I got to thinking about self-interest the other day. I was interested to note that I immediately saw it as a bad thing – I saw it as selfish.

It’s easy to see why, I remember growing up and hearing people talk about someone being “too self-interested” and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have heard this phrase thrown around, and had come to a similar conclusion that I had. Self-interest seemed to be the trait of someone who was greedy and would take advantage of others.

But having some time with the thought of this I came to realise a couple of very important things – we are all self-interested. But even more important than that, is that our own self-interest is necessary for our ability to be of the highest possible service to others.

In fact, without self-interest nothing would be achieved – EVER!

Your self-interest is actually your gift to those around you. It is through your self-interest that you grow and evolve in your learning, your values and beliefs. Only by accessing your self-interest, can you become a valued member of your family, peer group and society in general.

The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “We naturally have self-interest but it should be wise rather than foolish self-interest by taking others needs into account as well as ours.”

I take his meaning to be that while we are all naturally self-interested, there are two extremes of it. On one extreme, we are self-interested at the expense of others. We look for win/lose scenarios, and interestingly enough we don’t always have to be the winner with this way of thinking. Seeking a win/lose scenario at all sits in the realms of selfish or selfless.

Now, it’s fair to assume that everyone understands the ugliness of selfishness. It’s one of the fastest ways to get people offside. But unenlightened selflessness is actually not to anyone’s benefit either and can lead to a spiritual rot. There is a difference between putting others first and putting yourself last.

History has shown us that a mother will often spend a lot of time serving others. With newborns, so much attention is paid to their wellbeing – after all, they are helpless and completely reliant on the mother for so many things. But to take care of the newborn to her best capacity, it is in the mother’s best self-interest that she takes care of herself.

She must take care of her health so that the children receive the best nourishment they possibly can. She must take care of her physical wellbeing to be able to cope with the strains and pressures of motherhood. The father must take care of himself both physically and mentally so that he may be able to support the mother and be the best father he can be.

In this very small example, self-interest is one of the underlying factors helping to drive towards the best possible outcome for all. The other side of the coin is that if the mother doesn’t take care of herself, then the health of the child suffers. Complete selflessness leaves her unable to sufficiently care for the child. Complete selfishness leaves her child helpless, under-nourished and in a world of trouble.

Once again, it seems that balance is rearing its head again!

Balanced self-interest will serve you AND others. Imbalanced self-interest will serve one or the other.

There are plenty of examples outside of child-rearing that clearly illustrate how important and healthy enlightened self-interest is.

Education. Furthering your education takes self-interest. Further education can lead to a better income to be able to support your family. It brings a better understanding of yourself and the world around you – giving you a greater ability to serve those close to you.

Employment. Seeking to climb higher up the ladder requires self-interest; it also takes ambition. Employment can also be an outlet for our passions – working in an industry that we love. This is self-interest.

Rest and recreation. It is in our best enlightened self-interest that we take care of ourselves both physically and spiritually. Taking time out and possibly getting away from it all is driven by self-interest. Because if you don’t balance your work with some down-time, then you become less efficient and begin to feel stuck and resentful. It is in your best self-interest to take time away from it all.

Enlightened self-interest is a transfer of energy. It can be a transfer from ourselves to others, and it can be the other way around. I believe in its essence it is about the act of giving and receiving. Some people live thinking that if they give something that it’s gone. But if you’ve used enlightened self-interest, then you’ve invested.

It goes along with the parable, “You will reap what you sow.” The important part of the equation is not in the reaping, but in the sowing. You cannot reap before you sow – life doesn’t work that way. Giving is an investment. Giving to yourself, giving to others – these are all investments.

The question is, “What are you investing in?” Are you investing in growth and love? Are you investing in lack and fear? With every move you make, with every action you take or do not take – you have invested. Whether it’s a good or bad investment is determined by your self-interest. Are you planting the seeds of growth, or are you planting the seeds of fear and selfishness?

As complicated as it may seem by writing it down, it’s actually very simple. It’s a fundamental rule that I believe we understand at our core. I believe that by living by our truth, the balance of self-interest that is both a gift to ourselves and others simultaneously flows easily and without impediment.

So, be unafraid of your self-interest. You need it. You need it to be able to give to others. You need it to be able to give to yourself. Your self-interest is a gift.

Author's Bio: 

Youarn Bell is a coach and trainer based in Australia with a growing reputation for helping people from all walks of life to push past their perceived limits and drastically improve their life rapidly. Visit: http://www.exclusivesuccessstrategies.com for more information.