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My mother, in labor with me, delayed her trip to the hospital so that she could make my father scrambled eggs for breakfast. I am not kidding. She gave birth to me two hours later. She laughs bitterly when she tells this story and exclaims, “That man is so selfish that on the day you were born…..” My question is this: Was he selfish or was she selfless?

From the stance of “there are no victims,” my mother had a choice to make the moment her husband asked for breakfast. Truthfully, that moment came years before when she first accepted this type of behavior from him. Is either of them at fault? No! They are merely accountable for a dynamic they both created.

Somewhere along the road, most women are taught that to put themselves on the top of their own priority list is selfish, egocentric, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, uncaring, and incongruent with what it stereotypically means to be a woman.

Unfortunately, we have grown to concur with that conclusion, and we perpetuate that myth with self-neglect. I won’t bore you with the oxygen mask metaphor, but I will remind you that the world is only as healthy, and society only as educated, as its women, and disconnected and disengaged women breed more of the same.

Self-neglect has, in recent years, earned a cult-like reputation.

There are some critical distinctions that need to be made between women who are selfish and those who are selfless. Selfish and selfless essentially sprout from the same core wound: I’m not enough.

Selfish people are those who are primarily concerned with their own wants and needs, and fail to take anyone else’s into consideration. It truly is all about them all of the time. Why? At their core, these people feel as though they are not enough, so there will never be enough of anything to fill in the hole or void within them. Anything that comes within their reach, whether it’s time, attention, things, money, you name it, are held onto in desperation. When one is selfish, their mentality is focused on ‘lack’ and ‘scarcity’—the world is ‘not enough’ because they are ‘not enough’.

At the other end of the spectrum are selfless woman. Curiously, they also have the “I’m not enough” core wound. She believes she is so lacking, so deficient as a human being that if she isn’t constantly making herself valuable and useful by doing for others, then no one would keep her around.

We all know women who trip over themselves to do something for us and, predictably, they usually go overboard. It may be the mother who offers to carpool both ways every day for a month, with no expectations that you will reciprocate. It may be the office ‘mom’ who brings in baked goods three days a week, and always remembers your favorites. It could be the mother who allows her children and spouse to take and take and take and take, as she continues to give and give and give and give, with no bottom in site. This woman, at an unconscious level, believes that if she stops doing nice things for everyone, no one would want to know her; no one would see that she has any value as a human being, because she sees no value in herself.

Lastly, there is our best friend, “Selfull” aka “Selfirst”. These are women who are healthy, happy and well-adjusted, most of the time. Most of the time? A person does not exist whom, on occasion, does not slip into selfless or selfish mode. It is the contrast that is necessary to keep us powerful. Ms. Selfirst makes sure that she’s eaten breakfast because she has a very full day in front of her and she knows that she needs to be on top her game—no vehicle can run without sufficient fuel. Ms. Selfirst has pretty healthy boundaries; she has a good sense of what works for her and what doesn’t. Sometimes she will violate her own boundaries but she is aware of when she does it and why she does it.

Ms. Selfirst is uncomfortable telling someone “No” when that person needs her, but she’s willing to do it just the same. She has such a good sense of herself that she allows herself to ‘break the rules’ on a whim. Perhaps she was once a doormat, but once she realized what motivated her to be so ‘giving’, she felt just awful about being so needy and equally bad about everyone who took advantage of her. Rather than bring her close to these people, acting this way distanced her because she didn’t respect herself and no one else did either. She learned her self-worth, she grew to realize that she was ‘enough’ and now people who share her healthy opinion of herself surround her.

The selfish and selfless are known more for their negative impact than for anything else. There is no room for you in a relationship with a selfish person because she takes up all the space. There is too much room in a relationship with a selfless person because she takes up no space at all; you will either feel very lonely with her or you will resort to care-taking behavior yourself. It is the selfirst woman who is on purpose in her life, is personally powerful and who has the most positive impact.

The women who are selfish or selfless are seldom the superstars in the office. Their hidden agendas are anything but hidden. Colleagues sense that these women are inauthentic and lost. They feel manipulated by these women’s behavior and are aware that it is aimed at the woman feeling good about herself and not about the generosity of giving. They know that her gestures and kindnesses have nothing to do with a genuine desire to assist and support them.

Whether you have a tendency to be that selfless doormat or that selfish, self-centered egotist is not nearly as significant as what you do with that learning. Few people are dead center, in selfirst, all of the time. Our only job is to know where we lean when stressed and to accommodate for that in our lives.

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Known as The Impact Expert, she is the main stage speaker, expert trainer, and veteran coach who helps leaders solve key issues related to leadership development, employee engagement, and advancing women. She is the author of the acclaimed book: Impact! What Every Woman Needs to Know to Go from Invisible to Invincible and is currently working on her next book.