At first, I felt bad sitting at the table for four or five with just myself and my laptop. But I really needed to charge my laptop and there are only a few tables strategically located by outlets, this being one of them. Still feeling not quite right about it, I plugged in my laptop and sipped my coffee. Then, I took a (figurative) step back from the self-imposed guilt trip. I had let two other couples take tables that I could easily have taken and had just as much right to. I had sat bending uncomfortably over my food for about 20 minutes prior to this seat opening up. There was no group of four or five people waiting to sit, it was all couples or singles. They could easily use any other table in the place.
It occurred to me that this is a pattern of mine. I chastise myself every time I am tempted to put myself first. "I really should make that drive to see that person today, even though I've had a sinus infection all week and feel awful; I really should reply to this completely non-emergent client email at 9 PM, even though I could do it during work hours tomorrow; so-and-so said that I wasn't as friendly as usual yesterday even though I was trying so hard, so I should really make more of an effort today." I blame myself for things that aren't my fault and then apologize because otherwise I feel guilty. It's the same pattern over and over.
The thing is, sometimes, it's ok for things to be about you. I'm not talking intentionally upsetting a friend or family member, or hurting a partner because you "need to put you first" (don't get me started on that kind of selfish!). But if you really want the last cookie and no one's going for it, take it. If you feel absolutely exhausted and truly don't feel up to going out, they hopefully will understand this one time. If you are sick of eating your lunch at a 30 degree angle and see a more convenient seat opening up, it's ok to sit down.
It's a balance of making sure others understand that you care, while not feeling like you can never consider yourself, especially over something small. If you put others first all of the time, it will most likely end up in resentment. Why? Because others don't. Not to be negative, but there's a lot of selfishness in the world. And if you constantly put everyone else first even with the tiniest of things, only to have others also always put themselves first, it breeds frustration, and contempt. So the next time you feel guilty over something small that's really not going to hurt anyone else big time, allow yourself to put you first. You have every right to.