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Posted 06/03/24

WorkJoy isn’t selfish. In fact it’s essential.

You spend so much time and energy fulfilling other people’s agendas, you don’t have the time or energy to do what brings you joy, and you’re starting to feel resentful… 

You or your team is hovering on the edge of burnout and/or are struggling to feel excited about new projects…

You know someone who always seems to prioritise the things that are important to them, and you’d love to do the same but you’re worried about backlash…

Most of us have an idea of what our ideal life looks like (thanks, Instagram!). But in and around work, family commitments, basic self-care, getting places and, well, sleeping, it can feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for the fluffy stuff. Problem is, under that fluff is a seam of joy, and when we lose touch with it, things can start to feel gloomy. I’m Beth Stallwood – coach, consultant, speaker, podcast host, author and creator of all things WorkJoy. In this guide, I’m sharing perhaps the single most important factor in reconnecting with and sharing more WorkJoy: selfishness. And if that word made you clam up faster than a…clam, you’re in the right place. 

How to use this guide

If you want to squeeze every last drop from this guide, I really recommend reading it from start to finish, and completing the download, too. If you’re pressed for time, use the contents below to navigate to what sounds interesting. Enjoy! 💃


What could you do if you were a bit more selfish?
‘Selfish’ isn’t a dirty word
Four ways to: be healthy-selfish
Know this: what you do matters 
The secret leadership skill you need
Judgement vs. joy
Three ways to: be a joy creator
Next steps: Choose your own WorkJoy journey


Visualise for a moment a massive transparent balloon (one of those fancy ones from a party shop), that can have other balloons blown up inside it. The transparent balloon is representative of your whole life. Each inner balloon represents a feature of your life that is important to you. One might be friends, another family, one is likely to be work (the paid kind), another could be some of the unpaid work you do, and perhaps you have a few for your favourite hobbies?

Reflection question:

Take a few moments to think about which balloons feature in your life and note them down.

The balloons you create in your life will be unique to you. The size of each inner balloon can expand and contract based on the choices you make about how much time and energy you will dedicate to them. You may find that you have too many balloons or some balloons demanding the energy you’d rather invest elsewhere.

The inner balloons are either controllable or at least influenceable (based on your choices). Your outer balloon is fixed by the annoying limitation of time available. You might find that the more you look after the inner balloons, the more the outer balloon feels like it’s a little bit more flexible. 

There are some balloons that act as incredible energy suppliers, giving back to you when you invest in them. These are your joyful balloons. Get to know why these balloons give you the joy and consider how you can maximise the impact:

Reflection question:

Which balloons bring you joy?

Joyful balloons are what make life worth living, but damn it if they aren’t difficult to keep inflated sometimes. As soon as one balloon grows unexpectedly big (perhaps a big work project lands on your desk, or you or someone you care for gets sick) your joy balloons have a way of deflating first. 

Sometimes this kinda happens on its own; you simply get out of the habit of investing in your own joy. Then things start to look a bit gloomy. You might feel like life is taking a lot from you and not giving anything back, or struggle to muster much enthusiasm for everyday tasks. It’s a bummer, but gloom doesn’t have to be terminal. The key is to inflate your joy balloons again, and that requires – deep breath – being a little bit selfish. 


If you love the balloon exercise, you can take it a step further with my free balloon sorting template.

Growing up, I learned that ‘selfish’ was one of the worst things a person could be. Scratch that – one of the worst things a woman could be (somehow it’s a more acceptable trait in men, right?). And I wonder how many of us have internalised that self-lessness – as opposed to self-ishness – is something to be admired. 

But look around you: so many people live with burnout snapping at their heels, trying to outrun it with a day off here, a round of supplements there, until it finally catches up with them. So many people struggle to find joy in their lives and in their work (I wouldn’t be writing this and you wouldn’t be reading it if that weren’t true). And so many people feel like they’re fulfilling everyone else’s agendas before their own (particularly their boss’ I’ll wager). 

I do think things are changing. Metaphors about putting on your own oxygen mask and filling your own cup certainly abound. But I do wonder – given you’re here – whether an injection of selfishness might be just what you need to kickstart some WorkJoy. Well, roll up your sleeve. I can’t promise this won’t be uncomfortable, but I can promise it’ll be worth it.


I tried to come up with a better term than ‘healthy-selfish’. Really I did (hel-fish anyone? 😆). But not even the internet has managed it. (Incidentally, if you do have a great word for what I’m about to talk about, send it to pronto please). 

I digress. Essentially, I think we all need to agree on what healthy-selfishness looks like. If we know this, we can better practise it, and also better recognise it in others (so as to bow to them in absolute admiration), as well as distinguish it from the more negative kind of selfishness. 

So here are four ways to practise healthy-selfishness, as well as what its evil cousin, good ‘ol regular selfishness looks like. 

Healthy selfishness: Leaving the office on time when work allows, to do something joyful
Regular selfishness: Leaving the office on the dot, abandoning your team who are struggling with a deadline

Healthy selfishness: Scheduling a meeting outside, getting your steps and vitD in 
Regular selfishness: Scheduling a meeting outside of working hours

Healthy selfishness: Ring-fencing time to work on a project that’s meaningful to you and holding that boundary 
Regular selfishness: Becoming a ‘computer says no’ person for anyone else’s needs 

Healthy selfishness: Taking regular breaks and holidays, and encouraging others to do the same
Regular selfishness: Moaning about colleagues taking holidays ‘at the worst time’ or making fun of people clocking off (presenteeism is just not cool) 

I hope it’s clear from these examples that healthy-selfishness is very distinct from regular selfishness. While an act of healthy-selfishness doesn’t always warrant an explanation, it is taken with consideration of its impact on others. Practising healthy-selfishness also means modelling it to others. Let’s talk more about that…


We’ve been programmed to think that our selfishness has a negative impact on others; that every time we act in a way that prioritises ourselves and our joy, someone else loses out. What. A. Racket. The truth of the matter is that the more we choose to do the things that work for us, the more we give others permission to do the things that work for them

I don’t know about you, but when I see someone put something they love at the top of their to-do list or say a respectful ‘no thank you’ to something that won’t bring them joy, it’s a revelation. People notice. People applaud (if only silently). And the next time those people have the opportunity to do the same, they might just take it. I sometimes wonder if we can change the world, one selfish act at a time.


