A Good Kind of Selfish

Have you caught your breath after what often is the whirlwind of the Holiday Season? Are you beginning the year exhausted from entertaining, going to holiday parties, and shopping? Or are you re-energized from spending time with family and friends, observing your religious and/or family traditions, and focusing on less stressful things than work, the markets, and the political environment? I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ll call it “exhaustergized” and define it as a state where one’s investment of time and energy produces a return of internal satisfaction and renewed enthusiasm. Doesn’t that sound like a good kind of selfish?


In Anthony De Mello’s book, Awareness (one of my all-time favorites), he says “It is impossible to help someone without helping yourself, or to harm another without harming yourself.” It was with this in mind that I thought about a group of young adults that I met a few years ago at Year Up, a Boston organization that “empowers low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year.” The students I met back then gave me a great gift.

Year Up had asked me to speak to these students about my personal and professional story hoping it would resonate with them because I am of Hispanic descent and I work in finance, one of Year Up’s industries of focus. I thought that accepting the invitation was a nice opportunity to “give back.”

I am not unique in that it took some courage to be vulnerable and share my story with them, or in feeling that an experience like this one was totally worth it. Like most of you at one time or another, I felt the satisfaction that comes from doing something that can make a difference in someone else’s life.

But wait, there’s more… when the young adults at Year Up honored me with their attention and their interest in what I had to say, they made a huge deposit in my spiritual bank account. I can’t thank them enough. After all, those kinds of deposits often pay the highest dividends.


Think about how much wealth you’d like to create. I don’t mean only financial wealth. Total wealth encompasses human, social, and spiritual wealth, in addition to financial wealth.

By being thankful for “helping yourself as a result of helping others” I believe you will enjoy creating more wealth of all kinds. Here is why:

  • Spiritual Wealth because giving and gratitude fill the spirit, which I describe as the fire that burns inside of us to give us life and joy in abundance. Nancy Clasby Torgove, author of The Reluctant Mystic: Autobiography of a Spiritual Awakening describes the benefits of spiritual wealth in terms of a prosperity “that brings with it serenity, peace of mind, clear thinking, and a profound connection to something greater than yourself. Kindness, tolerance, patience, and wisdom are the acquisitions of spiritual prosperity.” Nice to know that giving can help you gain that kind of wealth.
  • Human Wealth because to be grateful you need to be mindful and aware, which increases mental sharpness and physical well-being. That is why I categorize physical and intellectual wealth under human wealth.
  • Social Wealth because recognizing that there is reciprocity in the simple act of giving strengthens our relationships with people (family or other), communities (neighbors and neighborhoods), and organizations (both for-profit and non-profit).
  • Financial Wealth because being thankful for the opportunities to use our knowledge and experience to serve others, to create jobs, and to find solutions for real problems inspires us to do it to the best of our ability, creating client loyalty and improving employee morale.


When it comes to giving I like to highlight reciprocity as a game changer because it helps us realize that those on the receiving end are our equals. They are often giving us something more valuable than what we are doing for them, be it our children, spouse/partner, extended family, friends, employees, clients, neighbors, or strangers. This type of awareness levels the playing field, especially between high-income and low-income or “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” individuals, potentially leading us to look at charity with new eyes.

In her recent article at CNN.com titled  A Different Way To Do Your Holiday Giving, Boston College Professor Tiziana Dearing (@Tiziana_Dearing) talks about giving in terms of solidarity instead of charity “Solidarity calls us to be in ‘right relationship’ with each other, recognizing that each other’s fortunes affect our own, and we are implicated in the injustices that affect another’s pain, suffering or basic human dignity. It’s a heavy term but also a liberating one when practiced in love,” says Dearing. I believe that looking at charitable giving that way also helps us understand that we all “put our pants on one leg at a time,” to say it one way.


You may be thinking why all this talk about giving when the Holiday Season and the deadline for tax-deductible donations for this year are over. Because the beginning of the year is a great time to review the results of what we’ve done and how we did it. It is also a chance to get a fresh start on things we’d like to improve or incorporate into our lives. In terms of giving, you might want to think about the following:

  1. Start with yourself: In the material sense it is obvious that you can’t give what you don’t have, yet that applies to every aspect of our lives. The better you feel, the more prepared you are physically/intellectually, and the more you fill your spiritual bank account, the more you will have to offer. “Charity begins at home” is something I learned from my parents, and I’m still working on fully putting it into practice myself.
  2. Give to those who are closest to you before giving to others: No one would feed a starving person if their child was also dying of hunger. It is an extreme example, but imagine trying to “save the world” when your inner world is falling apart. It’s just not going to happen. That does not mean everything has to be perfect either. It means that you have to think first about family and then about others. Within this framework, an opportunity is created to educate children on financial concepts around earning, saving, investing, and gifting.
  3. Providing is not the same as giving: It is always someone’s responsibility to provide for the home, but it is also important to give our time, attention, knowledge, guidance, and companionship to those we know and love before giving it to others. Being fed and clothed, even in the fanciest attire, and being well-educated and having the latest gadgets is not everything. In fact, studies have proven that too much “stuff” and not enough “people time” (be it with parents or spouses/partners) often leads to a sense of emptiness. To state the obvious (which is so often easily overlooked), good relationships of every kind require an investment of time, whether it is in helping or having fun with others. 
  4. Giving and receiving can be the same: How did you feel the last time you gave someone you love a present that made them extremely happy? Probably as good as the person who received the gift. Both you and your loved one got something out of that exchange. Wouldn’t you say? This is applicable when giving to people we don’t know too, especially when we have a chance to see the impact of our gift. The concept of reciprocity is all about the giver and the beneficiary receiving something out of the exchange. Add Dearing’s concept of solidarity to the equation and you have a formula that, dare I say, can change the world.
  5. Don’t always expect immediate gratification: I remember feeling tired and stressed when I was working, studying, and raising my children. At these times it was not as easy to give them my full attention or time. Yet, as any mother would, I worked hard to overcome any difficulty I was having at the time to be there not only for them but with them too. Would I have done it differently? Only if it meant that I had a chance to spend even more quality time with them. (Both quality and quantity count when it comes to children!) Today, I’m an empty-nester and not a day goes by when I don’t miss my son and daughter. The dividends I get from my time invested with them when they were young is what makes all the difference: having happy, healthy, responsible children. (And now, a wonderful daughter-in-law too!)

Be the good kind of selfish is my message. You could start by thanking the people to whom you were lucky enough to give something meaningful to.