The Most Important Form Of Selfishness

While driving home from work, I received a call from a colleague. “I’m sorry, I heard you got fired.” As soon as he hung up, another coworker called to sympathize with the terror of being yelled at by the CEO. With a furrowed brow, I stared forward at the green arrow as one car after another turned left onto the freeway. I had no idea what they were talking about.

You’re (Not) Fired!

Just before leaving work that day, the CEO of the company had barged into my office, asked for my security device, and expressed his deep disappointment in me for some unspecified wrongdoing. At that point, I was four years deep into a debilitating, mystery illness. I didn’t have the energy to worry, yet anxiety somehow pried its way into my life. In the words of Paul E. White, “To those who value words of affirmation, criticism feels like a knife in the heart.”

After several weeks of confusion, the CEO gave me back the device and apologized. The IT department had investigated the accusation, he explained, and discovered that I could not have sold company trade secrets to a competitor. I didn’t even have access to that information. After four years of loyalty and dedication, I decided then that I couldn’t continue working someplace where senior management did not trust me. I couldn’t stay at a place where my colleagues would try to sabotage my career.

I began my search for a new job. Title and salary suddenly seemed far less important. My new priorities were peace, stability, and a shorter commute. I accepted the first offer I received, along with a 35% pay cut and lower title. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

“When a workplace becomes toxic, its poison spreads beyond its walls and into the lives of its workers and their families.”

Gary Chapman, Rising Above a Toxic Workplace: Taking Care of Yourself in an Unhealthy Environment

Happy, Healthy Work Life

When we think about what truly matters in life, the work that we do has its fingers in just about every area. Our workplace consumes a large portion of our time. It may allow us foster relationships with coworkers or keep us away from our families. Our careers may give us a sense of purpose and self-worth, or lead to a sense of aimlessness and despair. Workplace stress can contribute to health consequences, whereas a healthy work-life balance allows time for self-care.

Despite the significant pay cut and falling well-below the ideal income threshold for life satisfaction ($95,000) and emotional well-being ($60,000 to $75,000), I didn’t suffer for it. Money is a tool and as long as I had enough for shelter and food, I knew I would be okay. Instead, I found myself focusing on what I had gained by leaving that toxic workplace.


With the job change, my commute was reduced from two hours of freeway daily to under thirty minutes on calmer surface streets. I was deep in the throes of a yet-to-be-identified illness and spent every spare moment sleeping. With an extra ninety minutes in my day, I could squeeze in some extra rest or curl up with my boyfriend to re-watch Seinfeld. I could call my mom or sit on the patio to watch the sunset.

Not only did I have extra time, but those extra minutes were relaxing. Rather than struggling to navigate home through rush hour with my sluggish brain, I could spend that time unwinding.


The job that I left paid well, but was filled with slimy snakes, backstabbers, and constant drama. I had to keep my head down and thoughts to myself. There was no sense of connection, camaraderie, or trust. By that time, nearly all of my friends had disappeared. They had universally proclaimed that I was “a shell of the person I once was,” and I could neither argue their point nor explain. And I didn’t have the time to see the few remaining friends and family members that seemed to care.

The new job was filled with kind and supportive colleagues, and I made workplace friends. We talked about shared hobbies, budding relationships, and dreams for the future. The reduction in stress also allowed me to become more present for my partner at home.


I was really good at my old job. The position had fallen into my lap by chance, but it felt like the perfect match for my personality and skill set. It felt like the kind of place I could stay and thrive forever. However, being accused of theft and betrayal quickly changed my perspective.

Starting a new job new doing similar work in a different industry shattered that old sense of competence and gave me a clean slate. I was no longer defined by my past salary, title, and accomplishments. As a humble novice, I learned that it’s not the company that matters, but they things that we learn and carry forward into future endeavors.


My health began it’s downward spiral within a year of starting that toxic job. While it’s hard to tease apart whether origin of the illness was job stress, infection, my cousin’s death, or some ghastly combination, I eventually realized that my health is irreplaceable and workplace stress was not helping.

If I could just reclaim my health, I was willing and able to start over and re-scale the career ladder. And that is precisely what I have done. After spending three years in a low-end job while focusing my free time on regaining my health, I achieved the level of energy and cognition necessary to pursue something new.

A Blessing in Disguise

When I was a child, my mother would always say, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While I appreciate the sentiment, I think it’s misleading guidance. It lead me to study the fascinating and jobless field of Psychology, rather than embrace my innate talent for Math (and the career security that comes with it). Were I to revise her advice, I think I would say this: “Take care of yourself and, in due time, your purpose will be made clear. Once you understand your purpose, do what you love and, with effort and luck, the money may follow. But, at the end of the day, the money isn’t really what’s important.”

