How should I spend my time helping others?

Why bother?
My energy is limited; how should I allocate it more effectively if my goal is to help as many people as much as I can?

The tricky trade-off
Do I want to be the generally nice and helpful guy, or do I want to be selectively with my help? Helping one person to a great extent (mentoring) or more people but less carefully for each?

It really depends. On one hand, helping selectively does have huge benefits:

  • Fewer people mean deeper personal connections, and as I’ve mentioned before in my blog, relationships can only get better with depth.
  • More detailed feedback: helping one person for a long period of time will give me a lot of feedback on how to help well.
  • I’m always a fan of simplicity: do one thing, do it well.
  • On the other hand, helping more people is like throwing a wider net. I don’t expect to be paid back for my help, but I expect to help effectively. Who knows, one of the people that I’ve helped turned out to benefit a lot from it? That will feel so good. Yet I will never know how much my help has contributed to another’s success. Measuring what would happen in the alternate world is an exercise in futility.
    • Another good thing: if I help many people I will have different kinds of feedback: some people will benefit more from more careful guidance while others flourish from figuring out on their own after being pointed to the right resources.
  • Anyway, whenever I have that selfish (in the excuse of being “efficient”), I think of Adam Grant, who wrote the phenomenal book Give and take] in which he argued that givers tend to do either much better or much worse than takers. The benefit of helping others is clear; the more important takeaway for me at least is his articulation on how each person should find out the most suitable way for her to give. Adam Grant himself is an extremely generous soul and effective giver. As a professor, he has office hours where anyone could walk into to ask for his help, and he often leverages his knowledge, resources and connections to help as much as he can. Definitely a good role model for me.
  • My own conclusion to this ongoing struggle requires some reflection.
    • What do I like to do and tend to be good at? I enjoy thinking, learning, building connections with people and ideas. I’m also getting better at asking people tricky questions to help them get unstuck – without annoying them too much. I can do these things without getting tired!
    • How does that translate to an effective way I can help? Bringing people together, spark some thoughts and let the conversations rolling.
      • Meanwhile I should try to be more public about what I do. The first thing I do when I want to do something I don’t know is to either search or ask around, but not everyone thinks this way. The question of why is it so hard for some people to ask for help is another huge topic on its own, but one answer for now is that others people don’t know that I can help. Everyone has at least one thing where she is better than others, which means that she can share and teach – knowledge and experience matter.
  • Thinking about it this way makes talking about my stuff a lot less scary and vulnerable. I’m doing this in the name of efficiency, not for personal gains.
    • I’m very inspired by this TED talk recently Be an opportunity maker How to have an awesome potluck party if everyone just brings a fork right? Serendipity, the driver of wonderful thing in life, comes from greater connections. To be a better opportunity maker, I will keep 1) honing my strength 2) seeking patterns by getting involved in different worlds and 3) communicating around these sweet spots of shared interests. Which is why I’m writing this.
    • A friend of mine in Tufts founded this awesome platform Dexterity Global that connects millions of students in India to opportunities: how wonderful is that?
    • I have been going to events of by Harvard Effective Altruism; it’s so exciting to be in a community where people think seriously about the question “How to do good well”. 😀

I have been writing regularly as a practice and as a ritual. I once heard that “The more you think you don’t have time for meditation, the more you need to do it”. It makes a lot of sense: the busier we are with other commitments, the more we need to “fight back” for our time. It’s not about what we do with our own personal time, it’s about we declare a personal time. The psychological benefit is huge: more sense of control, more satisfaction confidence with life and most importantly the constant reminder of what matters for us. If you are not serious with yourself, who can take you seriously?  –  ’nuff said.

With the digest group I can share more raw thoughts, get more feedback and ideas from people. Good conversations beget interesting thoughts, which is great. I welcome you to join and share.

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One thought on “How should I spend my time helping others?

  1. Pingback: 2014: Practice and Exploration. | Khuyen

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