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Don’t Tell Me I’m Being ‘Selfish’

The difference between being self-centered versus doing what’s right for you

Diary of a Professional Teen is a weekly column of #deep thoughts by twentysomething teenager and youth expert Taylor Trudon. Every Thursday, she’ll talk about her feelings in relation to what it’s like to be a Young Person in 2016.

We are taught from a young age that being selfish is bad. Starting in kindergarten, we learned to share our scented Magic Markers with our classmates and to take turns using the tire swing during recess. As we got older, we learned that maybe it wasn’t worth a screaming match with our sibling over who got to sit in the front seat of the car on the way to the mall. Part of learning not to be selfish is learning to make compromises. What’s oftentimes unclear, though, is learning how to be a decent human being without completely screwing yourself over in the process.

When news broke that Camila Cabello was leaving Fifth Harmony in pursuit of solo endeavors, not all Fifth Harmony fans were supportive. Harmonizers felt betrayed, tweeting snake emojis and calling Camila’s decision “selfish.” Though the way it was handled appears to be questionable, at the end of the day, is it really so terrible for a young woman to take charge of her career and make decisions that are good for her self-development? Shouldn’t we be applauding that?

As I wrote earlier this month, it’s natural for relationships to end, be it childhood friendships or the ones forged between five strangers who met on a talent competition show. Like most boy and girl groups that preceded them, Fifth Harmony probably aren’t going to last forever; Camila’s already-successful solo projects are an indicator of that. Her decision to take a step in a different direction was likely a difficult one to make, but it should not be confused as self-centered. It’s the type of major choice you’re likely going to make for yourself one day, whether it’s saying goodbye to your friends to attend an out-of-state college or breaking up with a significant other — all so you can better focus on your individual goals.

I was chatting with a friend the other day who feels stuck in her job for various reasons. She wants to pursue other opportunities, but is racked with anxiety even thinking about it. “I’d feel bad about leaving my boss. I haven’t been here long enough to start looking for other things. I’m not qualified to apply for that other job, anyway,” she told me. I told her what a former boss had once told me: It’s professional, not personal. And the sooner you can differentiate between the two, the sooner you can move forward with what it is you want. Forgetting your mom’s birthday or cheating on a test are things to feel guilty about; paving a clearer path for yourself to help you get to where you need to be is not.

I’ve been watching Girls reruns before I go to sleep at night. There’s this one episode in the third season where Hannah is being prompted by her boyfriend, Adam, to go on a hike in the woods. Hannah — who has a reputation for being a horribly selfish person — considers it, but then ultimately decides not to. She looks up at Adam and says simply, “I don’t want to do it. And it’s really liberating to say no to shit you hate.”

I love this scene because in that moment, Hannah wasn’t being selfish — she was making a choice for herself. She was doing what she wanted to do. And if the people in your life truly care about you and your best interests, they won’t take it personally, hold you back, or make you feel lesser than.

It really is liberating to say no to shit you hate. But it’s even more liberating when you realize that you don’t have to be weighed down by guilt when you give your answer.

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