In retrospect, that false accusation was a blessing in disguise. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and it was the sign I didn’t realize I had been waiting for. It was my permission to leave. What good is being a martyr if you’re left burning at the stake without leaving behind a call to action?

“The most important form of selfishness involves spending time on your fitness, eating right, pursuing your career, and still spending quality time with your family and friends.”

Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life

I’ve find myself revisiting Scott Adam’s How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big every few years and this line always strikes a chord. Selfishness typically has such negative connotations, so the promotion of selfishness gives me pause. Having been brought up in a religious household, self-sacrifice was a virtue. It was a hard habit to break, but when disease broke my body and my mind, I was left with no choice.

The Selfish Choice

Five years ago, I left a toxic job. I was the sole breadwinner, so the pay cut hurt. However, by setting boundaries and learning to say “no,” I unearthed a previously-unknown sense of freedom. By selfishly taking a step back to focus on rest, recovery, and stress-reduction, I gave myself the ability to move past the plateau and, once again, start moving forward.

You can find more from me on my personal blog:

28 thoughts on “The Most Important Form Of Selfishness

  1. Quite a story. It doesn’t sound to me like your step-back was selfish. Rather, it appears to have been both life-affirming and essential. If you had continued on a downward path, for your family and friends would have been without the person they enjoy today. Congratulations.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. One of my jobs, entry level in education, involved an hour commute at under 13/h (salary break down) BEFORE deductions. The environment couldn’t have been anything but toxic for the underpaid, overworked souls stuck there. Most absent mindedly waiting for retirement. Sad to say, that was my experience pretty much everywhere outside self employment.

    Money isn’t everything and can be a trap, especially when people have to trade toxic corporate culture and reasonable wages, for freedom of expression, self determination and all manner of other things Maslow may have put on the hierarchy. Well, toodles, I’m off to drywall a neighbourhood inlaw apartment turned boomerang den for that pesky “failure” to launch. Good day to ya!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It boggles the mind how many people acclimate to and tolerate abusive people and environments, particularly someplace where they are spending 40 hours per week. It can really break your spirit, though that was probably an unintended side benefit of the industrial assembly line. Having some autonomy and flexibility in our work lives really does seem to be vital.

      You’re absolutely right–money isn’t everything and so many trade in their values for the big bucks, which is a bad deal. If you can’t have both money and self-determination, you need to think hard about the long term implications of choosing one over the other. Most people don’t think about. I suspect most people would choose money.

      The failure to launch boomerang den made me laugh! An older couple bough the home two doors down and their early-30s son moved in… he never leaves home, so I’m pretty sure he just vegges out and waits for his allowance.


      1. Worst thing is, girl’s my age, and has a full-time job. Our town just prices the young out, either forcing them into goofy 3 way rentals on not enough space or outright out of town. Maine has a huge brain drain, right now, with our elected space monkeys frantically itching eachothers scratches wondering how to get the kids back.

        She doesn’t much leave either. Downtown ain’t what it used to be. Ever read Joyce? I think it was Joyce. He called it “Paralysis,” where society changes so rapidly that in failure to catch up, everybody freezes in place.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. It’s been years since I’ve read Joyce, but I do recall that sentiment. I think it’s the same everywhere–those with influence and authority continually give one another a boost, leaving the rest of us behind.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Erin — I connect with the ‘break your spirit’ thought. I found I could take a lot — people are driven by so many mixed up desires and motivations — on the one hand it makes a workplace diverse and fascinating😉…on the other…when you’re on the receiving end of maliciousness, almost as if it’s a sport? Too much. I had no room for that in my life. I told a dear friend, not that long ago, that I often managed to excuse, disregard misbehavior…but outright lying to my face and bold manipulations? Too much. I’m with Dr. Stein. Not selfish…but life affirming and essential decisions. xo! 💓

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Vicki, that was just my experience. For a time, I was able to keep my head down and manage and excuse bad behavior, but intentional malice crossed a line. I’m glad I had the courage to walk away, as it really was an essential shift for me. 💓

      Liked by 3 people

  4. The workplace can be so toxic and if not careful, we become entrenched in the suffering. I am sorry your health suffered and you were so wrongly accused. It served as the turning part which helped lead you to a healthier place and on reflection you see how much better off you are.

