Learning How To Be Self(ish): An UnApology


“Being self-sufficient is not selfish; it is a need.”― Elizabeth Cartwright

I am not a selfish person. At least I like to think that I’m not. In fact, I’ve been accused of being sat nonchalantly at the other end of the selfish spectrum with my own mother (and there was no malice intended in her comment) referring to me as having behaved in a particularly door-mat-manner in the past. It took me a long time to understand what she meant, and at first I thought she was just being judgmental – as many daughter’s tend to do when their mothers prod and poke at the frayed edges of something they are trying desperately to hold onto – but we fail to see that our mothers have this wonderful sixth sense. That they know us better than we know ourselves. Our father’s even more so. My Dad once told me that he didn’t know who I was anymore. Not in a horrible, shouty disappointed manner, but in more of a sad, head to one side ‘where have you gone?’ sort of observation. It wasn’t until years later that I realised exactly how much weight his words held. My father is not an overly emotional man but when he says something, its something worth saying. My parents, like most, are my biggest champions. They are the people who loves me at my most bizarre and offensive. They’d much rather I be opinionated and loud and fearless, than meek and frightened and wary, because that is not the girl they raised. I had never stopped to think that, however terrible it is to feel like you’re drowning in the world, it’s far more terrifying for The Rents to have to watch from the sidelines as you constantly bat away their offer of a lifebelt (my advice is to grab hold of this with both hands, and sooner rather than later, because there’s only so much treading water you can do before you sink).

I am a people-pleaser but I am the worst kind of people-pleaser. I can be cowardly in my decision making. I mull things over too often, too much, until they become blurred and other people’s opinions and reactions become completely skewed and taken out of context. I’ve done this to the point of not knowing or forgetting my own opinion, my own needs, wants, desires. I’ve done this to the point of making myself unwell.

Its the worst kind of behaviour because in trying to be altruistic and inoffensive, you are being selfish because you don’t want anyone to view you as a “bad person.” This is where the fear stems from. It nestles in your brain like a hidden seed, crushing your personality with newly grown, snaking roots, tendrils, stems. Its beautiful flowers are fake, like those manky bunches of plastic roses you can buy to stick in your front room. You are not doing “good” by pushing your needs aside in this way, but rather you’re causing serious damage. To everyone around you, not only yourself. “They” – the ones you care about – will have to watch you wilt when it all becomes too much. They are also the ones that have to bear the brunt of your late-night-vodka-induced-where-is-my-life-going-I-just-fell-in-a-bush phone calls when you’re making the stumble back from the pub.

I know this all sounds very dramatic but I think its important. There’s such a stigma around people – men and women – going after what they want and becoming exactly who they want to be. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked why I don’t have a boyfriend/husband/child in recent months, and when I’ve replied that I’m happy Just As I Am Thank You Very Much, and have lots of pant- wettingly exciting plans in the pipeline, they look at me like I’m making excuses. ‘Oh, good for you,’ they say with THE FACE.

Yeah. Good for me. Actually.

I want those things, I think. Eventually. Just not right now. I’m not ready. Stick me back in the oven a bit longer.

I know I want to be so much more, do so much more, and I am OK with saying this. I am not ashamed to say I WANT and I support all those wonderfully bright and funny people I know and love – and those I haven’t met yet – who want the same things. Or not the same things, but just something else for them, be it a new job, house, ending a relationship, whatever. All of these wants and needs are important if it will eventually make you happy.

This blog post is not the product of too many glasses of wine (I’ve had one) and a self-indulgent few minutes listening to the “Self-Flagellation” playlist you and your housemate concocted (Yes. This is a real thing, usually followed by “taking it to the Kitchen Floor”) but a slightly hostile outcry after A Week Where People Have Questioned Or Tried to Alter My Decisions. It has actually been one of those weeks where Haters have crawled out of the woodwork getting all mean and hurtful up in my grill (That MIC quote from Lucy NEVER gets old. NEVER).

I wont go into the details – I’m not that kind of person. Lets just say the new and improved Emma does not enjoy the sort of making-me-feel-in-the-wrong BS, but she’s also happy to let that shit lay to rest. As I said to my friend: ‘That ship has sailed, been ransacked by pirates, set on fire and sank to the bottom of ocean where it belongs.’ Nuff said.

Instead I’m going to write my SELF(ish) MANIFESTO and lay it out for all y’all to see. I am not ashamed to say these are The Things That I Want, and I am not afraid to go after them anymore.

  • I want to be a Writer. Yes its a real thing. Yes I want to write for teenagers. No I will not be writing Twilight or anything where vampires snog in the woods. When you’re a teenager, snogging in the woods is not glamorous. It usually occurs in the rain where you resemble a drowned rat, and he is not a diamond-bodied Adonis like Edward – oh no – but that boy in year 10 that smells like B&H Silver and has a wonky eye. Yes, it would be nice to be JK Rowling with all her money hahahaha. SERIOUSLY PEOPLE ITS GETTING OLD. I am not reckless nor am I delusional. I am ambitious and somewhat of a dreamer. I intend to stay that way.
  • I want to go Travelling. On my own. I might even go to India. On my own. God forbid. I’m going in January. I’m saving like a machine and I’ve got a date and itinerary in mind. Aren’t you proud of me? I’m going to see the world and make lots of mistakes and enjoy myself as much as I can because LIFE IS FUCKING SHORT and in some countries the sun actually shines! I’m so excited.
  • I want to be Fearless. I refuse to stay away from places I once loved to avoid conflict/make other’s lives easier. I have just as much right to do the things I want to and go to the places I love. I have been the great-avoider these past few years but I’m done.
  • I want to be Happy. Life can suck and be incredibly cruel. People are taken away from us too soon and we are left to make sense of the world. But it can also be beautiful, full of laughter and ridiculousness and possibilities. A job is just a job. If it sucks, leave it, get a different one. There’s a whole wide world out there that’s full of amazing things.

The contrast between self-affirmation and selfishness has become a conflictual arena. There’s a very fine line between how we perceive someone as putting themselves first and that person actually lacking empathy for our situation/feelings etc. We’ve all been there. Find me a person who has never been mad at a friend/spouse for doing something they wanted to do rather than doing something we want them to do.

I like to look at it like this: I am not a bad person. I am not infallible. I am not an angel. I make mistakes. Lots of them. Some of them hilarious. Some of them not so much. I am a person. I am a person who loves my friends and family. Very much. Sometimes I will be bad tempered. Sometimes I will be afraid. Sometimes I will be stark-raving-cray.

Because I am complex and I am OK with that.

I am SELF(ish).

Time to write your manifesto!