I never knew how to rectify this sense of inherent selfishness I felt inside me growing up. My parents, school, and even friends convinced me that I was not doing enough for others. Not until I learned the definition of the words "individualist" and "objectivist" did I finally begin to contextualize my feelings.
When I stumbled upon the seven-hundred-and-fifty-page goliath that is The Fountainhead, I didn't expect to get through it. Imagine my surprise when I found I could not put it down! I gained a better understanding of my value system -- and couldn’t wait to turn to Atlas Shrugged.
My friend told me that The Fountainhead would stop me from self-deprecating and help come to terms with the real world. I had no idea what he meant, but I took his word for it, and read the book. He gave me a copy after I confided issues I was having at home.
My parents were on the edge of divorce for years, and for fifteen-year-old me, this was frightening. I had always been a pawn in their fights. I was an asset to be leveraged. I got pushed around the chess board just so one of my parents could get their queen back. I shared few common interests and values with them and struggled when people asked me about the importance I put on family. Sure, I loved and appreciated my parents, but despite their incredible contributions to me, I never felt indebted to them.
My parents created me to make themselves happy. Having a child is perhaps the most selfish thing a human can do. The idea of creating another human just to give yourself the pleasure of raising and teaching it, is incredibly selfish. With that being said, there's nothing wrong with that. To the same end, there's nothing wrong with me feeling like I want to live my life for my sake. Howard Roark says it best: "I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need. I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others."
I felt like a horrible person for the longest time. I felt ungrateful, unappreciative, unloving, and self-absorbed. Roark helped me to finally realize that it's okay to live for myself. I don't owe the world anything. I finally knew what it meant to be an individualist.
These days I'm someone who strives to be is hyper-rational. I intentionally avoid doing things I don't care about. When I do things to help others, it's because I want to do them, not because I feel some sense of obligation to do so. As Rand writes, "The first right on earth is the right of the ego. Man's first duty is to himself." Through objectivism, I can selfishly do the things that make me happy. I can run my photo/video production company because making media stimulates my brain. I can travel the world and report journalistic narratives about different cultures because telling stories and learning about culture fascinates me. I can chase all these passion projects in a rational world where I'm responsible for my own happiness. I can find purpose and deliver value through what makes me happy.
The world is real no matter how you see it. I'm a realist, living for myself. I'm not here to jockey for position on top of the social ladder -- I don't even know how to climb it. To quote Peter Thiel, "Competition is for losers." I'm not competing with anyone. I'm not waiting for anyone's approval. When people ask me what I want to do after college, I try not to laugh. I'll do whatever I want to. So many people seem to be waiting for others' approval to do what they want. I'm not going to.