Give More of Yourself By Being Selfish

by Stephen Mills on March 15, 2009

You Can't Give Something You Don't Have

You can’t give something you don’t have.

OK, so the title is a little over the top, but bear with me for just a bit and I think we will get there.  One of the foundational principles by which I have always lived is to be committed to not ever being a burden on anyone else.  I am horrified by the thought that I might be a burden or an obligation on someone else.

I believe that the greatest gift I can give to my fellow human beings is to not be a drain on their resources.  I prefer those resources be used in creating a better world for everyone.  I take care of myself so others do not have to take care of me.  I may not be able to live up to that 100% of the time, but I try.  There are times when it can’t be helped.  Circumstances sometimes overtake us, but for the most part this is within our control.  What at a wonderful world it would be if everyone followed this principle.  I truly believe that.

Over the last year or two I have failed to live up to my commitment.  Yes, I have let myself down and I have become somewhat of a burden on those I love.  I let my health go bad.  I had always focused on financial or other types of burdens, and forgot about my health.  Health burdens can be one of the worst burdens you can foist upon others both from a financial and a time perspective.  However, I have turned the corner on that issue and if I have anything to do with it, it will never happen again.

I raved about Tim Brownson’s e-book in my review yesterday.  While reading that book, I was reminded of this topic in his lesson #2 – Who is the Most Important Person in the World to You? Tim answers that with YOU.  I couldn’t agree more.

The point he and I both are making is that if you aren’t around to give, then you aren’t going to be giving anything.  If you can’t take care of yourself financially, health-wise, emotionally, or any number of other ways then how are you going to help anyone else?  I am not the articulate and witty writer that Tim is, so I’m going to let him say it for me:

… but let me tell you a secret.  The most efficiently benevolent people on earth still put themselves first.  They know that if they don’t look after their own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health then they can’t function efficiently.  I’m not suggesting you become self-centered and arrogant or that you neglect your family and loved ones.  In fact I’m suggesting the complete opposite because when you decided to be kind to yourself first, then you will have more to offer others.

Tim doesn’t mention “financial” in his list and I suspect we may differ a little there.  I think that is just as important as all the others, but the underlying message from both of us is the same.

Are you a taker or a giver?  You have to make yourself into a healthy, happy, independent member of the human family before you can truly give of yourself.  If you don’t, you will end up as a taker and not a giver.  There is abundance.  Help others with their abundance by making sure you have yours first.  You can share yours with others and then those you touch along the way as well as all of the rest of us will be living a world that is just a little bit better.

When we talk about giving, your way of doing so does not have to fit into some narrow vision of mine or of someone else.  You decide whether it will be time, money, knowledge, encouragement, mentoring, your happy disposition, a smile, or whatever you choose.

I know this may sound crass but I do not intend it that way.  Suspend your judgement for a moment and think about the idea I left for you at the end of this article.  Ponder it.  Let it bubble around for a while.

Then go visit a magnificent museum or drown yourself in the arts in some other manner that suits your needs.  You may be doing so with the resources donated (just look at the name on the building) by someone who took care of themselves first.  Then they built a library for people who otherwise might never have seen a book.  The librarian is to be honored, but they wouldn’t be of help without the building and the books.

You can’t share something you don’t have.

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Donations: 8 reasons why it sucks to donate | Tomasz Gorecki | Debt In Your 20's Is The Kiss of Death
April 17, 2009 at 10:01 pm

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Michael | eVentureToday March 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm

Stephen, awesome article today!

You are absolutely right in so many ways. This is something that I learned a few years back by watching someone very close to me do the opposite. Constantly sacrificing her own happiness in order to make others happy. Sounds noble, but it is truly unhealthy.

As you said, “you can’t give something you don’t have.” How could she truly make others happy, if it meant giving up the things made her happy. It might work in the short-term, but no matter how much she ‘gave’ she never felt satisfied, which in turn added to the unhappiness. Not a good cycle to be in.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I don’t bring up this biblical scripture for theological reasons, but simply as evidence going back to one of the oldest pieces of literature. What this implies though is very powerful.

It implies loving yourself. And more importantly, that in order to “love thy neighbor” you must “love thyself.” Once again, “you can’t give what you don’t have.”

We must treat our ‘being’ with love and respect. Putting ourselves at the top of the list is not selfish… it’s truly the only way we can expect to give more. How much can you give if you are depressed? How much can you give if you are unhealthy? How much can you give if you’re dead? Not much.

PUT YOURSELF FIRST: The more healthy you are (mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally), the more able you are to give in a powerful and meaningful way. Perhaps it shouldn’t be “put yourself first”, but rather “PUT YOUR HEALTH FIRST.”

In regards to money, I feel that financial health falls onto a different realm. You do not necessarily need dollars and cents to be giving and charitable. You can give time, energy, love, etc. But at the same time I do not feel guilty or selfish to desire wealth. With wealth, comes the ability and thus responsibility to support our family and fellow man. Wealth is not a bad thing…how it is used falls on choice and personal belief.

