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Field Report: 6 Ways to Stop Being Good So You Can Start Doing Good

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Tyler’s Note:  This is a Riskologist Field Report by Amy Pearson from Bloom Life Design. Field Reports are written by readers just like you, so be nice, enjoy the story, and take action on the lesson.

I am a woman on a mission.

And I know it sounds cliché, but my mission really is to save the world—from war, famine, poverty, ignorance, hate, intolerance, rude Starbucks baristas, bad reality TV, etc.

I realize that sounds like a lot for one person, but hear me out. What I really mean by saving the world is that I have always wanted to make a difference. Make my mark. Go big.

Kind of like what Scott Harrison of Charity: Water said recently at The World Domination Summit, “I had two goals. I wanted to restore clean water to Africa and change the face of charity.”

So, I spent my entire adult life trying to make a difference, to make my mark, to go big. I worked at a rape crisis center, volunteered in an AIDS hospice, delivered food to the poor, wrote letters and organized campaigns for political prisoners, lobbied federal legislatures, demonstrated all over the country for all kinds of causes, and I even stopped eating meat for like a day.

Growing Up To Be “Good”

I wasn’t always such an intense crusader. As a girl, I loved to spoof synchronized swimming performances (sans water). I once brought down the house performing a monologue of Row Row Row Your Boat to an initially very earnest group of beauty contestant judges. I wore the pin “I Will Never Grow Up” like a badge of honor.

But over time, as my desire to “be a good person” grew, I became a lot more serious.

As an adult, when I wasn’t out doing good deeds, I was at home reading about how the world was going to hell in a hand basket. I had to be informed after all, so I became encyclopedic in my knowledge of issues like rape, the death penalty, torture, poverty, hunger.

I watched every single Michael Moore documentary only to fall into a deep shame for not doing more. Not being Michael Moore. Not making enough impact.

Even as I spent all that time and energy trying to make a difference, I had a dirty little secret: All of my effort to do good felt really, really bad.

When “Doing Good” Feels Bad

Each time I learned about another environmental crisis, I used it as a stick with which to beat myself over the head. I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t doing enough, I told myself over and over.

Looking back, it’s no surprise why my deep desire to make a difference didn’t feel good. I used my progress—or lack thereof—as a reflection of my self-worth. But people “ohhhed” and “ahhhhed” at my good deeds so this was my consolation prize.

Ironically it wasn’t until the universe hit me on the head with its own stick that I learned how to achieve my mission.

To make a long story short, the “stick” was the devastating loss of my mother and the birth of my twins, 3 months later.

I Stopped Tolerating Bullshit

I had been working on a report for a progressive think tank about the mortgage interest rate deduction at this time when I witnessed my ability to tolerate bullshit recede from my life like a distant memory. I realized I hated reading the newspaper. I didn’t want to study economics. I didn’t care about fiscal policy.

All I wanted to do was read about near death experiences…then about angels…then about past life regression.

What would my mentors over at the Hatfield School say?

It didn’t matter. I kept reading. My metaphysical book binge morphed into a full-out self-help reading frenzy—Martha Beck, Debbie Ford, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Sher…

Self-Indulgence Led Me Back to Me

And as I luxuriated in each seemingly self-indulgent title, each one led me back to myself.

They led me back to the girl who posts YouTube videos of herself dancing to MC Hammer as a way to blow off steam, who breaks the ice by joking about farts, who fantasizes about giving away free hugs in urban settings or organizing large-scale flash mobs.

The real me loves to laugh. And the thing I didn’t realize is this:

The real me, who is outrageously imperfect in every way, is the one with the power to “save the world.”

You see, Scott Harrison over at Charity: Water wants to save the world, too. The difference is he is very clear about his mission—restore clean water to Africa and change the face of charity.

Approve of Yourself First

My desire to make a difference never amounted to much because I got confused. I thought I had to make a difference to even justify my existence.

But now I know that it’s really the opposite:

  • I can save the world with a piece of lettuce stuck between my teeth.
  • I can save the world and wear hammer pants.
  • I can save the world and love to read about angels, near death experiences and reincarnation.

When I approve of myself first, my purpose is clear. Now, saving the world, to me, means being an example of what is possible.

Tomorrow it might mean something a little different. But it’s a lot easier to know how to make a difference in my own way when I approve of myself, first.

And, as a result, over the last four years, I have learned how to be me again. Your “me” might love to read the newspaper. Your “me” might love to geek out on economics. Alas, my real me does not.

And in the past four years, I have done more to save the world then all of my previous years combined.

