“We can’t be useful to ourselves unless we’re useful to others. Whether we like it or not, we’re all connected, and it is unthinkable to be happy all by oneself. Anyone concerned only by his own well-being will suffer eventually. Anyone concerned with the well-being of others takes care of himself without even thinking about it. Even if we decide to remain selfish, let us be intelligently selfish – let us help others. Dalai Lama (Facebook post, July 17, 2010)

I used to believe that I needed to make money and then give to others, once I had “enough”, balancing financial success “now” with giving “later”.   I now believe that the appropriate balance between financial success and giving to others is to achieve financial success while giving to others.

I have learned that the ideal way for me to do this is to integrate financial success and service through paid work that meets greater needs in the world.   This integration automatically provides a balance between personal needs and service, and considering personal financial success within a context of the needs of the broader world helps me to better align my priorities.  Without that context, I am tempted to believe that my wants are the same as needs.  The confusion of wants for needs in the past has led to a drive for personal wealth that will not actually satisfy my true needs.   It is also key to the consumer culture that has a small fraction of the world’s population consuming the majority of its resources.

I consider my needs in context of the needs of the world, and set goals accordingly.  You can, too.  Do it now.

To me, being financially successful means earning a living that sustains me in comfort (which is luxury by the standards of most of the world’s population) and enables me to help do the same for my family.  I want to do things for them because the giving and their enjoyment bring me joy.

I seek to help others, and help myself at the same time.  Doing for others will help you, too.  Do it now.

Looking back, I now see that each of us can choose to give to others while sustaining self and family.  The approach each person takes will depend on individual circumstances.   Your work can provide the paycheck to sustain a child, and time outside work is given in service to helping that child learn and grow.  If your work is all consuming, make an effort to understand how your work and your company serve society.   Sometimes that is clear – for instance, if you are a healer or caregiver of some sort, whose work directly serves others.  Sometime finding the connection between work and service takes more effort.  Maybe you make products that fill and otherwise unmet need (as opposed to generating needs for “more stuff”), or are more environmentally sustainable, or that bring services to underserved populations.  If you can’t find a connection between your paid work and service (and changing jobs is not an option right now), find a way to serve others.   If you can’t make the time to volunteer, then you probably make enough money to give it to an organization that will put your donation to good use in service to others.  Think about the services your donation will provide, and serve others vicariously through your donation.

Whatever you need to do to include serving others in your life, don’t defer it.  Do it now.

In these difficult economic times, it is sometimes easy to forget how to be of service to others.  It is during these times of crisis, however, that is it more important than ever to find a way to be of service.  Simple choices I make can serve others, such as being polite and expressing thanks to the harried clerk at the unemployment office, or acknowledging the humanity of someone begging for change by smiling and making eye contact with him, even if I have no money to give.

Compassion for the needs of others helps put my problems in perspective.  A broader perspective increases the chances of making a connection or finding a solution that helps alleviates my own worries.   It also provides me with a foundation for a greater sense of confidence, which I need when I’m trying to convince someone else to have confidence in me.

“A mind committed to compassion is like an overflowing reservoir – a constant source of energy, determination and kindness. This mind can also be likened to a seed; when cultivated, it gives rise to many other qualities, such as forgiveness, tolerance, inner strength, and the confidence to overcome fear and insecurity.”  Dalai Lama (Facebook post, July 9, 2010)

Having compassion for someone else, even when I am struggling to make ends meet, helps me, and can help you, too.  For your own sake, do it now.

Whether starting out or starting over, financially secure or struggling, we all need to assess how we balance our inward focus on financial success with an outward focus on service to others.  In my case, this has been a process of discerning my vocation.  As a result, I have made changes in my life, including career changes and a return to school to study sustainability.

Finding the integration I need is an ongoing process of learning and growth.  I hope that others will be inspired to somehow integrate career with service, because it has powerful potential to change the world for the better.

I do it for myself, and the hope of a better world.  Do it with me.  Do it now.