Am I Really Doing Good?

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“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”

– Mother Teresa  

“Am I really doing good?” I wonder, as I sip my latte after another therapy session that I charged quite a bit of money to facilitate. Here I am again, getting ready to write a self-help article from the wisdom I’ve gained through my education and life experience. Sitting behind my desk most of the day, I sometimes truly question whether I’m making any kind of impact at all. And even if I am making a difference, how would I even know it? I guess I can measure my helpfulness by my clients’ feedback and the lovely emails I receive from people expressing gratitude for my writing. I do enjoy knowing that in this big, sometimes crazy world, I can make someone’s life better, even if only in small ways. However, somewhere deep inside, I want to do more; it never feels like enough. What I do on a daily basis falls short of the ways I dreamed of being helpful as a child. I sit in a cozy office typing words into a computer, connecting with people—some of whom are really far, geographically—through the Web. I’m not out there in the trenches, getting my hands dirty, cleaning up beaches, physically feeding the hungry, or visiting the sick. Though I give many donations, fully understanding how fortunate I am, I know that if I’m being honest, sometimes all that charity is my way of reducing guilt, rather than a sincere attempt at doing what’s right.

When I was younger, I had a particular view of what it means to be a good person. I wanted to “rescue” people and save the world. It was a dream of mine to save lives, and to see the people around me happy. “What did you want to save everyone from?” you might be wondering. These days, I’m not exactly sure of that myself. As a child, though, I somehow got the message that people, and the world in general, need some kind of saving. And I believed I was equipped to make that impact. Since I was young, people have come to me to make things better; my own parents started looking to me to have the answers to their issues when I was as young as 8 years old.

For many years, I put my energy into what I thought would make me a good and helpful person. I thought that being good meant always making myself available to the ones I love, even at the cost of my own wellbeing. I put so much energy into other people and their situations, that any failure on their part felt like my fault. It was almost impossible for me to realize that the outcome of someone else’s life was out of my hands. I wasn’t accepting that I simply couldn’t change other people or solve all the word’s problems.

I never want to sound like I’m giving up and taking the easy way out. I never want it to come across as though I’m proclaiming you can’t make a difference anyway, so just spend your time polluting, spend your money in malls instead of donating it, and think only of yourself. But the truth is, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more realistic about what it is that I can do and what possibilities there are for me to do some good, without losing out on having my own life in the process, and without holding my loved ones back from making their own mistakes and living their own lives. If I’m struggling in the trenches, sacrificing myself, how can I be helpful to anyone else? Maybe by living my best life, I’m somehow helping others live theirs. I’ve noticed that sometimes I need to create a little separation in order to have a clear mind about what might actually be good for others and the world. Perhaps my contribution is exactly what I’m doing now, and that’s okay.

I might not be cleaning up all the pollution in the world, but I am limiting my carbon footprint by recycling and being conscious of what I buy. Having the opportunity to make a living and contribute to society shouldn’t be something I feel guilty about. Sure, it would be awesome to do my work for free—and sometimes I do—but that’s not the world we live in, and that kind of sacrifice isn’t always necessary in order to do good. I can’t help guide anyone if I’m not assigning value to what I have to offer.

So, am I actually doing any good? Should I be feeling guilty about all of the helping I’m not doing? I think that everyone does good in their own way; we all try our very best. Sometimes worrying and doing too much actually makes things worse. And it may not be a good idea to just do things to feel less guilty or anxious. The way I see it, we make our best contributions when what we do is an expression of who we are instead of a way to prove that we’re good. So yes, I think I am doing some good—and so are you. Could I be doing more? Probably. Could I be doing less? For sure. All I know is that I’ll be continuing to ask myself these questions and keeping myself in check, to make sure that what I do has value. And I’m going to keep working at not feeling guilty about having a good life when so many others don’t have it as good. Instead, I’ll empathize and understand that each one of us has our own unique journey, and I’ll keep lending my best advice to anyone willing to listen.

Are you doing good? I would love to hear the different ways that you contribute to the world around you.

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

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  • Lea Cohen

    Yes i agree you are doing as much good as one human can and to not enjoy your own life would be unfair all we can do is help when we can and we each have a journey that we must follow no matter how good or bad it may be thanks Lea