Self-Help in the Name of Selfless Service

JordanMusings, Personal Essay

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by Jordan E. Rosenfeld


In the age of the “selfie,” when the social media lens is more tightly focused on the self than ever before while constant media coverage exposes us to the suffering of others on an international scale, many people often feel discouraged or despairing. What if self-help, the pursuit of self-betterment, is actually the best way to help others?

Self-help is often decried as selfish navel-gazing, nothing more than a way for Big Name Gurus with perfect smiles to sell you products with hefty price tags. But I’ve found that a more humble form of self-help, best compared to tuning up a vehicle so that it runs at its peak performance, can allow a person to give more to others, and it can offer substantial health benefits, as well.

Last May, I co-led a writing retreat at the Mount Madonna center in Watsonville, California. While my co-leader and I chose the center for its loveliness, its mission of “selfless service” had an unexpected impact on me. I went into the retreat under several tight book deadlines, with my shoulder spasming and my heart in a bitter place of exhaustion and grief from the recent death of my godmother.

“What can we do to help?” asked Barnaby, our point person for the weekend. “If you need something, just ask.”

All weekend I marveled at the way the staff met our needs, even anticipated them. At one point I stopped Kelly, the woman who ran the gift shop, to ask, “How do you do this? Be present for all the people who come through here?” The center had just hosted a four-hundred-person Geneen Roth healthy eating retreat the previous weekend.


JordanSelf-Help in the Name of Selfless Service