Helping Others Helps Yourself

adult daughter teaching senior mother using smartphone in park

In today’s society, all kinds of crazy things are going on. Instead of isolating ourselves and waiting for Armageddon, we should be pulling together and taking advantage of every positive aspect of our existence. It troubles me that so many of us are unaware that reaching out and helping others helps yourself.

Today, my job is to enlighten you about how this process can turn around your level of satisfaction and success. I’m focusing on writers and the writer’s life but my advice applies equally to writers, insurance professionals, and everyone else. View my examples as metaphors and then apply them to your own circumstances.

Let me start by pouring the foundation:

  • Do unto others.
  • Pay it forward.
  • Help the less fortunate.
  • Volunteer.
  • Do no harm.

We’ve all heard these and other catchphrases urging us to be a better person. And you know what? They all focus on other people instead of ourselves!

Frankly, they turn a lot of people off. Why? Because a person’s first reaction is to think that if you’re working on yourself or your writing or anything else that relates to you, why go off-topic and switch the subject from Me to Someone Else?

Let’s adjust the focus as we begin building the house:

When a car drives into a tree, the crash is the direct cause of damage to the car. And the tree. And, more importantly, injury to the driver. The indirect cause of the damage and injury is the dog who ran into the road. Why? Because the dog prompted the driver to yank the wheel and barrel into the tree.

Life is filled with both direct and indirect causes of loss … and benefits.

In the publishing world, writers often view their successes based on:

  • How well they know their craft.
  • How accomplished they are at writing proposals, synopses, and queries.
  • How adept they are at gaining the [positive] attention of agents and editors.
  • How many books they sell.

They sit at their desks, immersed in tunnel vision, only thinking about themselves: Their work in progress. Their editing. Their rewrites. Their deadlines. Their submissions. Their rejections. In short, all the steps they need to follow to achieve their own, personal goals.

Focusing inward is essential when you’re a writer. The actual writing is, for most of us, a solitary undertaking. Even for those who work with critique partners, beta readers, and mentors, it doesn’t take a village when putting words on paper (or the computer screen).

However, all goals require a path to follow, and all paths run in two directions–two opposite directions. If focusing inward is heading North, then focusing outward is South. If you’re North, then everyone else is South.

Understanding the Value of a Sturdy Roof

None of us enjoys a leaky roof. Drip … drip … drip … will drive you crazy in about thirty seconds. Not to mention the damage that can result from inattention over time.

You absolutely MUST build a strong roof, nurture and care for it, and update it when necessary. Think of other people as the roof to your personal house. (Pssst: helping others helps yourself.)

As writers, when we comply with requests from newbies who ask us for advice and insights, we spend X hours of our own precious time educating them without receiving a direct benefit. One perspective is: the newbie doesn’t have publishing contacts. Another way of looking at it is: the newbie doesn’t know as much as we do about craft. Still another viewpoint is: the newbie doesn’t have anything to impart that we really need. Yada yada yada.

Another perspective is recognizing that each time we share what we know, we’re reinforcing it in our own minds. Each time we explain an element of our craft or the publishing industry, we’re reminding ourselves of something. Often, it’s something we may not have thought about for a while, something we can’t afford to forget. And each time we read or critique someone else’s work, we strengthen our own innate talents and perceptions. Helping others really does help yourself.

The Artistry of Finish Work

I don’t know Jane Friedman–I’ve never met her. I don’t know anyone else who knows her–but I’m familiar with her reputation in the publishing world. Between the information she provides on her website and the bazillions of online articles she’s penned and been the subject of, she embodies “helping others helps yourself.”

Here’s one article on her website about using beta readers that proves my point. The article is written by another person, but it’s on Jane’s website. You can spend all day reading the resources Jane provides on her website without spending a dime. At the same time, you’ll enrich yourself immeasurably.

My Personal Home

When I moved to Montana from Massachusetts, the only person I knew in Big Sky Country was my realtor. Nine months later, my circle of acquaintances and friends had expanded. It included about a dozen neighbors and thirty co-workers at the insurance agency where I was employed.

