You Cannot Help Others Until You Help Yourself

“Be a helper.” That’s what my father told me every morning as he dropped me off at school. He ripped the phrase from my most recently watched Donut Man episode (If you aren’t familiar, you’re welcome).   He meant the phrase innocently enough, I’m sure, but that is not how I saw it day after day, year after year.

Despite artistic inclinations and aspirations, my whole life path has been rife with me being “a helper.”  In school, I was the go-to girl for explaining tricky concepts or knowing what the homework assignments would be for those who were out sick or forgetful.  I was the one who would share snacks.  As I matured, I became the one to ask for feminine products.  Then, I entered the workforce and became a customer service guru, a diplomat of doormat proportions. If I had a nickel for every coworker or client that said I was too nice or had incredible patience, I wouldn’t have to work another day in my life.  People come to me because I seem to know everything or know who to ask if I don’t, and I prove them right by helping them.  When tyrannical clients call, they always “somehow” end up on my phone line, and I make the problem disappear like magic.

Perhaps I’ve already given the wrong impression. I sound like a decent, kind-hearted person who is happy to help others. I’m not saying I’m not, but I have been such a “help” throughout my life, I have no idea who I really am.  Behind my flouncing brown curls is a set of headphones blaring alternations of emo classics, cutting edge rap, or alternative music so sad, you’d think it was raining.  (Though, when I say blaring, I mean only as loud as I can hear without anyone else being subjected to the music because I’m “helping”). Underneath my warm smile is a seething pool of white-hot anger, and I’ve been angry so long, I don’t know what makes me happy, sad, irritated, or tired, so it all just pools until steam comes out of my ears and nose.

Only those closest to me have witnessed the rage I manage to keep leashed a majority of the time, but upon catching a whiff of this demon, many turn tail and flee.  The joke about Jesus’s underrated miracle being that he had 12 friends in his 30s hits me a little too close to home.  I’m used to rerouting sharp bursts of laughter into warmer tones and using charm to cover other wounds.

What does any of this shit have to do with self-help?

I’ve been a reader of Thought Catalog since 2013, and if you’re anything like me, you clicked on this article searching for either validation or solution for the drudgery that is helping oneself via self-help.  This site has been, and continues to be, a great resource for this sort of content, but I felt inspired to write this meandering piece for one bit of advice that I think I have finally learned.

YOU CANNOT HELP OTHERS UNTIL YOU HELP YOURSELF.

SELF-HELP ONLY WORKS IF YOU’RE WILLING TO HELP YOURSELF.

I could rattle off a list of things to do.  I could explain why I am the way I am with various tactics, ranging from psychological to philosophical.  I could tear into several more stories from my childhood that would help me make sense.  But none of that really matters.  None of that helps.

What does help?  Doing what you want.

I am NOT saying to be an asshole, but then again, maybe I am.  One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was, “Don’t be afraid to be an asshole.”  The context of that advice is very important.  Think about the average asshole in your life.  I’ll wait.  Shouldn’t take too long.

Got ’em?  Okay.

How much time do you think this person spends wondering or worrying about being an asshole to others?

My guess is somewhere verrrry close to none.

If you’re even wondering at all if you are an asshole, then this advice is for you. Hell, it’s for me too.  It isn’t assholic to need to look after yourself.  It isn’t horrendous to be someone who needs time or resources.  It isn’t hellacious to be in flux, to not have it all right, to ruin things, to bang your head against the wall.

What IS a terrible, horrendous, hellacious, assholic thing is to waste this one beautiful life that you have trying to placate and tend to others so much that you are no longer yourself.  Please, reader, take this from someone who wasted over two decades doing that with absolutely NOTHING to show for it.  I was told in 6th grade I had a knack for writing, and I’ve been itching to share my voice with the world.  I worried that meant I was a pretentious asshole, so this is my first entirely solo article to grace the internet.  No matter what the result of publishing this is, I know my only regret will be not trying my hand at this sooner.  In “not being an asshole,” I was an asshole to myself. How can I possibly begin to enjoy helping others and believe I’m a decent person if I’m that much of a jerk to myself?

Yes, this world needs a lot of help.  A LOT.  But I can’t help but feel that is true simply because those of us with the warm, sticky-gooey-cinnamon-bun hearts are too busy rolling out red carpets for people who could give a damn about others.  The tender hearts are laughed at for weakness when we are the fiercest warriors for this world.

While I’ve mixed many a metaphor and rambled, I truly enjoyed crafting this piece.  And if that makes me a total asshole, then huzzah! I love it.

Now it’s your turn.  Help yourself so you can (say it with me) Be a Helper.

About the author
I spout random facts in conversations when I'm nervous. Follow Carli on Instagram or read more articles from Carli on Thought Catalog.

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