I want you to imagine for a moment that it’s April 15th, 1912. It’s a little after 12:30am, a doomed orchestra is playing it’s final notes and you’re plunging into the cold Atlantic Ocean as the ship you were just on, the RMS Titanic sinks to the bottom of the ocean forever.
Not too far from you, you see a life boat which is empty and floating just to your right. You climb into the life boat and collapse into the bottom of a boat very unlike the one you were recently enjoying, gasping for air and shivering from head to toe.
All around you, you see members of your family, and long time friends who are not far from you, but certainly not in any condition to swim yet. Your heart sinks and you want to save every one of them and so you begin to prepare to move the raft toward them.
You notice that your feet are now submerged in water as you realize the awful truth… this boat has a hole in it, and it’s not going to be afloat much longer.
You have two choices now. Try to move the boat towards your family/friends and save them now, or first address the hole that is gushing water into your life raft and quickly sinking beneath you.
This is the position I find many people in every day. They are surrounded by friends and family members that they love and want to help…. yet, they’re standing on an unstable and possibly sinking foundation, financially.
They tell me that their brother, sister, son, daughter or friend needs a place to live but they’re draining them financially. Their 32 year old is still calling, asking for money. Their family always does a yearly cruise and they can’t imagine telling them they can’t afford to do it this year.
It’s a tough place to be, no doubt. However, the thing to keep in mind is that you cannot help others while standing in a sinking life boat. If you’re not 100% on stable ground yourself, then it does them no good, and it does you nothing but harm to try to help.
That may seem heartless, but understand that like the lifeboat in the Atlantic, you’ve got to first fix the holes in YOUR BOAT, before you can truly save or help the others. Otherwise, the only thing that will inevitably happen is that you will all sink to the bottom.
On a more positive note though, if you can fix that hole in the boat, and if you can shake off the cold of the ocean breeze and paddle strongly to your friends and family, you CAN help them and perhaps even show them how to save themselves.Matter fact, I tell my students all the time that if they wish to help their families and friends that the best thing that they can do for them is educate them in how to fix their own life boats, pray for them, and to make sure they put as much work as possible into building a strong foundation for themselves.
You can be infinitely more generous and a far more effective leader when you’re not be pulled down constantly. So if that means taking some time to work on yourself, I don’t see that as selfish at all. I think it’s the most generous thing that you can do.
Keep this analogy in mind as you work on getting your financial house in order and I can assure you that while it may hurt in the short term, the long term gain will be far more worthwhile than you can imagine.