After I quit my job and established my second insurance agency, I followed my own advice about helping others to help myself. What did I do? I reached out to loan officers, car dealerships, the Chamber of Commerce, and local businesses, etc. I offered my time, knowledge, and expertise. Volunteering on the city’s DUI Task Force was way outside my comfort level; however, it wound up giving me tremendous satisfaction. And and community exposure. Using my sales and marketing experience, I approached the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration with an idea. The Director loved it and, together, we established a networking program that matched graduating college seniors with local businesses looking for interns and new employees. I performed other great and wonderful feats, but I’m guessing you get the picture…

Decorating Help

Now, I must admit, I did ask for one small thing in return for the time I offered without compensation. I asked my newfound friends and associates:

“If you benefit from your interactions with me, would you be kind enough to share your opinion of me–and the fact that I own an insurance agency and am trying to build a new business?”

That was it. That’s all it took. Sure, I worked hard. But other people–those I helped–worked with me and for me. They actually helped me grow my business and become a more satisfied, successful insurance professional.

The Open House: Helping Others

As a writer, I have always followed the same path. I’ve served on the board of several writer’s organizations. I’ve judged hundreds of entries in countless writer’s contests over the years. In one of the writer’s organizations of which I was a member, I created a program called Craft Chat. In each virtual monthly meeting, another published writer and I chatted with unpublished members. We answered their questions about the craft of writing served as a resource.

They helped me by introducing me to new perspectives, sharing innovative ideas, and enforcing what I already knew,. They also taught me about subjects that never even blipped on my radar.

Helping others helps yourself. Feel free to reach out to me anytime!

Who is it all about … you or me?

Let’s face it, if we’re the kind of person who spends any time thinking, most of that time is spent focused on our own feelings, perspectives, wants, fears, memories, dreams, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that–it’s human nature. In reality, putting other people first is counterintuitive. It violates the survival instinct, which views everything negative as a threat until we can investigate it and establish that our lives and welfare aren’t endangered.

But our parents, teachers, members of the clergy, and society constantly hammer into us that we have to put other people first. We need to consider the feelings of others before we think and act.  But what happens when we do all those things and wind up hurting ourselves?

I know a person who is struggling right now. In fact, she’s been in a tough place for some time. And when I say struggling, that’s exactly what I mean. She has unintentionally alienated most of her family, suffers from a medical condition, and exerts every ounce of strength going to work each day and doing what she needs to do to stay healthy and safe. She has a temporary job and a temporary place to live. And her life is TONS better now than it was a year ago.

Periodically, she visits to seek my advice and perspective about some of the challenges she faces. I hesitate to speak up, because she sees a therapist and I’m not a professionally trained medical professional qualified to give advice. However, I am a human being who understands her situation and family and I have an opinion. On the other hand, I refuse to tell her what to do because … well … who the heck am I? It’s not like I’ve always made the best life decisions myself…

But how can I just sit there and say nothing, or refuse to share my opinion, when she really, really wants it? How do I not grumble about the fact that she always visits spur of the moment–and when I have other things I really need to do (especially with only 3 days remaining ’til Christmas …)? How do I not remember the migraines that always strike the day after she visits because I exert such rigid control over myself to be sure I’m as mindful as possible when speaking, instead of being the spontaneous blurter I really am?

In short, who should I put first?

I’m sure you understand the dilemma–and sometimes face it yourself. How do YOU handle this type of situation?

I’m the kind of person who finds it nearly impossible to say no. Especially to someone who’s hurting. Seriously, how can we measure pain? Let’s say you go to the ER because of some situation, and the nurse asks, “On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your pain level?” Really? There’s a universal 1 to 10 scale that everyone shares and agrees about?

Close your eyes. Pretend it’s April, where the average temperature is in the mid-50s during the daytime. Then, pretend the sun is shining and you can feel it penetrate your bones. It’s 65 degrees and you don’t hesitate to step outside without a sweater or jacket for the first time in months. You feel wonderful. Hopeful. Warm!

