Help Yourself First

Yesterday, I received a question from Quora that resonated with me. Here, it is.

“What should I do? I feel weak and dumb because I am a young computer scientist and I think I can’t help people in difficulty.”

The Messianic Stage

We all go through a developmental stage that Jordan Peterson calls the Messianic Stage. In that stage, we see the suffering in the world, and we think we can change it.

We dive into social causes and try to do whatever we can to make a change in the world. Unfortunately, we figure out that we don’t make a significant difference.

We try to involve others, but we realize that they don’t care. We get frustrated and heartbroken.

My Experience with the Messianic Stage

So far, I met only two people who stayed in their Messianic Stage. One of them is an extremely competent person who was able to build a charity and executed some remarkable projects in Africa.

I acknowledge and appreciate his work, but he is more of an exception than a rule. So, I wouldn’t call myself weak and dumb if I cannot replicate his success.

The second person I met followed the academic path. I expect her to become an academician or a career politician. Again, she is more of an exception than a rule.

All the other friends of mine who were serious about social issues eventually got regular jobs or started small businesses and carried on with their lives. That includes me.

I must admit that I was super fast realizing that I cannot make any significant change as a high school student and got over my Messianic Stage pretty quick.

My Case for Outgrowing Your Messianic Stage

Does outgrowing our Messianic Stage make us weak and dumb? I don’t believe it does, and here’s my case. There are different job descriptions in the society, and everybody has a job. Social work is a job in itself and requires a certain skill set.

I don’t agree that you can’t become a social worker. I believe in growth mindset, and that means that you can become a great social worker if you put in the time and effort necessary. The question is, do you want to commit to this path? Or do you see it as a second job, a side hustle, or a hobby?

You might work as a volunteer in a charity for a year to get the experience, but if you don’t commit to that path full time, you’ll likely not make the kind of impact you’re aiming for.

How to Really Help People in Need

Here’s the twist. You don’t need to commit your life to social work to make a positive impact in the world. You’ll make the most positive impact in the world by becoming your best version.

If your best version isn’t a social worker but a computer scientist, then you becoming the best computer scientist you can be has a much greater positive impact on the lives of the people you are trying to help.

Let that last sentence sink in, because I know it’s hard to grab. We live in a tightly connected world where you help the humanity the most by helping yourself. Or in other words, you cannot help yourself without helping the humanity.

Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, but they are exceptions. For average people like you and me that rule holds.

Creating Wealth for Yourself is Creating Welfare for Humanity

In today’s society, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for others. By doing that, you increase the welfare of humanity as a whole. Not only by all the value you contribute to the humanity, but also with every dollar you spend and all the taxes you pay.

When you believe that you have created sufficient wealth for yourself and for your family, you can retire and commit yourself to charity work as Bill Gates did. You don’t have to be a billionaire to do that. Reaching financial freedom for your retirement is sufficient.

Moreover, you can build more wealth than you and your family can spend, and then donate a portion of it to charity like Warren Buffet.

If you read the biography of Warren Buffet, The Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein, you’ll see that he didn’t distract himself with social issues. He was focused 100% on his own business.

Buffet had the urge to do something good for the society, but he procrastinated on it until he realized that he could trust Bill Gates with his money on that front.

Now, think about it. What would provide greater value to society? Warren Buffet focusing on his business for his entire life and then donating most of his wealth to charity? Or Warren Buffet going back and forth between his business and charity work?

Put Your Goals and Life in Perspective

Again, you don’t need to become a billionaire to make a significant donation to charity at the end of your life. Just look at the big picture of your life and put your goals into perspective.

Maybe, the first milestone of helping people in hardship is you becoming the best computer scientist you can, and the rest of the path will reveal itself once you reach that milestone.

Summary

The Messianic Stage is a developmental stage that we go through. In that stage, we think that we have to save people in need.

After a while, we figure out that we can’t make much difference in the lives of people in need, and we carry on with our lives. This doesn’t make us dumb or weak.

There’s one thing that we can do for the people in need. That’s becoming the best version of ourselves in our chosen profession.

That way, we’ll add value to humanity in general and pay taxes. A portion of the taxes we pay will be spent on welfare projects.

When we reach retirement, we can always dedicate the rest of our lives to helping people in need like Bill Gates did. Or we can allocate a portion of our wealth to charities as Warren Buffet did.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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