One of my favorite buddhist principles is the need to take care of yourself before you help others.
In Buddhism, when you practice “metta” meditation, you always begin with yourself. You say “May I be happy. May I be free from Anger, hatred, animosity, resentment, and ill will. May I experience real peace, real happiness, real love.”
After you have done this, THEN you can move on to saying the same for friends, family, and eventually strangers and all living creatures.
It seems inherently selfish to begin with yourself — but this is an important principle in life.
If I am not in a good mindset personally, I am not in a good place to help other people. If I am full of anxiety, tension, and stress, I shouldn’t be trying to help others.
Before I can help other people. I need to take care of my own inner demons. I need to make sure that I am in a good mental state. Only THEN, once I am in a good place, should I try to help others.
This is why in Metta we begin with ourselves. Put yourself in a loving mindset first, and then deal with other people.
I love how this principle applies to work, business, relationships and more. It’s helped illuminate where I’m going wrong, and notice when others do it as well.
For example, many of us prioritize our responsibilities to work before taking care of ourselves. Wake up, get to work, and then immediately deal with other people.
No wonder why frustrations arise! We haven’t taken care of our own minds yet, and now we’re trying to deal with each other!? We approach it backwards!
We move through our days without taking the time to prioritize our own mental state. We move through our day prioritizing the needs of others before our own.
Or in relationships we sacrifice for our partners without considering our own needs. We feel reluctant to ask for space, when in reality space might be exactly what we need for a healthy relationship.
I believe that this is also especially important if you are running your own business. If you haven’t reached financial stability on your own yet, please don’t hire people. Don’t pay others a salary until you can afford to give yourself one.
I see too many founders who pride themselves on not taking a salary. They use this as a bargaining chip while talking to VC’s and wear it like a badge of honor.
I feel bad for them — they built a business that is making money and they aren’t making any money for themselves. All in hopes they will land a VC and get acquired one day.
If/when that never happens, you just spent the last few years building a business and paid thousands of dollars in salaries to OTHER people but never paid yourself. OUCH.
Yes, I understand you want to grow your business and you might think you need to hire people in order to do it. If you believe that this is the case, make sure you have a clear road to profitability, and you map out the profitability of bringing each employee on board.
Me first > them second. Pay yourself before you pay others, and if you can’t, or you’re too busy because you can’t, then try a different business. Don’t go into debt for a business that probably won’t work.
If I haven’t created financial freedom for myself, it would be irresponsible to try and create financial freedom for others.
Lastly, there are a lot of people in the “impact” or “social enterprise” world who violate this principle. Many of whom are broke, in debt, and hustling to make ends meet, all while trying to “help” people and make an impact.
If you are not financially free and able to help yourself, stop trying to “help” people.
Help yourself first. If you happen to find yourself with excess money and want to get involved, only THEN should you try to get involved in making an impact.
Only once you have accomplished this freedom do you have the time, energy, and resources needed to go out and help other people.
If you want to make an impact on the world, go earn financial freedom, and THEN focus your energy on helping others. Remain patient.
You don’t need to make your impact in your 20’s — it’s perfectly fine to give back from 40–60 when you have a solid financial foundation and have the ability to actually help people.
Long winded rants aside, this is why you need to wake up and prioritize yourself. Spend time with yourself. Meditate. Exercise. Get yourself in a good mindset before you try to deal with other people.
This is why I love meditating every morning. I create a window where I prioritize myself and my needs above all else before trying to deal with the rest of the world.
In business I use this as a principle to guide my decisions. If the business isn’t making money, I don’t pay anyone. I have to put in the work and get the results on my own.
In relationships if things aren’t working I take a hard look at myself and where I’m not happy, and why. I give myself space from my partner so that I have the ability to give them the attention they deserve and remain present.
Many of us fail to create the space we need to cultivate a happy, healthy, mind. We fail to prioritize our own needs before the needs of those around us.
Don’t fall into this trap. Prioritize your own needs before you prioritize the needs of others. Don’t try to help people unless you have sufficiently helped yourself.
Also published on Medium.