Now, open your eyes, walk over to the thermostat in your house and feel the reality: 65 degrees. You’re probably freezing–with thick socks on your feet and a long-sleeved tee beneath your sweater or hoodie. 65 degrees in December is a whole different story than it is in April, isn’t it?

Life is all about perspective.

I’m sitting here writing this therapeutic blog post the day after my struggling friend visited, the migraine pounding behind my eyes. I realize I don’t have to make a choice. I don’t have to decide if it’s about her or me. Because it’s really about both of us.

She was in pain yesterday, and wanted some comfort. At the time, I wasn’t in pain and was willing and able to reach out to provide the soothing she really and truly needed. Now I’m feeling the discomfort of a headache. But you know what? My migraine isn’t as bad as it was before I began writing. As I wrote, I subconsciously managed to resolve an unrelated issue that’s been plaguing me for some time. I also experienced the reality of something I’ve said hundreds of times in my life: when we share the pain of those we love, we lessen it.

I helped my friend yesterday, and by helping her clear the fog from her thoughts so she could see a few realities, that entire process helped me do the same this morning.

She doesn’t know about it … yet. But I’m going to tell her.

It’s never just about one person. It’s always about us, collectively. Everything each of us does has an effect on someone else, or several someones. If we run from a person who’s in pain, we actually help magnify that pain–for the other person (through inattention) and for ourselves (through guilt). When we open our hearts and minds enough to put someone first in a particular moment, we’re not subjugating our own wants and feelings, we’re simply postponing putting ourselves first, and experiencing a defining moment that has the potential to change our lives.

During this holiday season, give the gift of compassion and watch it make a difference in someone else’s life … and then rebound back into yours.


What Motivates You?

I’ve always been fascinated by what makes people do what they do and say what they say. What motivates them. How and why they respond to others. It’s a really important trait to have as a writer of fiction … and as a salesperson or teacher.

Nothing is more surprising than when a quiet, normally reticent person suddenly decides to open up and share a dirty joke … or when a blabbermouth sits through an interaction quietly and can’t find the words to describe it. Introverts aren’t shy, and sociable people aren’t always extraverts.

Because I’m loud, talkative, and outgoing I’ve always been described as extraverted. On the other hand, my boyfriend–who’s soft-spoken and prefers to listen than speak–has always been described as introverted.

You know what? Everyone has us backwards. Let me tell you why…

I love being alone. Not every moment of every day, but I’d much rather spend time by myself than in a noisy room filled with people. I was never a party person, not even as a teenager. For the past 8 years, I’ve worked from home and spend 8 to 10 hours of every weekday with just the dogs and cat for company. When I’m really tired or upset, I do an excellent hermit imitation.

But being alone is something my boyfriend tolerates. He doesn’t actively look forward to it the way I do. He’s not addicted to crowds and noise, as many extraverts are, but when he’s down he wants spend time with other people–they cheer him up and give him the opportunity to NOT focus on himself and his worries.

The biggest difference between extraverts and introverts is the manner in which they gather strength. Extraverts direct their attention outward, toward other people and things. By comparison, introverts prefer to aim their focus inward, on thoughts and ideas.

Other differences include:

  • Extraverts love external activity. They prefer interacting with others, and doing. Introverts often find themselves over-stimulated when in the company of crowds. They’d much rather avoid sensory overload and simply be.
  • Extraverts often view introverts as self-centered and submissive while introverts tend to see extraverts as superficial and aggressive.

If a person is accessible and easily understood, and prefers handling a project that’s broad in scope rather than deep, he or she is probably an extravert. However, if a person is questioning and seeking to understand, and prefers a complex project rather than a far-reaching one, he or she is probably an introvert.

It’s typical for a person to have characteristics of both extraversion and introversion, but most of us fall on one side of the line that divides the two. Which are you? Are you and your spouse or partner both the same, or different? What about your kids, your boss, your coworkers–are they extraverts or introverts?