Why it’s OK to be selfish, sometimes

“Please don’t send me on holiday.” This has to be one of the least-used sentences in the English language. Along with, “I think Miley Cyrus is an excellent role model for young women” and “I just love it when guys call out, ‘Show us ya tits!’” But this is what I said when a PR executive called me with an offer to stay at a health retreat in Bali.

We had a lovely chat about women never taking time out for themselves/only diagnosing health issues when it’s too late/being pulled this way and that like a Gumby doll. Then I concluded the conversation with “But I couldn’t possibly go.”

Thus began three months of to-ing and fro-ing during which I used the following excuses:

• It’s too long away from the kids. (How will they ever cope?!)

• I can’t take that much time off work. (Clearly, I’m indispensable.)

• There’s no one to feed the dog/water the garden/look after my husband. (These are interchangeable.)

Angst-ridden, I phoned a friend. (I thought about choosing 50/50, then realised it wasn’t an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? It was more like Arrested Development: Blockheads.) My friend kindly, but firmly, pointed out that:

• The kids (aged seven and nine) would not be scarred for life. Indeed, a week accompanied by The Sound of Silence would be preferable to the Ring Cycle of “Eat your bloody breakfast”, “Stop whacking your sister/brother/teddy”, “If you get nits again, I swear I’ll shave your head” and, “For god’s sake, would you both please shut up!”

• I’m a washed-up newsreader/writer/commentator who could easily pick up the pieces of my so-called career upon my much anticipated return.

• She would look after the dog and garden, but hubby is more than capable of feeding and watering himself.

Suddenly, I responded viscerally: “But I don’t deserve it.” Now this has to be one of the most used sentences in the English language, especially by women. Here’s another: “I am not worthy.” And some more: “You go first; I can eat later”; “I’m happy to do whatever you want to do”; “It’s not all about me.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Man can never be a woman’s equal in the spirit of selfless service with which nature has endowed her.” I’m sure he meant it as a compliment. But we’ve taken it to heart, giving and giving and giving until there’s little left.

One of my best friends has long been referred to as Mother of the Year. Now her kids have grown up and she’s lamenting: “Somewhere along the way, I lost a piece of myself.” And so, I packed my bags and hopped on the plane.

However, I was convinced that the plane would crash and my kids would be left without a mum. Or, my son would one day tell a therapist, “It all started to go wrong when Mum went away. I felt lost and insecure. That’s when I turned to drugs.” Or, my hubby would realise life is a lot calmer/more normal without me and decide, “I deserve more time to myself. Like, a lifetime.”

Yep. You guessed it. I had The Best Week Of My Life. (Except for our wedding and the birth of our two beautiful children, honey … )

I arrived at the Sharing Bali retreat to find a bunch of women singing from the same song sheet. “I’m 52, and I’ve never done anything like this,” one woman said. “This week, it’s all about me.”

“My kids are 11 and 13. And I’ve never been away from them for this long. Can you believe that?” asked another.

Instead of nurturing others, we nourished ourselves – eating fresh produce from the village, moving our bodies in ways we hadn’t for years, and climbing 1717 metres up an active volcano. Amid the running, jumping and laughing, we rediscovered our zest for life. And embraced our selfishness.

It’s become taboo to talk about this topic. We’re taught to be selfless: always think of others first; pour a bucket of water on your burning desires. Well, bugger that. If you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for others? Think of selfishness as a parallel form of selflessness. After all, who else is going to have your best interests at heart?

Of course, like everything, I’ve taken the concept too far. I’m writing this at the end of a two-month sabbatical. Highlights include gorging on pasta in Italy, drinking too much Bordeaux in France, and skiing away from a pair of grizzling children as the call of the mother-beast echoed through the Alps: “See ya!!!!!!” I am woman, hear me roar.

The challenge, for all of us, is to incorporate selfishness into our daily lives. No more, “Sure, darling. I’d love to go and see the Bulldogs play in the pouring rain instead of curling up with a cup of tea and a good book.”

Learn to listen to the wise words of toddlers. They’re like little Buddhas: living in the moment and loving themselves. These are some of their most common utterances: “I don’t want to do that; I want to do this.” “I love you so much.” And, “Tickle me! Tickle me again!” Probably not words to be used at work. But handy to keep in mind the next time we start a sentence with, “No thanks, I couldn’t possibly …”

Styling by Olivia Waugh. Hair & make-up by Erin Shaw. Tracey wears Trenery shirt dress, Zara heels.

Follow Tracey on Twitter @spicertracey.