“The very best thing you can do for the whole world is to make the most of yourself.” ― Wallace D. Wattles

Think of the warm breezes, beautiful sunny skies and the sweet taste of mojitos grazing your lips as your toes sink into the sand. Yup, it’s summer time – but you better get your body toned up into shape before you can even entertain the thought of hitting the beach.

So what do you do?

Immediately head over to the gym and hire a personal trainer, of course. But as he walks out of the back room you notice that he is in even worse shape than you are and think, “how is this guy gonna help me if he can’t even help himself?”.

This is a familiar notion and is certainly not limited to personal trainers needing their own personal trainers. Many people who are interested in helping others often aren’t in the position to do so, and worse, they aren’t even aware of it! They might lack the credibility, the skills, and/or most likely, the direction.

If you are a reader of this blog or regularly follow any personal development advice, then you undoubtedly know the concept, “help others to help yourself.” As wonderfully admirable as this advice is, it is not the full story. You must understand what is not being said here in helping others to help yourself is one of the most important, and seemingly contradictory, features of altruism – Let’s call it the ‘Helping Paradox’.

Helping Paradox: You must help yourself in order to help others

When committing yourself to helping others, no matter the motive, you are essentially acting as a leader. In a leadership position, you must not only know where you are taking the other person, but you need to know where you are taking yourself. This is nonnegotiable.

If you truly are interested in helping others (which I believe all humans at some level strive to do), whether through your job, community, relationships, or just everyday life, then you need to take a look inward and reflect on your own growth process. In essence, the more developed you are, the more you will be able to develop others. But don’t just take my word for it, let’s back this up with some simple math.

A relationship (either professional or personal) is basically an equation:

If A wants to help B with something (romantic advice, learning the guitar, baking a cake, getting a promotion, etc.), the more developed A is, the higher the value of the relationship in that area; thus, the better the potential for B. In other words, when you help yourself, by default you increase the mutual value of the relationship.

So where do you begin?

Start at the most fundamental level of your growth process: your direction. At the very root of everything you do, there MUST be a WHY behind that behavior. If we were to equate your life to a business, then your direction is your personal mission statement.

A mission statement is a statement of purpose of why a company exists. “It should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It’s a goal for what the company wants to do for the world.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Luckily, we aren’t trying to take on the whole world here (for now). However, we can apply this definition and the tenet of the ‘helping paradox’ to develop a personal direction so we can take aim at the select people we want to help at this moment.

Think about the most influential people in the world. The commonality they all share isn’t their skillset, charisma, or intelligence – it’s their uncompromising understanding of themselves and certainty of their destination.. They know their WHY. That way, they are able to persist through internal and external struggles to break down the walls that contain most people in order to help those around them.

This is not a new concept, but it is a universal one. Nietzsche elegantly illustrated this over 100 years ago: “He who has a WHY to live can bear almost any how.”

Your WHY is for YOU, and in fulfilling the ‘helping paradox’, your HOW is for others.

Keep in mind, finding your personal direction is not as simple as it sounds. It’s easiest to grab something that is right in front of you – everyone does that. But what is within you is a path that you are carving out yourself.

Therefore, it will require great perseverance to pummel through the high volume of uncertainty and internal and external distractions. Like Tim Ferriss says, “most people prefer unhappiness over uncertainty.” Fortunately, you are not most people…

You are the one who is carving out your path to help lead others down theirs!

Spark Your Growth

As Simon Sinek puts it in his famous TED talk, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Thus, you need to look inward to discover why you do the things you do. Within that self-discovery process, you will begin to understand an underlying trend between all of your behaviors and desires.

Ask yourself:

  • Why am I interested in certain things?
  • Why do I have the job I have? Relationship? Hobbies? Ideologies? Ambitions?
  • What is the commonality between them
  • What are my values?
  • What drives me?
  • What is stopping me?

2. Document your mission statement:

A company with strong values and ambitious goals to help improve the world will quickly be compromised if they don’t have it spelled out in a mission statement that holds them accountable. This applies to you too.

After you find your why: WRITE IT DOWN. Do this in a few short sentences. Make it clear, concise, and specific to you. This way you have a document that holds your actions accountable. Here are some good examples of NPO mission statements.

3. Embrace leadership:

You have always had an influence on somebody, but now it is time to share your influence on the world and embrace the leadership role.

Therefore, set a standard of excellence for your group. As you sprint down the path you have carved out for yourself and continually cultivate the best you, people will notice and seek to join you in your newfound clarity. Your leadership is now a responsibility.

Talk to the people closest to you and ask them where do they want to be and how can you help them get there. People are starving for someone to push them toward their human potential, but you can’t wait for them to ask. If you truly want to be a leader and help others, then be proactive and ask them first.

The beauty of the helping paradox is once you have defined your direction, helping others becomes natural. But the process of discovering that direction is paramount in embracing the leadership role. As a wise John Locke once said,

“A leader can’t lead until they know where they’re going.”