Are You Motivated by Self-Interest?

October 16, 2023 |

Does the term “self-interest” have negative connotations for you? It’s sometimes considered synonymous with greed or lack of compassion for others.

I read an article in the October 1 Seattle Times that had been published originally in the Sacramento Bee by the author Peter Crabb, who is a professor of economics and the director of the Center for the Study of Market Alternatives at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. Professor Crabb was writing about AI, but he referred back to Adam Smith, author of “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations.”

According to Professor Crabb, Adam Smith demonstrates in this publication that

… the wealth of any society grows when the people pursue their self-interests, divide up the labor so as to increase productivity, and expand the opportunities to trade this product.

He goes on to explain that

Pursuing self-interest simply means we make choices that matter to us. We all face trade-offs and must therefore choose various means to meet our personal goals.

He quotes Smith again, “It is not from the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest,” concluding with what I thought was the most important point:

When people are allowed to pursue their own interests and ideas, find their own special area of service, and trade the results of this work freely, people flourish. Limitation or interference with these principles has the opposite effect, or at least slows us down.

While Professor Crabb was speaking of nations and free market economies, this little nugget is what we at Changing Course believe and teach, and hope to empower in as many people as possible. Instead of doing what others tell us out of their own self-interest (especially in a large corporate environment), in order to flourish we must look at our own self-interest – our passions, our gifts and talents, and what we love to do – and pursue those for our own benefit as well as the benefit of others. When we make choices based on what matters to us, that are in alignment with our personal goals, we contribute to not only our own success but, like the butcher and the brewer and the baker, to the lives of others as well.