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A couple of months ago I had a really interesting insight manifest during my 4 hour meetup in Washington Sq. I was confronted by a young man who told me it was his sole ambition to give.

Now I have thought about this question a lot, and I think it comes down to mixing passion with practicality but I found a really good way to frame it.
It’s what I like to call being selfless by being selfish. Now at first, that might confuse you, so let me explain.

The problem everyone faces when they want “to give” is that they generally don’t have anything of value to offer. You can’t “give” if you don’t have anything “to give” so you have to mix passion with practicality. It’s why I didn’t say a single word for the first 13 years of my business career so that I could actually be in a position to provide real value.

At that point I had something to give, which was my resources and my insights and my understanding from building something real. So many 15 and 19 and 25 year-olds aren’t looking at the big picture, which is they need to make themselves happy, before they can make anyone else happy.

I think one of the reasons people says things like, “Oh, it makes me happy just to make others happy,” is they think it positions themselves in a good light, which then gives them more opportunity.

It’s a fascinating insight that exposes a real truth. A lot of people want to give simply because it puts them in a better position. But you can’t fool the market. Unless you are genuinely authentic and constantly providing value, no one is going to believe you.

I think the key to being able to actually give and attempt to make others happy is that you’ve already found that happiness for yourself and so it allows you to reverse engineer your life and really understand why it is that you are happy, so you can then help others with what you know.

It’s just like going to the gym and getting trained by someone who is out of shape. You have to have had the experience and be a practitioner of your own words for the best chance of seeing results. You can’t give and make others happy over the long term, if you yourself are not happy first.

So you need to mix passion with practicality and reverse engineer a real way to give.

I think so many people who want to be a philanthropist or an artist, or someone in public service might actually be better off taking that job in finance for the first 9 years, make 15x the salary and then be in the position at 33 to do whatever they really want.

It’s a truth that I think a lot of you should consider.

The other key mistake is that people aren’t self aware and they don’t realize they’re not actually that happy. The reason they are giving is because they expect something in return that they think is going to make them happy.

It’s what I would call “double selfishness.” You’re giving with expectation which is the single biggest mistake anyone can make.

To truly be selfless, you have to give without expectation. It’s the mindset of giving with expectation, which kills everything. It just doesn’t work at all.
Being selfish is the gateway to selflessness, because you learn to take care of your own personal needs first in order to use that as collateral later so that you can really, truly help.

I always return to the concept of a life bucket. You need to fill it with happiness. I think the right way to do it, is just to spend all of your time to fill up that bucket, and then once you’re totally full, you can then go on the offense and fill other people’s buckets as well. I think most people don’t have their bucket full, thus, they’re always in the process of trying to fill their bucket as well as everyone else’s and they always fall short.

They are never really focused on either and it never works.
You can’t give unless you have something to give. You need to mix passion with practicality. You need to be selfish in order to be selfless.

I hope this helps.