How It Works – "Enlightened Self Interest"

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How It Works is a monthly column by our very own (Member, Alumnus, BBQ Master, CEF Opportunity Class Teacher, Sage of Sayings) Mike Wood.

If we were to poll all the members of CEF as to what they feel the key to their becoming more self reliant, the number one answer would almost certainly be that they need more income. While this is a good answer and one that I do not necessarily disagree with, there are other aspects of our strategy going forward that we would all do well to consider.

If I were asked to characterize the life I led prior to my association with CEF I would have to acknowledge that my most conspicuous defect was that I was so completely self obsessed. The drugs and alcohol that would eventually bring me down with a resounding thud were merely a symptom of a life consumed by ceaseless self-interest. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it and cared not a wit as to who it might harm.

When the consequences of my self-absorbed behavior resulted in rehab, prisons and eventually homelessness, there was but one thing that I knew for certain. What I was doing was definitely not working. While some might consider it to be counter-intuitive, I came to believe that it was in my own self interest to try to help others. As the song goes, “when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” With this realization I became willing to change.

Believe me I did not wake up one morning and decide that I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Gandhi or Mother Teresa. But through my association with the people at CEF and other volunteers there at the shelter I could observe that their lives seemed to be going a lot better than my own.

I knew that when the only person in my world that mattered was me, the results could only be characterized as tragic. I was determined to change that trajectory. Now it didn’t happen all of a sudden and my life not unlike the rest of us remains a work in progress. But what I am most grateful for is the opportunity I have been given by CEF to try to make a difference in the lives of others and that gratitude has turned to optimism and that optimism to achievement.

The transition to a more meaningful life is never an event, it is a process and part of that process for me is trying to be of service to others. By living a more selfless lifestyle the results have been fabulous. Not to say that I am this heroic figure or anything but compared to the hell I came here from and with all things considered, my life is pretty cool. As one of my favorite humans, Muhammad Ali once said; “Service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on earth.”

Money is good stuff and there is no shame in aspiring to get more of it. But I would encourage anyone wishing to carve out a more meaningful life to consider how they might help others to do the same. Don’t waltz through the door of opportunity only to slam it shut behind you. You would likely end up in a room full of meaningless things that don’t work the way you had hoped they would.


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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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