Finding God's Winning Spirit

Me First: The Centered Self

January 5, 2015 | Greg Smith | Focus


A decade or so ago I traveled around the country teaching customer satisfaction for a company that monitored such things. During my presentation I would always hand out buttons to the audience – a red button that read “Me First”.  I would request that the each participant put on their button as I moved on with the presentation. Invariably, I would notice that a significant number of the participants had not put on their buttons so I would stop and inquire as to why. The typical answer I received was that wearing such a button made them feel “selfish” or “self-centered”. I usually responded with, “those two terms are not always synonymous”.  

I'm not sure where this subtle disdain for "self" came from but it is alive and well. Somewhere along the way we were told that if we stopped to think, evaluate or take care of ourselves, we were being selfish or even sinful. I can tell you from a therapeutic point of view that finding purpose and peace in life starts with a good evaluation of self.  

Before I try to convince you to embrace your-“self” let’s be real clear about the difference between being “narcissistic” (selfish) and my use of “self-centered”. Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one's own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.

On the other hand, being self “centered” here is about personal awareness and ownership of who we are, what we need and how we go about getting what we need. Self-centered here is about being personally anchored and balanced. Believe me, if we were to be totally honest about who we are no one could accuse us of self-worship (narcissism).

This kind of “self-awareness” is certainly important when it comes to customer satisfaction. It is human (or fallen) nature for a starving person to be fixated on feeding themselves before they feed others. The plain truth is that we cannot really focus on, or take care of, the needs of others if we are distraught, empty or distracted ourselves. Typically, “the unsatisfied self” is unable to satisfy the customer. That’s OK.

Now that I think about it, we have been warned about this “bad self” all our lives. Every athlete remembers a coach preaching that “there is no I in team”. Well, in retrospect I have realized that even though there is no I in team there certainly is an M&E. I would argue that a good team is made up of members that take care of their individual roles and assignments; that being "self-focused" here is really about personal responsibility and accountability.  The athlete who spends time worrying about the performance of teammates, more often than not, misses something of their own.

In one sense nothing is more important to an athlete than themselves. I tell athletes all the time that the only constant in any competition is them. They can evaluate and tweak many variables when it comes to performance but if they are personally out of balance it affects everything else.  This is also true in everything outside of sports. Someone once said, “If your world stinks check your shoes”. In sports, as in life, all things spring from the platform of self.

I can tell you from doing a lot of marriage counseling that if each partner would focus first on “self” (personal accountability) things would go better. Pointing fingers and accusing one another never moves a relationship forward. The key here is to focus on “what I can do to help the relationship” as opposed to “what I do not get”- “what can I do right” is always more powerful than “what you did wrong”. One sense of self here takes responsibility and ownership while the other simply blames. The thought that true happiness only comes from what someone else could or should do is unrealistic, and many times, is simply the shirking of one’s responsibility.

I know that this word-play between “selfish” and “self-centered” appears to be simple semantics and I am guilty of using the Me First thing to simply start a conversation.  But in my defense I believe it is a conversation that we as Christians need to have. “Self- centered” (understanding who we are and being personally accountable) is not only important as we deal with others it is paramount in our Christian life and relationship with God.

The Bible, and Jesus specifically, have some clear and enlightening things to say about “self” (Matthew 7:3-5 for instance). We will look at what Jesus says about Me First next week in Part 2.  In the mean time I have just ordered more Me First buttons; email me your mailing address and I will send you one.


Very good application for all of us!
Posted by Joelene Vickers on
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