Want To Help Others? Help Yourself

One of the best qualities that many of those who have little possess is their willingness to give away the little they have to others who have less than themselves. I am truly surprised again and again when I see this phenomenon.

What I am not surprised with at all in working with those who are largely underemployed or unemployed and on social assistance, is that when asked about their career aspirations, they overwhelmingly talk about wanting to help others. So just to be clear, these are unemployed people with minimum wage part-time jobs or no jobs whatsoever, who are in receipt of financial assistance in order to eat and pay rent, and instead of having their hand out for more, are looking to help others. They may have hit on one of the very best attributes a person can have in doing so.

And here I am looking as objectively as I can at this person, living in poverty, living on a daily basis with the uncertainty that dependency on others requires, and thinking to myself, “You do realize you’re someone who needs help. Get yourself together first.”

Of course this inner voice that is compelling these same individuals to want to help others, resonates with them because they have been on the receiving end, and they know first-hand what it feels like to have someone reach out and offer them a hand. I think it fair to say that the people with employment that they interact with on social assistance are largely in the helping professions themselves, so the role models they see and aspire to are what they know.

In other words, if they have dealt with Social Workers, Caseworkers, Employment, Addiction and Mental Health Counsellors, Legal Aid Workers and Advocacy Workers, it is highly probable that at least one of these people at some point has had an impact on them for good; enough perhaps to make them want to do something similar.

In the middle class, we might growing up be exposed more to University Professors, business leaders, the financial sector etc., and so we might find someone in one of these professions and think to ourselves, “I’d like a job just like so-and-so. I could see myself doing that.”

Often the problem for people in poverty however is that they only see the side of the job where the person in the helping profession is meeting with them one-on-one. They don’t see the paperwork, the computer software data inputting, the theories that need mastering, the meetings, the statistic gathering, the proposal writing, the accountability. We in the professions know the schooling it took us to obtain our degrees, diplomas and Masters. Unfortunately, if we are objectively honest, we may find ourselves skeptical at best and downright unbelieving at worst, that a client in poverty battling mental health and addiction issues has what it will require to succeed in formal higher education.

Is that fair? Are we setting limits on people that we should really be encouraging? Or are we in danger of encouraging someone to strive for a job they say they want who will ultimately end up being in debt from University fees and drop out when they are overwhelmed because they lack the proper discipline and intellect to pass course exams?

There’s a danger here as we might be painting everyone in poverty and on assistance as destined for low-paying, working poor employment; and that’s just wrong. There are many in poverty who have intelligence, some with university degrees and even the odd Doctor here and there which might surprise you. It’s a testament to our ignorance; yours AND mine if we collectively think only people with low-education make up those in poverty.

One true way to help others of course does in fact remain to help yourself first. Help others down the road in other words when you’ve lifted yourself out of poverty and are self-sufficient. Get your education, get a decent paying job, or get your attitude adjusted from negative to positive. Put yourself in a place where you can rely on yourself financially, then you’ll find yourself in a position to not only help others with money if that’s your wish, but you can help them by being a living example.

It’s not enough in other words for an addict in recovery to see themselves as wanting to help others break free. Sure the intent is good, and no one knows more about what it feels like to be an addict than a recovered addict. However, to be highly effective, you’re going to need the education to go with your role as a past-user to be in a position to help others best when they are ready for your help.

Getting yourself together means setting some meaningful short and long-term goals. It means making some different and better decisions. It might mean a return to school to finish a diploma, gaining some self-respect and confidence. It might also mean putting your personal needs first and foremost at this point of your life and learning to both like and help yourself as a primary activity.

Whether it’s shaving an unruly beard, taming the wild hair, updating your wardrobe, saying, “yes” instead of “maybe someday”, you can make decisions to improve your personal life now.

It’s true; if you want to help others, help yourself first. That’s not selfish; it’s wisdom.

Giving Of Yourself Too Much Can Be Dangerous

Is it even possible to give of yourself too much? Yes it is. But there’s no harm in that is there? Yes there is.

Do you know someone who has issues of their own they are working through, or should be working through, and yet they spend much of their time listening to and helping other people? I know more than just a few, I know a lot of people like this. And there is an irony that these same people being called on to listen and provide supportive advice and counselling are themselves dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, low-self image and self-esteem, financial hardship, mental health issues and parenting issues just to name some of the more common problems they face.

There is an inherent danger for these people which they sometimes realize but more often than not fail to do so. In their futures, there is likely to come a time when they become incapacitated from being able to not only help others, but their own lives and feelings of usefulness deteriorate and not understanding why, come to resent themselves and it can end very badly.

Allow me to explain. A simple analogy is a tall pitcher with liquid in it. If that full pitcher represents ones capacity to give, there’s enough there to give away. So yes it’s your pitcher but you are able to provide yourself and others with some of it quite happily. But now there is less in the pitcher and some of those people come back for more. Well this time not everybody is satisfied. First of all those that take some may get less than they’d like and the ones who get nothing are disappointed there isn’t anything for them. You? Unless you find a way to add more liquid to the pitcher, there isn’t any for you either, and you’re unable to draw from it yourself.

So in real life what does this look like? How about the single mother who is raising two teens, one of which is bitter, mad at the world, blames the parent for the driving the spouse away. The same single parent is trying to stave off the landlord from evicting them, somehow catch up with utility arrears, caring for aging parents that say she doesn’t visit enough, sees the cost of food rising beyond what she can afford. Now throw in unemployment and while attending some workshops to improve herself, one of the two kids at home isn’t going to school and the school is demanding attention to the matter and summoning her in for meetings.