It Starts With Being Real

I know it without a doubt. And it started by just being real.

By being an example of what is possible, I save the world one person at a time.

I helped someone learn how to love herself again after a childhood of abuse. I helped someone else find the courage to begin writing again. I helped another person leave a job she hated. Another one is applying for a patent. Another one is considering film school.

As I write, this comment just came through on my blog:

Amy, You changed my life with 8 simple words, ‘it’s all about the story you tell yourself’. From the moment I heard that phrase I realized I am in complete control of my emotions.

You taught me that I am perfect just the way I am, right now in this moment. Every day is still a challenge because as you say I am a recovering approval addict, but I feel so much lighter these days. There’s much to be said about letting go and accepting the now, it’s quite liberating! So thank you, I’m more appreciative than I could ever express in words.

So, if you too are on a mission, stop trying to be good! It’s the only way to actually make a difference.

How to Get Over Being Good

The crazy thing is, when you begin to let go of “being a good person” you actually create the freedom to bring more goodness in the world. Here’s how to begin:

Stop worrying about what other people think.

I spent much of my adult life getting high on approval. Those “ohhhs” and “ahhhs,” may have been a quick hit but they didn’t help me get any closer to my mission.

As a life coach, I know that worrying about what other people think is a sure-fire way to kill your power. Approval seeking will leave you hopelessly stuck, lonely and full of resentment. Not the combo you want if you are on a mission.

Eliminate the word selfless from your vocabulary…

…and start being more selfish!  I used to think I had to be selfless to save the world. What bullshit!

Selflessness is all about putting yourself last on your list. I learned that putting myself last meant my good deeds were empty of any real passion or sincerity. Once I gave myself permission to be more selfish, I started to finally get some clarity about how I could make a difference in the world in my own unique way.

Stop trying to motivate yourself through negative self-talk.

I used to think I had to beat the crap out of myself in my head to get anything done. But this type of thinking is not logical. Beating myself up in my mind just left me grumpy. The more grumpy I felt the more grumpy I acted and the less motivated I was to do anything other than pick fights with my husband.

You might argue that without negative self-talk you’ll spend the rest of your existence on the couch. All I have to say is ignore that mental chatter and you’ll be happier and more energized to do your work in the world.

Throw away any preconceived ideas of how to accomplish your mission.

I thought I needed to be a very serious person with a PHD to save the world. In reality, I just ended up one very unhappy person blowing through a lot of time and money on degrees I didn’t need.

It’s ironic that releasing control of the “how” and just allowing myself to follow my interests was ultimately the only way I was able to get clarity around my real work in the world.

Stop worrying about your flaws and focus on your strengths.

I thought I was going to save the world by forcing myself to read as many newspapers as possible even though the real me wanted to curl up into a fetal position every time I read about the latest crisis.

When I started worrying less about my knowledge of current events and started focusing on my strengths, I was blown away by the things I could do.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Gandhi knew what he was talking about. I noticed that the more I treated myself with love and compassion, the more I could show love and compassion to those around me. The more love and compassion I showed to those around me, the more they seemed to show it to people around them.

Peace is something that starts inside and fans out from there.

So, there you have it. Go out and save the world the only way you can.

Amy Pearson is a Master Martha Beck Life Coach at Bloom Life Design and Coach Instructor for Martha Beck Inc. Her mission is to help women lead their lives from self-love and confidence so they can play big in the world. Click here to learn more about her and sign up for her free e-course called “I Don’t Need Your Approval! How to Overcome Your Inner Approval Addict. 

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What smart people are saying about this...

  1. bush says:

    Sounds to me like you were in the grip of some weird religion.

  2. Holy moly Amy!

    I’m going to have to read this over again because I’m not sure what to latch on to. All I know is I have this feeling that what I just read is very useful and I need to understand how. Maybe as I type this I am getting the kind of comment on my website that you recently got on yours.

    (Just checked…nope, not yet)

    What a wonderful feeling you must have gotten from reading yours!

    And I love your version of quirkiness. Are you reading this comment with some Hammer pants on right now?

  3. Amy says:

    Hey Joel,
    Thanks for the comment! Nope wore them yesterday. Here’s the video: http://youtu.be/WWeRNW0x-ns.

  4. Wow Amy – did you steal my diary? I felt like I was reliving my past reading this. I too felt the need to fix the world through some kind of outward big bold gesture. I’ve since discovered that to see my vision come to life – peace on earth – I must be at peace. The world’s energy depends on each of us to be in alignment with our own peace. No matter what your vision for your life is – it starts with creating it within.