Imagine this scenario with me: Leader stands up at 5.30pm and says, nice and loudly, 

“Well that’s me done for the day. I’m going to watch my kid play football/take my dog for a walk/hit up that fancy deli before it closes/go to salsa class. Thanks for all your hard work today. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

What happens then? Once the door swings shut, people start exchanging glances, then murmuring things: ‘Should we..?’, ‘I had that, ahem, thing I wanted to do…’, ‘I know a nice pub garden…’ And slowly, one by one, oh so quietly, they pack their things and slide out for some top tier joy. 

You see, great leadership has never been about what you tell people to do, and always been about what you show people you do. If you’re a leader, look after yourself. Create firm boundaries and defend them. Let everyone know what’s important to you and prioritise it. And above all, do these things LOUDLY.

Here’s a little extract from my conversation about creating a ‘To-not-do list’  with the wonderful Kathryn Bishop: 

“So read something different, join a different kind of network, read a different newspaper one day, just, you know, read a different trade journal so that you’re opening up your mind to some opportunities that you might not have known existed. But of course, the trouble is that requires time, just a little bit of mental space. So the tiny little recommendation I would make is build yourself a to-not-do list. I have a list of things that I really don’t do. I don’t need to do them. I’m not doing them. Things like ironing, I don’t need my clothes to be flat. Christmas cards. You don’t need a piece of cardboard with a robin on for me to tell you that I’m thinking of you. You just  don’t. I don’t do that. And I use the time created by my to-not-do list to do something different, to experiment, to open myself up to some new opportunities.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.


True story: I love jigsaw puzzles. I find them deeply meditative (something about engaging my hands and my brain on a task is very zen for me). My husband bought me a huge board, with different drawers for edge pieces, centre pieces, pieces with faces on and the like. And that’s what I do to relax. I love it. 

Now, some people might say that jigsaws are a hobby for the elderly and those enjoying an extended stay in hospital, but I couldn’t care less. Other people’s judgement is simply a reflection that the thing that brings you joy, isn’t what brings them joy (and probably that they haven’t done a lot of their own joyful thing for a while).

Here’s my latest challenge: there were a LOT of white pieces and my eyes nearly popped right out of my head!

An essential part of healthy-selfishness is working to understand what brings you joy, building more of that into your life and being okay that it doesn’t look the same for her over there. Crochet yourself silly. Sing yourself hoarse. Join an ultimate frisbee league. Be the nerd. Be into it. And watch your joy grow exponentially.


The great thing about WorkJoy (well, one of the great things about it – there are many), is that it grows and spreads really quickly. It’s a lot like planting a garden (if you thought I was going to go with a pandemic metaphor, let me tell you that I did consider it). You pop your seeds in the ground, water them, and come summer not only do you have veg and flowers stuffed in every receptacle you own, but you’ve got enough to give to everyone else in your life as well. 

Joy works the same way. It happens naturally, but there are some things you can do to help it along. 

  1. Be open about what you brings you joy
    Don’t – please, please don’t – keep your joy in the closet. It’s easy to think that other people won’t be interested in our secret passions, but I find what people are interested in, really, really interesting. Don’t you? Tell people what you love, ask them what they love, and feel a little spark.
  2. Be honest about what doesn’t bring you joy
    Okay, so just because you’ve found out that so-and-so is a mega Swiftie, doesn’t mean you have to listen to the playlist they made you. It’s not selfish to politely refuse an invitation to engage in someone else’s joy-stuff. In fact, it’s kind of essential, in order to have time and energy to invest in your own joy and keep gloom at bay.
  3. Notice what brings other people joy
    If you see someone in flow during a brainstorm, if you catch someone happy dancing while they analyse data, if you hear someone talking about how much they love this or that type of project, give them opportunities to do more of it (P.S. if they say no, that’s okay). This is how WorkJoy shifts from being personal to cultural. 

Sometimes all it takes to reroute a team from a full-on descent into gloom, onto a path to WorkJoy is a little group coaching. If a lack of energy, creativity, excitement, boundaries, balance or healthy selfishness has become a blocker, email me at and claim your free 45-minute team coaching session. 

Healthy selfishness is truly powerful, but needs to be properly understood and gently utilised. I hope this article has given you some insight into how (and why) to be healthy-selfish, and how to use it to spread joy to your colleagues. Here’s what you can do now:  

1. Sign up for a regular WorkJoy injection
Follow me on Linkedin. I’ll also let you know whenever there’s a WorkJoy-ful interview on the pod (or anything else you might like). 

2. Grab an hour for personal-professional development
I’ve got a few downloads waiting for you, and I’m thinking that How to fall back in love with your job might be just the ticket for you right now. 

3. Start working your way out of chronic WorkGloom
Get my 21-day GloomBusters audio guide. A five-minute gloom-lifting audio will pop into your WhatsApp every day for three weeks. All you have to do is listen.

4. Buy a book
My book, WorkJoy: a toolkit for a better working life, has a whole chapter on values, as well as boundaries, organisations, bosses and much more. Think of it like the WorkJoy curriculum. 


Know someone who’s struggling to flex their healthy-selfish muscles? Why not send them the link to this blog?

Photo by Madison Oren on Unsplash

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