How to be loyal to yourself

In job interviews, when (or if) the interviewer asks “What is your biggest weakness?” there’s an answer I’ve never really thought about giving, but the more I look over where I am professionally, I think it’s the most honest answer I could give:

“I’m too loyal to the company (and people) I work for.”

Something I’ve known for a while now–and only recently begun to fully grasp–is that loyalty is a two-way street. Or at least it should be. A lot of Americans from my generation (the millennials, I suppose) grew up being told that if you work hard, are loyal, and are good at what you do, you’ll be rewarded. That’s a lie.

The loyal mind thinks in a specific way. And it’s often selfless in intention, but to a fault. Common things I’ve caught myself thinking or saying include:

  • “If I support ______ (company/person), then maybe ______ will reward me down the line.”
  • “My main focus is the success of ______.”
  • “If you don’t believe in ______, then why are you here?”

Those thoughts, in the correct context, are great! Especially the last two. But the bigger the company, the less loyalty matters. And after a certain point, expecting loyalty to pay off is foolish, especially when it has repeatedly nodelivered positive personal results.

You have to be smart about your loyalties, and the more I consider mine, the more obvious the best choice becomes: The single most important entity to be loyal to is yourself.

That may sound incredibly selfish. It is. But like on an airplane, when oxygen masks drop down, you need to focus on getting yours on before you help anyone else.

I’m done placing my loyalty in others. Instead, I’m going to focus on me. And that doesn’t mean shutting out everyone else, hoard all my money, and live as a shut-in who throws rocks at children who pass by his house. That means building my own self-loyalty. Support myself 100% and choose me over others. I need to make sure I prioritize my own life and happiness over a major corporation that hardly considers me a blip on the radar.

This is how I’m building self-loyalty:

1) Build and maintain all pillars of health. There are a lot, depending on how to look at it: Physical, mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, etc. However you look at it, it’s important to build everything as evenly, and as strong as possible. Without this one, nothing else matters. Health is the building block of everything else, especially happiness.

2) If you “don’t have time” for yourself, find time. There’s a cultural status that seems to praise busyness. I’ve met people from startups who talk about working 10-12 hours days like it’s a badge of honor. There are others who stay out late, then get about three hours of sleep and complain they’re too busy to sleep. But it’s all really simple: We make time for the things important to us. If sleep is important, we’ll find time to sleep well. If playing table tennis is more important than making sales calls, we’ll play the game. If taking time for work is more important than taking time for yourself, then we’ll set ourselves aside.

3) Make any goals easily attainable. Goals suck. I hate when other people try to set them for me, and I try to avoid setting them for myself. The problem with goals is that not meeting them makes you feel like crap, and trying too hard to reach them can take away from the experience of self-improvement. I try to avoid setting goals for myself, but when I do, I try to keep them easy (drink three bottles of water a day).

4) Make everything simple. People seem to praise complexity. But, like goals, complexity sucks. Everyone wants to seem deep and intelligent. And the more I look at things, the more I realize that most things can be far simpler than they are now. That may be my idea list for tomorrow: “11 things that are overly complex and how they can be simpler.”

5) Be honest. “Honesty is the best policy” is true. I’m don’t recommend going out, finding someone with a dumb hat, and yelling “your hat sucks!” That’s simply rude. But honesty in day-to-day life is something a lot of people don’t focus on. “Little white lies” and “big fat blatant lies” are both all over the place, but they’re still both lies. It’s even simple to lie to yourself: “I want to work late, so I can have the extra money” is a lie I’ve told myself quite a bit. In fact, the more I think about it, I probably find it easier to lie to myself than I do others.

6) Say “no”. A lot. It feels good. Really good. A lot of people say “yes” to any enticing opportunity that comes their way. There’s the idea that saying yes make you appear to be more of a team player and more willing to take on tasks. But rarely does that actually translate into serious opportunity, and I’ve found it often frustrating, as have others I know. But once you start saying “no”, the power shifts back to you. You are in control of your life. About a year ago, I turned down a job offer a lot of people would have taken in my position. But I knew it was the wrong fit. Why commit to a bad fit?

7) Don’t work for free. I used to do part-time freelance video game writing. I would write reviews, previews, and the occasional feature article for a few different websites. One thing that would often come up, when experienced editors/writers were doing Q&A’s, is the question of writing for free and “should you do it?” The answer from editors was almost always “If you can write, it doesn’t matter where you’ve written or if you were paid for it.”

The tricky part is that a lot of people get suckered into the idea of “working for exposure.” Not just writers, either. I’ve seen artists, consultants, and models get “exposure offers.” When I was freelancing, I learned one key thing: Any place that doesn’t pay you has no exposure to give. Any place that gives good exposure will pay you.

The exception to all of this is working for yourself. Pay yourself whatever you can, if you can.

8) Do give things for free. If you run your own blog and you want to bring in new traffic, a guest post is a great way to do that. Some places may pay, others won’t. But the idea isn’t getting paid, it’s, well…getting exposure. And that seems a little hypocritical, but here’s the key: Don’t respond to an offer to work for free, but it’s not a bad idea to offer your services for free. One is creating value for yourself, the other is being used.

And what you give doesn’t even need to be “work.” It can be ideas, advice, advertising. People appreciate those who reach out and help. Especially if the help is of quality.

9) Don’t expect (or ask for) loyalty from others. I can’t think I’ve heard of any situation where someone asked for loyalty, received it wholeheartedly, and everything went perfectly from there.

10) Invest in yourself. This could mean drastically different things to different people. To some, this could mean “get a college degree” (I don’t advise that). To others, it could mean take a major financial risk and start a business (I don’t advise that, either). For me, it means being okay to spend a few bucks and some time bettering myself in any way possible. It also means being willing to put my own well-being first, as is the theme of this post.

11) Be willing to give up. I’ve given up a lot of things. I’ve quit learning multiple languages. I’ve given up writing a handful of books. I’ve given up trying to get into the video game industry. In college, I gave up on the idea of going to law school. Giving up and quitting isn’t bad. It can be, but it’s always a learning experience. The important bit is to stand by your decision.

12) And be willing to fail. Another learning experience is failure. There are a lot of writers who like to glorify failure, but that’s wrong: Failure hurts like hell. I’d rather never fail at anything if given the choice. But I don’t get that choice. Nobody does. Failure is a key part of life, and only from picking ourselves up and learning from it, will we be able to overcome it in the future. Until you fail again, that is.

I’m through letting my happiness be (at least somewhat) dictated by misplaced loyalty. I’m sure I’ll find myself caught up in it again at some point, I always do. But the trick to life is to become more aware of your actions and to adjust them to generate as much happiness as possible.

And creating happiness is what this is all about.