The Positivity of Self Interest

January 19, 2021

David Jaques

Mental health

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No one likes a selfish person that only thinks of themselves and has little or no regard for others or their feelings. The most extreme version of selfishness is a narcissist; a person that only talks about themselves, believes that they are superior, demands praise, and has a general sense of entitlement. Such people never take accountability for their actions and believe that any mistake they make is the fault of someone else. 

Narcissism or general selfishness is not a healthy state of mind and can often be symptomatic of other psychological disorders. While such people are able to function in society, they may find themselves without friends and have difficulty in forming meaningful relationships. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the altruist, who would always put another person’s interest ahead of their own and will often dedicate their life to serving others. Sadly, people that take no priority for themselves, can be taken advantage of. 

But what about a healthy level of self-interest and giving yourself enough priority to make you stronger? Those of us that are frequent flyers are familiar with the safety demonstrations that take place on the ground before every flight takes off. Part of that demonstration is the wise instruction that if the overhead oxygen masks are deployed, that you should fix your own mask first before helping others. This is counter intuitive for any parent traveling with a young child, or anyone traveling with an elderly or infirm friend or family member. Instinctively, a parent would want to help their child before helping themselves, but this is a true case of where helping yourself first will give you the oxygen needed, and the strength and ability to help your traveling companion. The same is true in many aspects of life. If you take the time to do something for yourself, it can make you a stronger person where you can better support or help those that you love or those that rely on you. 

How about the typical life of a working parent? Of course, there’s really no such thing as typical, because everyone has different demands and responsibilities on them, but here is an example of what a working parent’s day might look like: Wake up in the morning, prepare breakfast and pack lunch for the kids, take a shower, drop off the kids at school, go to work and put in a full day of effort. In the evening, arrange for the kids to be picked up from school, stop at the supermarket on the way home to pick up ingredients for dinner, make dinner, clean up, help the kids with homework and get them to bed. Suddenly it’s 9:00 PM, and the poor parent has done nothing to benefit his or her self during the day.  This person would be seen as a dedicated parent that wants the best for their children and puts their needs ahead of their own every time; and such a person would never be perceived as selfish. 

Even without children in the picture, many of us have demanding jobs, work long hours and travel for work. Even in the days of COVID-19, where commute time for many has been eliminated, the screen fatigue at the end of the day can be more exhausting than the demands of a more conventional workday. 

In the workforce, a highly dedicated employee is seen as a dependable asset to their employer, who puts the needs of the company first and does whatever it takes to do an outstanding job; win the promotion or the bonus payment that they rightly deserve and build a stepping stone to the next launch of their career. Many of us have been in this position, or know someone that behaves this way, who will cancel an evening with friends at short notice, because they need to work late to meet a deadline. While this is understandable and necessary at times, if done too often, those friends may stop inviting you, and other pleasurable activities in life will be pushed to the bottom of your priority list. 

These images of a selfless person that is dedicated to their family, their job, or both, does not necessarily depict a strong person; as anyone that unflinchingly puts the needs of others ahead of their own, can find themselves being a slave to others that is unreasonably relied upon because they never say no. Finding ourselves in these situations often happens over time, such that we don’t realize how trapped we become until we take a step back and ask ourselves why we are feeling discontent or unhappy. 

Putting some priority and emphasis on yourself will not only expand your mind, or give you a healthier body, it will generally make you a stronger person. If you have an idea for writing a book or a passion to learn something new, prioritize an hour a day to proudly immerse yourself in that activity. By taking the time to exercise early in the morning, going to the gym during the day or after work, or spending time doing any activity that you enjoy, you will find that the satisfaction you get from your activity will give you more energy, more self-esteem and more ability to help those that need you. I met recently with a friend who lives alone with her dog, and was reflecting how she was always incredibly busy with work, helping her ageing parents and doing charity work. Again, most definitely not a selfish person. “What type of activity makes you happy?” I asked.  She thought for a moment, smiled, and replied “To shut down my computer for an afternoon, make a pot of tea and a sandwich, and sit on the couch with a good book”. I then asked how long it had been since she had done that. This time she thought quite seriously, and said that it had probably been about a year. “Why so long?” I asked; and she reflected again on her busy life, in which she had no time. She had conditioned herself into what she should be doing, rather than what she wanted to be doing. 

Making the time for your own self-interest is not always easy, but it can be done. No one will judge you if you follow a personal interest or activity, and you may actually be admired for what you achieve. Don’t be bashful to take compliments for your personal achievements. While caring about others is a desirable human trait, caring about yourself is as much, if not more important and truly can make you stronger and happier.


Hi, I’m David. I’m from London, but after living in New York and Amsterdam, I settled in Silicon Valley, California where I’ve lived since 1994. From the relatively safe life of working for a global bank like Barclays, I became fascinated by startup companies, innovation and ways in which the world could be changed for the better. So I opened my mind, became a risk taker and a life-long learner.

As founding CFO of PayPal, Treasurer at Silicon Valley Bank and Director at Blue Run Ventures, I’ve been recognised by the global Fintech community as a pioneer in the payments industry. I have served on the boards of public and private companies as well as a couple of non-profit organisations.

But what about me? Well, I like running, skiing and mountain climbing in my free time; plus, I love to travel and see the world. I have two adult children, a wonderful wife, some cats and a harrier puppy.

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