Help Yourself Before You Help Others

Saying GoodbyeThere’s a theme I’ve been hearing more often lately it seems.

I think the most recent example popped up when I was listening to a business podcast.

The host was taking callers.

One caller was talking about his struggles figuring out his next move. Corporate job? Business?

The host asked him: What do you really want to do?

The caller said that what he really wanted to do was to help others with their professional aspirations. He wanted to help aspiring entrepreneurs start businesses.

Help. Help. Help.

Another person I know in person was struggling with work. They had a great job, but something was missing. I asked them what they thought they wanted to do in the future.


Again, looking to help others.

It also appears that younger generations are giving a lot of their time and money. 84% gave a charitable donation in a recent year. And 70% also donated at least 1 hour of their time to a cause. That’s not necessarily more or less than previous generations, but in this context it’s interesting to note that such a high percentage of people wants to help others.

Looking For Meaning

So what are the possible reasons for all this altruism? The need to help, give and teach.

One reason appears to be the search for meaning.

Meaning to life. Meaning to work.

Let’s look at the younger generations again. They still value salary when job searching, but even more than that they’re looking for meaning in the work they do.

They want to feel like they’re contributing to society. To a great good. That makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something.


Another possible reason is burnout. The second person from the introduction definitely had some burnout going on. They had been working 60+ hours every week throughout their 20s.

That can earn you a lot of money. It can get you a lot of experience. I think it can be a good thing to work that much.

But the challenge is in the type of work.

If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you’re going to get burned out.

You can have the job you wanted, but if it doesn’t match your expectations you can get burned out.

Here are some additional signs of burnout:

  • Lack Of Control
  • Conflict Of Values
  • Insufficient Reward
  • Work Overload
  • Unfairness
  • Breakdown Of Community

It seems that as we get burned out we look for something else. It might be a tendency to look for something with more meaning. Something that won’t burn us out even if we put a lot of passion into it.

Reality Shock

Another thing that’s happened in the last generation was the Crisis of 2008. That left a lot of people without jobs. A lot of people had to cut back.

And it looks like that was a reality shock for a lot of people. Material things take on less importance when you’re feeling the pressure just to cover the basics like food and shelter.

And as you pull out of that or even if you don’t there’s a tendency to want to give back. Again, to find real meaning in life beyond the extra things that we don’t really need to feel good about life.

The Generational Theory

You could also look at the Strauss-Howe Generational Theory. This says that Millennials were destined to be more civic minded than the two generations before them.

They’re like the generation that fought in WWII. They have been through crisis. They’re looking for ways to be more positive about the future for the most part.

To Help Others, Help Yourself

All this giving and helping is great.

But I’ll use the old cliché that we get when we ride in the airplane.

Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

If you’re not breathing you can’t help others.

I think there’s a balance between wanting to help others, but realizing that you have to take care of yourself first. You can perhaps most help others by setting a good example. Earning a good living. Building authority and respect and power so you’re in a position to give back.

Think of the people you admire in life.

Are they successful?

Chances are good that they’ve had to be a little selfish in their life. They’ve had to work extra hours. They’ve had to make sacrifices perhaps with family and recreation in order to achieve great things.

They’re probably relatively healthy. They eat well. Workout. All the things to take care of themselves.

Yet people still look up to them. Those leaders are liking helping others by providing jobs. They likely have revenue that allows them to give back to causes. Maybe it’s now allowed them to be more flexible so they can give their time.

If you want to help others…that’s great.

But take a step back and look at doing something that is meaningful to you for the long-term. You can best help others by doing that and setting a good example and putting yourself in a great position to help.

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