    Thank you for this Amy – rock on! It’s Hammer Time


    • Amy says:

      Glad you could see yourself in this post. Yep “Be the Change You Want to See in the World” is not hypothetical! Thank you So much for the comment!

  5. mark xavier says:



    loved what you said about how the more love and compassion you showed others, the more they in turn passed it on. that has been my experience as well.

    reading your post felt like affirming my beliefs. i want to be a fool for jesus (aka crackbaby j). i’d love to start the church of foolish wisdom (in the tradition of the holy fool. and because in these times, i believe it’s wise to be a fool.)

    but i’m scared of, well, looking foolish!

    thanks for the affirmation and validation of what i know to be true.

    i’m off to ride the little yellow bus for jesus (but the deal is, i get to drive) :)

    buddha bless

    mark xavier (aka breadcrumb [just trying to leave/be a clue]).

    • Amy says:

      Mark! So true. Too many of us are scared of looking foolish. For what? There will probably always be haters. But when you are stop worrying about looking foolish and just do your thing, it inspires others to do it too. xoxo

  6. Cara says:

    Great post! I went through a similar experience… Teaching Sociology and focusing on making the world better by educating people, but it was mostly all negative stuff. It all Dragged me down. Now I’m happier and making a difference that matters every day. Nice to see I’m not alone!

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Cara! I surrounded myself with doom and gloom because I thought if I would be angry enough it would motivate me to do something about it. Not so much. I just ended up really bitter and serious! My new approach has had so much more impact… and it’s a lot more fun. xoxo

  7. Lin E says:

    Amy… it’s funny how we come full circle, isn’t it. And so cool that we can. Great post!

  8. marlowe says:

    Amy, That was lovely and so on topic for so many of us at this time. I shared your report on facebook for others to see. Blessings, Marlowe

  9. Tiago M. says:

    I’m speechless. It really blew my mind but there’s something I don’t get.
    “You might argue that without negative self-talk you’ll spend the rest of your existence on the couch”
    What does it mean?

    • Amy says:

      I am happy to blow your mind Tiago. The part about the couch: A lot of people think that the only way to stay motivated is to beat the crap out of themselves in their minds. If they didn’t have a violent inner critic, the logic goes, the might never do a thing but lay around on the couch and watch reality TV :-)

  10. Jill Farmer says:

    I can sooooo relate. Holding on to the core light of making the world a better place, but doing from a place of pure self love and acceptance is such a reframing from the way I’ve always tried to “better” myself (and the world.)
    So powerful. Thank you.

  11. Ohh, I love this SO much. We are soul sisters for sure– I wanted to DO something big out in the world so I could finally justify my existence. And when I finally showed myself some compassion, then that compassion started rippling out in gentle but powerful ways. I love this message that you have to feel good first if you really want to DO good.

  12. Dirk says:

    Breaking the ice with fart jokes? That’s so cool, I’m speechless. :)

    But the whole article is great, not just that part. Something clicked, when I read that.
    Thank you, Amy.

  13. Amy says:

    Ha ha ha. Yep. Some people might find me obnoxious but hey I’m not for everyone :-)

    I’m so happy it clicked! (the article not the fart jokes)

  14. nathansnyder says:

    On a similar note: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/study_why_do_people_use_facebook.php

    Absolutely brilliant article, Amy! I’m actually undergoing the same transformation at the time of this writing, so I really connected with what you were writing about. As the world of Web publishing and reading is changing for the better, so am I. :)

    • Amy says:

      Oh how I love that article! Thank you thank you thank you. Seriously I have been curious about that shit for a while now. What a resource! Fodder for many future blog posts I’m sure. And best of luck. I’m so glad you could relate. Thanks again.

  15. I have two words. Fuck. Yeah.

  16. Fran Sorin says:

    Amy…..Your sense of humor and playfulness come through loud and clear. For me, those 2 character traits, along with kindness and compassion, are at the top of my list of what’s important in life.

    Your transformation is inspirational. I’m thrilled that you wrestled with yourself at such a young age…with your real self taking center stage…and freed yourself to be who you are meant to be.

    In the world we live in, it is so easy to get caught up in ‘how much’ we do. As I’ve gotten older and continue on my journey, I am much more focused on ‘how I live’ rather than ‘what I do’.

