I love helping people out. There is such a gratifying -dare I say euphoric- feeling in seeing other’s lives improve because of the efforts and energy you put into them. Especially since COVID has started, I have found myself spending an increase in time and money helping worthy causes and people.

One of the ways I’ve helped people around me is by offering free coaching/mentorship. Although I can charge for this service, I understand extracurricular budgets are slim, and many of us could use a little spark to get back up on their feet to feel motivated again.

Again, I love this work; I believe that my volunteer efforts return in abundance. I do have plans to create a coaching business, but right now I feel comfortable using my strengths, a la pro bono, to help those around me.

However, there is a caveat.

I find myself choosing to spend more time (outside of my 9–5 and other responsibilities) to volunteer my mentor and coaching sessions, versus focusing on my own personal development and writing.

Why? There is a cathartic and rewarding feeling. Sometimes it feels easy in terms of efforts — I am purely helping others with what I already know to be true but through my expertise and experience.

What happens when you focus all your energy on others?

  • The volunteer work becomes a feel-good form of procrastination. You find yourself filling the constant void with altruism, where you could be spending some of that time on yourself. Aka you’re avoiding some of the hard work.
  • It fills up your happy meter. There are physically and mentally positive effects of donating your abundance. And there is often a lot of resistance when you focus energy on yourself and your own projects. Notice if you’re spending more time filling up the happy meter instead of working through your own resistance.
  • When everything and everyone in your life get taken care of before you take care of yourself, you might slowly create this false narrative that your own needs are unimportant or less of a priority.

How to find a balance between helping others and focusing on yourself:

  • Set boundaries. Yes — all the good things in your life need boundaries. That’s why they’re good for you. A boundary can be in the form of how much time or how far you’re willing to go without burning yourself out.
  • Set expectations. If you are signing up for a new volunteer program or helping a friend with a project, make sure you set expectations around how much free labor you can provide.
  • Try different forms of helping. If you’re overextending yourself physically, try donating your financial abundance to causes that are in your community or part of a global initiative. If cash is tight, find a non-profit that aligns with your personal passions and find out what kind of work you can contribute, without sacrificing your own needs.
  • Write in your journal about your resistance. If you’re avoiding working on your personal projects, journal on where the resistance is coming from. Name it and nurture your inner child.
  • Barter your services. Another way to feel good about what your give is by finding an equitable, non-monetary exchange. For example, you could barter your writing services in exchange for someone helping you design your website. This empowers the receiver to be a giver too.
  • Match the energy of your volunteer efforts with your personal passions. For example, if you donated money and helped a friend with a resume, spend similar time/energy by treating yourself to something and working on a short story or poem.

How I find balance:

Man oh man, do I love coaching. It makes my heart zing! But I also love to coach instead of working on my own writing. Here is a recent outline of an evening of mine where I was able to find balance between helping some friends and working on myself.

An evening of balance:

  • Went on a 2-hour walk
  • Made a hearty and nutritious dinner (can’t help others on an empty stomach + cooking is a form of self-care)
  • Wrote a poem and a journal entry after dinner
  • Looked at my friends resume and talked on the phone about re-writing it
  • Spent 30 minutes on the back and forth communication helping my friend start her freelance career
  • Worked on this article (yes the one you’re currently reading)
  • Had a dance party watching 80s hair metal videos on MTV?
  • Worked on organizing my poetry portfolio

You are important to work on. We all are. And when you put yourself on the back burner, you’re also preventing others from benefitting from what you have to give. In fact, focusing on yourself is an act of service. Share your service, share your love, and share your work. Don’t stop creating and bettering yourself, for it will absolutely make the world a better place.

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