    The level of anger than can exist is frightening. I once had a very negative experience with a very aggressive man where I worked. It was enough to encourage me to seek an alternative. A few years later, he killed himself, his wife, and their three cats. Tempermemt is something to take seriously in the workplace.

    Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your experiences. Bless you as you continue to move forward.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, it served as a turning point. As my partner often points out, it’s the experience that caused me to stop blindly trusting that everyone is looking out for one another, and be more discerning when assessing one’s motives. It was a heartbreaking realization, but a lesson that was long overdue.

      The experience with the man at your work sounds awful, and I’m glad to hear you were able to get out of that environment. To echo Wynne, that’s just horrifying. It really does highlight the importance of paying attention to things like temperament.

      Thank you, Maggie. ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t see this decision as selfish Erin, I see it as courageous and life saving on both a physical and mental level. Personally, trust is a huge issue for me and once that is disrupted, or even worse when it becomes clear that the causative elements are only going to continue to inflict harm, then it’s time to get out. You absolutely found the freedom you needed in stepping away!


    1. I no longer see the decision as selfish, but I felt very guilty at the time. I knew it was the right choice and my partner was very encouraging, and yet it was challenging to walk away. It was life-saving… it was a stressful time, and not sustainable. Yes, freedom isn’t found in money and prestige, but in being able to live without unnecessary stress. Thank you, Deb! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Wow, Erin. What a powerful story along with the incredible lessons you drew from it! Recognizing when things are no longer good for us, no matter what they pay, is such a form of freedom as you do a wonderful job of writing about here. And knowing that we need to draw those boundaries in order to preserve our health – it seems like such an obvious conclusion but one that is hard to carry out. Good for you – and thank you for this great article and the quotes/resources in it that are also so illuminating!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Boundaries have always been are area of struggle for me, as I tend to avoid conflict and prioritize others’ needs over my own. That decision was a turning point me, though I don’t think I fully grasped it at the time. “Recognizing when things are no longer good for us… is such a form of freedom.” So, so, sooo true!! Thank you, Wynne! ❤️

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Wow, a really powerful story Erin! I can relate on a number of levels. I had a job for a long time at one employer and it was great for many years, but when it started going bad, it was really bad. I didn’t realize how much I had my self-esteem wrapped into my role. It took me a while to realize that it’s not selfish to leave a company that’s no longer a good fit, but actually life-affirming. Throw on top of that a horrible ceo/boss and, oh my yes, you made the best move. Now the shame of it is that you deserved better, but I’m a big believer in fate/karma/God/whatever you want to call it and you will be back in a position that you love soon, if you’re not already! Great lesson, thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Similarly for me, Brian, I didn’t realize how much I had let the role define me, which made to harder to recognize when things began going downhill. After three years of focusing on my health, I accepted a great job about a year ago–fulfilling work, and wonderful people–so things have certainty worked our for the best. Thank you, Brian!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It always saddens me to hear how badly people can be treated in the workplace. I think you demonstrated enormous courage Erin to walk away from your job, but I do agree with everyone else that you were not being selfish, but acting out of self-preservation. Regrettably we tend to get pushed too far and many people end up with mental health problems as a result of poor people management.

    Toxic workplace culture is pernicious and if toxic behaviour is not challenged things just get worse. As I said, it takes a lot of courage to stand up in these kinds of environments and walk away.

    I’m pleased things have worked out for you Erin, and that you are in a much better place now.

    Sorry if I sound like I’m ranting, but bad HR/people management practices make me angry 😠

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brenda, I completely agree. It’s terrible that so many people are treated poorly in the workplace, and I’m sure many don’t have the resources or courage to walk away. No need to apologize–it’s something that needs to be said and challenging poor behavior is one of the few ways we may be able to change it. I am in a much better place now, and I so grateful for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I don’t see your decision as an act of selfishness—I see it as waking up and setting yourself free. Your story takes me back to a few of my own similar experiences, when I finally GOT that they were gifts (in a strange sort of a way) that helped me to sort through the muck and mire and gather the incentive to move on in search of what mattered the most. Painful as it was at the time, I am so grateful now. Life is good on the other side of misery. I’m happy that you found your way out of the icky. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I see it as waking up and setting yourself free.” I love this, Julia! You’re absolutely right. I was in such a state of desperation at the time and then angry afterwards, but I remember when it finally clicked that the experience was a gift, a stepping stone toward something better. Thank you, Julia! 😊


  10. This really sounds like a true blessing in disguise as you noted, for so many benefits including work life balance and mental well-being. Money isn’t everything and less stress is a great trade off for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

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