Again, great article Stephen. One that I really feel strongly about. Thank You.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm

@Michael, thank you for such a thoughtful comment. This is really what makes blogs true user content.

“You do not necessarily need dollars and cents to be giving and charitable.”

That is very true and I would never claim otherwise. That is why I said you can choose how you help. Everyone has something different to offer. But you need financial health to give financial help right?

If you give your time at a homeless shelter, doesn’t someone have to support the shelter itself? The utilities and other expenses, etc? If you don’t have financial health you may not have time to give because you are working two jobs correct? Financial help and health should not be dismissed.


Michael | eVentureToday March 15, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Absolutely… I did not mean to suggest otherwise or question the integrity of your opinion. I simply feel that the two are separate but interconnected elements of the same picture. You are 100% correct though, Financial Health should not be dismissed.

My financial health is very important to me. As you said, how can I spend quality time with my family if I’m working 80 hours a week? I am driven to become financially strong in order to “support my family and fellow man.”

It is true, that in order to give financially, we must be financially healthy. Personal Health and Financial Health are two sides to the same coin. Both are important, and together can magnify our ability to give.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 15, 2009 at 8:33 pm

@Michael, I think we are right there on the same wavelength! Great stuff once again.


Giovanna Garcia March 15, 2009 at 7:00 pm

Hi Stephen

It all start with you. If you want to help the poor, you cannot be one of them. In the airplane they always said in case of the air mask come down, put your own mask on before tending to a child. You are good for no one if you are not good yourself.
Giovanna Garcia
Imperfect Action is better than No Action


Personal Development Tips March 15, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Good Morning Stephen,
You and I are so in tune with each other!
I am definately a giver (in general) I am very self sufficient and rely heavily on myself to be able to provide support, coaching and mentorship to my team members, friends and colleagues.
The best way to do this effectively is to ensure that I am all good and looking after myself. You cant expect much of yourself if you dont keep yourself in peak condition and up to any challenge!
I will be back to keep an eye on your valuable articles – thankyou for your great work 🙂
Kymmy Link


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 15, 2009 at 8:32 pm

@Kymmy, when I read your comment, for a moment I thought you were saying “ensure that I am all good looking”! LOL! (I’m sure you are after all) Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the continuing dialogue 🙂

@Giovanna, you are so right with the airplane mask example. When it really counts you have to be all there. Thanks!


Glen Allsopp March 16, 2009 at 6:23 am

Nice post Stephen.

You say:

I believe that the greatest gift I can give to my fellow human beings is to not be a drain on their resources.

There may be a time when you actually are a drain on the resources of others, through no choice of your own. Therefore, maybe it’s best to give all you can now incase that is ever the case.

Someone left a comment on my blog recently about how when Warren Buffett was worth $880m why he didn’t give it all away to charity. He said because he can make more money with that and then donate more. of course, now he’s donated over $30bn 😉



Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills March 16, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Hey Stephen,

I think you nailed it my friend. Sounds like you have learned a hard lesson about taking care of your health. A lot of people have had similar experiences, partially because our culture puts more emphasis on money that it does on health. I am glad to hear that you are almost past it. Sometime life’s lessons come with a cost. As long as we’ve paid the price, we might as well learn the lesson. Excellent post.


Stephen - Rat Race Trap March 16, 2009 at 11:42 pm

@Glen, that’s a very good point. I love the Warren Buffet trivia!

@Jonathan, thanks. Yes, you are right about life’s lessons being expensive sometimes. If we look for the lessons we can learn a great deal from those mistakes.


Spencer July 18, 2010 at 2:10 pm

You talk about self righteousness yet in the end you come back to say you should still think of bettering others lives. You are right when saying the most important person is yourself, for we are living our own lives and have no say in others. The only persons life who should benefit from your hard work is your own. You say you don’t want to drain others or become a burden, yet what are you allowing others to do when they accept your charity? Now you might say they are not burdening you because you first thought about yourself, and financially allowed yourself to not be affected after giving charity. Then what are you giving as charity? The scraps after dinner? The leftovers after buying a flat screen? Now tell me what the charity has become. Its nothing but your selfish desire to do something good because in your twisted head it makes up for bettering yourself earlier.


TJ November 21, 2010 at 7:43 am

Thank you for your article. I came across your blog while flitting around the web and saw this post. I agree with you, and I truly believe that we should think about ourselves even while we think of others. In the end, we’re all self-serving people. And if helping your own life and feeling good is part of the reason we help other people, then it really shouldn’t matter. Often when we give, we receive many times that in return. Giving, be it time, effort, money, etc., should be about that desire to help others, but if you do it to discover the world, meet people and feel good about helping people as well, then there’s absolutely no wrong in that. Only when your primary aim for helping is to mitigate any guilt you may have, should you need to start reflecting about the way you live life. Thank you again for your post. It has opened up so much thought for all of us.


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