clear up, sure, people who love us may help, but they can never make everything go away completely. It is still always up to us to face the music and clear up our own mess. Don’t they always say that we have to take responsibility of our own lives? Since it is our own lives to start with and we are at the centre of our own lives, why shouldn’t we be the most important person in it?

Perhaps we are just afraid to think this way, to admit it, because it seems selfish and self-centred. It seems wrong. But is it really wrong?  

I will be the first one to stand up and say that it is not.

I am no longer ashamed to say that I’m the most important person in my life and that whatever I do, it is what I want, and whatever decision I make is my own. It will not be due to anyone else. Not because it is what is expected of me, or what I am supposed to do or be. Fortunately this is a lot easier for me to accomplish because my family and friends do not force their own thinking onto me. Neither do they make me do what pleases them even if it’s against my own will. I have always felt that people who truly care about you will not expect anything from you, and likewise, I’ve always tried to do the same for them even though I will admit that it is harder than it sounds. I have seen too many people getting unhappy because they cannot do what they really want as they are too concerned about what others think, or they think that they have to do what is expected from them. There is no time in life for you to spend in misery. You can just drop dead and die tomorrow. Will you want to go with a regret that you should have followed your own heart and be happy instead of being someone else’s puppet and a miserable one at that?

Making yourself the centre of your life is not the same as self-centreness. There is nothing selfish about placing yourself as the top priority in your life. It is not asking you to neglect others completely. You still care about people, you still wish to make them happy, but never at the expense of your own. Even if there is something you need to give up, do it only because you can and you will, not because you have to or are expected to or told to. There is a difference, no matter how subtle it sounds, and the difference felt is nothing subtle as the latter will never make you feel at ease and happy.  

It turned out that my boss was surprised only because she had not expected such an answer from me. Similarly she places herself at the top of her own priority list, and that was supposed to be her advice to me, but it appeared that I had already known so in my own way. 🙂 

(from Getty Images)