I want to help.
That’s about as concise of a statement about myself that can accurately summarize my goals while still being true. I won’t pretend I’m some altruistic, philanthropic angel, but I do get a lot of selfish happiness from seeing others succeed and knowing I helped, so it’s a win/win. Like probably 99% of people, though, I don’t always know the best way to help people.
Desire is not the same as knowledge. If someone is sick or injured, you can desire with all your heart for them to be better, but lack the knowledge to make it happen.
We spend a lot of our life trying to figure out the best ways to accomplish our goals. And for the most part, a lot of our societal structure is designed to facilitate that. What is a lot harder (and a much more solitary journey) is discovering that goal in the first place.
We ask high school students (or sometimes even younger people!) what they want to do with the rest of their lives, and expect real answers. Sometimes we’re trying to help them – if they say, “I want to be a veterinarian,” then we can leap into action and give them all sorts of tools and advice and methods to get to that.
We have a lot less to offer if they say, “I don’t know; I just want to be happy.” Or “I want to help people.” Perfectly reasonable things to want, but not specific enough for us to help. So we give flimsy, halfhearted attempts to get them to pick a more solid goal – we ask them “what would you do if you had a million dollars” and expect that to magically create a career plan for them.
We’re not comfortable with people not fitting into neat categories. We don’t like it if people want to leave options open. But many, many people reach a point in their lives where they realize that maybe they were a little to hasty jumping onto their first plan, and now they’re not only unsatisfied and unfulfilled, but they also feel trapped – they focused all their efforts on one thing, and now they don’t want to do that thing anymore.
If you want a nearly instantaneous way to increase your life satisfaction, help someone with something.
It doesn’t have to be huge. It doesn’t have to be miraculous. It doesn’t have to be a business. But I guarantee you that you’ll have a good day if at some point during that day you help someone carry something. Or answer a question for someone that’s lost. Or paint a door. Or change a tire. Or… a million different things.
Start small. But helping makes us feel good. Feeling good makes us think more clearly. Clear thinking gets us to our next goal.
I think the whole “what would you do with a million dollars” question is a terrible way to pick a career path or a life goal. But here’s another question that’s much better: If you had to spend 8 hours a day for the rest of your life helping people in any way you chose, how would you do it?
People need help. With everything. No one is an island. I can’t grow enough food myself to feed my family. I can’t repair an air conditioner. I can’t make shoes. There are literally billions of ways you can help.
If you start small, you may find that certain things come more naturally. When it’s all voluntary, you do the things that feel most natural and most satisfying. That can help you look at the world with different eyes. If you’re lost, just look around, and no matter where you are, ask:
“How can I help you?”