Michelle Elman is a life coach and award-winning activist well-known for her Scarred Not Scared Instagram campaign. She has just penned a new book, The Joy of Being Selfish, to teach readers about reclaiming your life through the art of boundaries. “It’s time to discover the joy being selfish. Putting the needs of everyone around us before our own is ingrained in us from a young age. Often, this leaves us with little time or energy for much-needed self-love and self-care, and to figure out who we truly are and what we really want,” she says. To mark the launch of her new book, she’s revealed the joys of being selfish, how it’s changed her life – and can change yours, too.
2020 has been challenging in so many ways but one opportunity has arisen out of all the chaos, grief and misery. It has given us time to pause and prioritise ourselves more. It has given us the chance to be more selfish. Selfish is often seen as a negative word but 2020 has been the year that has turned boundaries from an extra perk that only the most self-aware benefit from to an essential life skill that we must all have to survive.
How I spent the first lockdown back in March was writing a book titled The Joy of Being Selfish. It was born out of the fact that back in 2017, I had set a New Year’s resolution to start saying ‘no’ when I meant it (without justifying!). It led to a journey of learning how to set boundaries in my life that quickly infected every area of my life from my love life to my career to my relationships with family and friends.
Everywhere I looked I now saw where I needed to stand up for myself more and finding myself on the other end of that long journey, I felt the world now needed to learn about the power of boundaries. It made me put myself top of my list. Not everyone reacted positively to that, many calling me selfish, but it occurred to me that there is no way I can look after myself without making others a lower priority.
We all love the idea of self-love and self-care, but only after you’ve taken care of everyone else. The only problem is once you’ve done that, there is rarely any time and energy left for you. That’s why I believe selfishness is important and 2020 was the year that proved that without boundaries, you will burn out. We all experienced this dip in energy. We were doing less than ever before, but was more shattered in daily life. This is and was normal, we are living through a global pandemic and that is exhausting! If you didn’t respect the fact that you, just like everyone else, had a lower emotional capacity than normal, you would have suffered through this year. And that’s where boundaries massively help! But first you have to believe you deserve to put yourself first, stand up for yourself and set boundaries.
The first boundary that was essential for surviving lockdown, with some sort of a mental health intact, was boundarying how many conversations about Coronavirus you were willing to have. Bring your mind back to the very beginning of all of this, and it was hard to talk to any person with a pulse without it being the majority of the conversation. Even people who rarely checked the news were now checking it everyday and constant reminders of the rising number of cases and the increasing death toll were not helpful to getting through it so learning how to boundary the number of those conversations by saying “Can we talk about something else?” or “I don’t want to talk about this” was important.
Without boundaries in the workplace, the convert to working from home means an inability to ever stop working. As someone who has worked from home for years, I remember the first two years were the most difficult to transition. Offices provide natural distractions from co-workers to a designated lunch hour. Without that, I had the benefit of realising how effective working alone was but the downside was if you didn’t know how to set boundaries, you never stop working. I started boundarying when I was contactable. Using phrases like “I got your email. I will get back to you on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!” or simply turning my phone on airplane mode meant I could actually take a break and in turn have more energy for when I did work. Just because you aren’t leaving a physical office, doesn’t mean work still have access to me.
Even with friends and family, there has been an increased need for good boundaries. Especially in the beginning when the amount of zoom requests became endless, if you weren’t good at saying no to invites, this was an opportunity to start. For me, boundaries helped me realise you don’t need a reason to say no, you can just say no.
Many people throughout lockdown found their living situation had changed whether it’s seeing their partners and housemates more than ever before or returning to live with family for the first time as adults. Boundaries help foster this space that is needed in order to make sure everyone feels their privacy is being respected. And for those of us who were stuck alone in lockdown, I learnt that if I didn’t ask for help when I needed it, I wasn’t going to get it. Without forced interactions of daily life, it’s easier to miss when your friend is doing OK and especially over the phone, if you are the person not doing OK, it’s easier to hide. Thankfully, many of us went the opposite way. 2020 was the year that taught us all how to respond to “how are you?” with the truth and out of everything, this increased vulnerability in those responses I found such a beautiful change in society that I hope even in 2021 if things ever go back to normal, that’s the one part I hope we never lose. That – and the beauty of boundaries!