So here we’ve got a person trying to appease school officials, meet her children’s needs, placate her own parents who are ill and aging, find money to pay utility arrears and landlord increases, and while keeping all these people happy by giving them her time and attention, is neglecting herself and her own desire and need for employment. That’s quite a juggling act. How many more stressors do you think such a person would be likely to add to this juggling routine before everything falls apart? Well let’s add the two or three friends who constantly come to her for advice because she’s so good at listening. Hmmm….

In such a situation, I can’t pretend to tell you there is one solution that would be right for everyone or even best for everyone. But generally speaking, I think it’s time – high time for this person to be given permission to become a little selfish and spend some time in self-care. In other words, if you give and give until there is nothing left to give, not only will you be of little or no use to anyone you care about, you’ll be paralyzed and unable to function which will make you not only unable to help others, but you’ll resent yourself for your inability to do so. You may come to see yourself as a failure; a failure as a parent, a provider, a good child to your own parents, a good listener for your friends, and at worse a person of value. Stop seeing yourself as a good person and you’re in trouble.

Being selfish in this respect might mean telling those friends you’re taking some time to get things in order and can’t give them the time they’d like for a while. It might mean exploring help in the community to get those arrears paid off and by swallowing some pride keep the lights and heat on. It might mean telling a rebellious angry teen that believes it’s all about him that it isn’t; and that some family counselling, better behaviour and school aren’t options anymore, they are mandatory and the alternative is the door.

Again, I’m not advocating the above as the only solutions, nor the best ones for everybody. Fail to take care of yourself and get your own life together however, and you’ll have less ability to help the very ones you love and want to be there for the most. Being selfish in this regard really has the long-term impact of continuing to be able to give of yourself, but much more effectively.

Share your load with someone in a professional capacity who may suggest help you don’t even know exists. You’re going to feel better, like yourself more, and ultimately juggle less things daily which makes it all the more manageable.

Today I Decided To Be Selfish And Guess What Happened?

I don’t know what happened to me this morning, but right from the moment I was getting dressed, I just felt like this was going to be a fantastic day. Now, I had no plans, no big presentations, no award gala to attend in my honour; it just felt great. So I made a decision right then and there, standing naked in my closet, to be selfish.

Yessiree, I decided that I was going to put my needs above everybody else’s. I started with a guy in a car who was moving up quickly on my right, and I knew he was trying to get ahead of me just before our lanes merged. I had the right of way but he wanted desperately to get by. So what did I do? I reminded myself that I had made a decision to be selfish, and I slowed down and let him in. Huh? Yes I let him in. He was happy, and I got happy too.

When I got to work, I was the first to arrive as I am most days. One of the Administrative Support staff who always comes in shortly after me and chats, came in and I was busy doing something else. So I had a choice to either curtly nod and keep focused on what I was doing because it was important, or I could stop, turn around, smile and chat and say something to get her to laugh…and she has a great laugh. Well, I thought again that I had decided to be selfish, so it became obvious to me what I should do. I turned around, stopped working and gave her my full attention. We talked for 4 or 5 minutes and she laughed and laughed which of course made me smile and laugh too. Geez I was being selfish!

Not too soon after this, my Supervisor came and told me that one of my colleagues would not be in today. That would mean we were one person down, and she was asking me to help her figure things out. I could have said that I had things I had to work on, (which I really do) or I could have volunteered to pick up the slack and work at doing my job and a bit more in order to make things run smoother. You guessed it; I told myself right there and then that it was National Selfish Day as far as I was concerned; all about me day. So I did the logical thing and adapted, covering for my colleague and putting aside the things I had planned on working on. Man this selfish thing is really catching on!

I was selfish several other times in the day too. I found all kinds of ways to put my needs ahead of my clients, my co-workers, my Supervisor and well, just about anybody. I even told the woman who made me a Western Sandwich this morning at the deli counter that I really appreciated her service and wished her a good day. All that did of course was make me feel real good inside! It is sooooo all about me!

You see, if you think about it, many motivational speakers and leaders tell us to put the needs of others before our own needs. That is something I did for years and years because it just made sense to me, and I bought in. Ah, but where is the profit in that for me personally if I’m doing everything for everybody else? If I give and give and give, my ability to give will eventually dry up unless it gets replenished. Hey – that’s compassion fatigue! However, if I put the needs of others first because ultimately I feel good doing it, and it puts a spring in my step, a smile on my face and people are coming up sayng, “You sure are in a good mood today, what’s up?”….hmmm…..something must be working well.

When we put the needs of our clients first, serve our customers with enthusiasm and care, actively listening to Them express Their needs and Their frustrations and then ACT to help them out – ultimately because They appreciate the help They receive, we help ourselves! How self-serving of ourselves. Giving of ourselves is the most precious thing we can do in our daily work. Sure we can relay information we have and do it in such a way that it is almost disconnected from us as people, but we can also choose to give that same information in a manner that shows interest, real concern, and real caring. All that seems to do is make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So what happens when we feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Well terrible things, like sleeping soundly at night, awful things like be thanked for ‘doing our job’, and nasty things like getting a ‘job well done’ from our superiors. Who wants that? Then we go home and our spouses and kids benefit too because we’re in a great mood, and the drivers on the road benefit from our good moods where on another day we were road rage in action.

Just imagine if two people decided to be selfish together…it would be the start of something. What if three or four, maybe five people all made up their minds to be selfish – why it would be an uprising. Imagine if, I said imagine if an entire office or company just flat out decided to make being selfish their number one priority? Why it’d be a movement!

I don’t know if food tastes better when we are doing good things or not, I guess I’ll find out tonight when I make supper for my wife – I’m just so entirely selfish!