It started with a story. Actually, many stories. But they all had something in common: one of the characters does something wonderful that requires courage and love and self-sacrifice. They made me want to laugh and cry and see the story over and over again, but most importantly, they made me admire that character to the extent that I wanted to become that character.
The problem arose when, motivated by these emotions, I tried to duplicate the situation of the character to some degree. Was the character (we'll call him Fred for now) a biologist? Then I wanted to become a biologist. Was Fred a viking living in the jungle? Then I wanted to be a viking living in the jungle. Did the Fred go on an adventure in Antarctica with a battered jeep? Then I wanted a battered jeep, and somehow, I would hitch a ride to Antarctica, too. Was Fred a girl who excelled in gymnastics? Then I would take up gymnastics also. (These examples may be a little exaggerated.)
Eventually, I realized that this stupid. It was not Fred's situation I admired at all; it was his/her character. And again and again, the thing that made me love his character was his self-sacrifice which was motivated by love and achieved through courage. Fred gave up his dreams so he could work to provide for his impoverished family. Fred died saving a spaceship full of passengers. Fred took a bullet to save his friend.
Then came my next error. If I wanted to be like Fred, then I would go out of my way to be self-sacrificing. If I wanted to read webcomics, I would do the ironing for Mom, and think all the while of what a wonderful person I was becoming. See? I put aside my own desires just to make Mom happy; wasn't that admirable of me?
I had entirely missed the point - again. Fred's self-sacrifice had been motivated by his love for his family. Mine had been motivated by the desire to be someone like Fred, in order to gain admiration from others, and to feel good about myself. My so-called self-sacrifice was selfish.
The more I thought about my motives, the more I realized that nothing I will ever do will have a perfectly good and pure motive. No matter how noble the action, no matter how much self-sacrifice it took for me to do it, there will always be some secret, selfish reason why I did it. But even if this is the case, it doesn't mean I should stop doing good, noble things. The ironing blessed my mom, even if I got a significant amount of selfish self-satisfaction out of it. What it does mean, though, is that I need to stop ironing because I'm trying to be like Fred, and instead, iron because I love my mom.
And thus I come to the ironic conclusion. I must start living my own life - the life God has given to me - and not Fred's, for that is the only way I will truly become like Fred.