Demolish Selfishness: 5 Ways to Help Yourself to Help Others

You board a plane. You say hi to the crew. You walk down the narrow aisle. You stow…

You board a plane. You say hi to the crew. You walk down the narrow aisle. You stow away your carry-on. You buckle up. You hear the airline attendant turn on the mic.

We all know what comes next. Most of us watch glossy-eyed as he or she tightens the belt buckle and points toward the emergency exits. But what’s always intrigued me is the “put on your safety mask first before helping others” rule.

Wanderlust speaker and emergency doctor James Maskalyk’s Speakeasy explored this notion: you truly need to first help yourself before you can help others. I had the pleasure of taking part in the same hike that James was on, and had the opportunity to ask him about a personal issue that’s been plaguing me for over a decade.

As a second-generation Asian-Canadian, it’s been a difficult journey to find my own place in Western society while living within the traditional cultural expectations of my parents. The cultural gap in our household is much greater than the generation gap. I presented my situation to James, and from our conversation through the forest, I gained a few insights on how everyone should help himself or herself before helping others, even if that means saying no to loved ones.

1. Take Care of Yourself

James talked about how it’s important to prevent burnout. From the context of his medical background, he said that doctors or nurses gave so much of themselves to help others that they had to stop practicing due to burnout. In turn, this prevents future patients from benefiting from their care. In other words, helping others is a good thing only if it’s sustainable. So first thing’s first: take good care of yourself whether that’s taking a long bubble bath, taking time to cook healthy meals, going to a yoga class, gardening, or meditating. Whatever brings you positive energy, do that to fulfill your soul first.

2. Set Boundaries

We hate to think of others around us as energy vampires, but even the closest of kin can unconsciously take up negative attitudes. James brought up a good point: it’s still possible to love someone but to be away from him or her. Whenever someone close to you is asking for too much of you or is unloading too much negativity, know that you have the right to set boundaries. Communicate with the other person to let him or her know that you still enjoy the _________ (insert friendship, relationship, etc) but no, you can’t continue to _________ (insert listen to the drama, be caught between the crossfire, etc).

3. Surround Yourself with Supportive People

The flipside to setting boundaries with people who bring you down is to surround yourself with people who support you. Those who support you will encourage you to go for your dreams. You’ll feel energized after talking to them. They’ll inspire you to be your best self. We’ve all heard of the idea that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. So make your time count: spend time with those you feel as though it wasn’t wasted time, but rather time well wasted.

4. Don’t Live By Others’ Expectations

Steve Jobs said it best, “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” Trying to make other people happy can be a great thing; it requires putting yourself out there and sacrifice to a certain degree, and that should be admired. But when it means you’re not being true to yourself, that’s when the problem arises. Keep in mind that social norms and cultural expectations change constantly – the same way language does (think Y2K, bling, twerk). Live by your own rules because what others think of you is none of your business.

5. Only Give What You Have

Nearing the end of our conversation, James mentioned how you can’t give someone what you don’t have. It made me think of how a few people close to me are so eager to be of service to others that they will go out of their way to learn something new just to help others. This is a disservice for both parties because the person trying to help wastes time learning something shallow, while the receiving party could have received more in-depth expertise from someone else. To help others, you first must have a full cup. Otherwise, what would you pour into their cup?

wanderlustmirandasam.jpg copyMiranda Sam is a marketing professional and fashion writer from Vancouver, BC. She believes that we all need to actively push our boundaries, whether on the mat or with our personal style. This yin yoga certified instructor will gladly help you challenge yourself with an inversion or try a new look. Check out Miranda’s latest fashion musings on