    I’ll even go so far to say that the ‘invisible angels’ in our world go unnoticed. That’s the way they choose to live…and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Thanks for sharing your heartfelt story Amy. Fran

    P.S. I was a ‘productivity nut’ and ‘need to be known for what I did’ for several years. SO …you’re singing to the choir! :)

    • Amy says:

      Thanks Fran. Yep I STILL find myself getting caught up in “doing” just to justify my existence. When I catch myself, I breathe a huge sigh of relieve and remember I don’t have to do that anymore. Life is so much more fun that way. xoxo

  17. Alex says:

    This is brilliant. And I could relate! I spent many years being political and doing all kinds of activism to justify my existence, only to discover I didn’t enjoy it. Now I don’t even read the paper or listen to the news. You took it a step further when you said that by letting go of being good, we are actually bringing more good into the world. I love that and I had never thought about it that way! Thanks for that insight.

    • Amy says:

      Oh I am so happy to hear it. Thank you for taking the time to post that. Funny how having fun, taking the pressure off and chilling out can do so much good but I have found it to be true. I’m a better mom, better coach, and a better human.

  18. Woohoooo!! Rock on with your badass self honey badger!!! Kicking ass and taking names all in the name of G O O D!! Me likey very , very, very much!!

  19. Jenny Shih says:

    Your playful approach to saving the world is such a breath of fresh air. The serious approach so many people take to making a difference feels hard, stifling, and too earnest.

    I have seen your hysterically funny MC Hammer dance video. You’re totally right–it’s things like that which make a difference by making others laugh, helping people take themselves a little less seriously, and reminding us all what’s really important.

    By BEing ourselves we really DO the most good. Thanks for this, Amy!

  20. Dr. Samantha says:

    ha! yes. simply, yes.

  21. Izzy says:

    Hi Amy,

    I think you put it very well when you said:

    “I approve of myself first, my purpose is clear.”

    I spent quite a few years trying to follow someone else’s dream. It was a darn good dream! It just wasn’t mine. In time, as I learned to follow what I wanted and what was in my heart the world began to open up for me. The irony of course as you pointed out is that the more I have focused on doing what I want the more I have been able to give to the world.

    It is an interesting balance. I think we need to focus on ourselves but stay away from our egos. I have to be honest and real enough to recognize my own gifts, but not so full of myself that I am overly impressed by those gifts.

    The only way to truly give is to know myself. But if the person I know I start to worship then I am screwed.

    Pretty interesting stuff (in my opinion).

  22. Amy says:

    Hi Izzy! I think it is a balance. But I think too many of us are conditioned to worry about being labelled selfish, conceited, bitchy, snobby. I was terrified to be called this stuff so I spent a lot of time trying to be the opposite. I honestly wish more women would be a little more selfish. How can you ever contribute your superpowers if you are busy worry about being ‘selfish’. It’s a catch 22!

  23. Stacey says:

    Your mention of the universe smacking you on the head reminds me of how the loss of my dad served to significantly lower my own toleration of bullshit, in particular the BS I was feeding myself about trying to do the right things but for the wrong reasons, and never ever being ‘good enough’. A lot of that fell away immediately, and I was able to be more present with remaining family. Thanks for the reminder!

  24. Amy says:

    Crazy how those kinds of life circumstances tend to do that. Thank you for your comment!

  25. Anna says:

    This struck so, so close to home: “I spent much of my adult life getting high on approval. Those “ohhhs” and “ahhhs,” may have been a quick hit but they didn’t help me get any closer to my mission.” I found myself nodding all throughout your post. You are absolutely right when saving the world does not necessarily mean 100% being selfless. Hey, a girl’s gotta draw the line somewhere, right? :)

  26. Aurora says:

    I soo agree with this! It wasn’t till I started being “selfish” that my life started getting better, and it’s even more better now, and I now actually WANT to serve others, but to do so I have to continue to be selfish and not sell myself out or try to please other people.

  27. I agree with every word you wrote above. Thank you for sharing! This post is powerful and inspiring. It is amazing how your life can change in a blink of an eye and in an instant you are forced into a whole new world. But I truly believe everything happens for a reason and it’s your job to find the beauty and purpose behind every challenge.

    Just like you said being selfish is important; my way of being selfish is what I call the “Fuck-It Bucket”. If something does not add significance to one of my 5 core values, then I “chuck it” in the “Fuck-it bucket!” It helps me stay focused on what matters because life is too short to worry about the bullshit.

    Keep writing!

  28. Candace Hadley says:

    Thank you Amy!

    I was living with the mantra “It’s my job to take care of God’s children and God’s job to take care of me.” So, every vacation, every request, every opportunity to serve someone else was given. After reading several of your emails I decided to do something for me. I took my first solo vacation in my life!

    It was liberating! I did what I wanted when I wanted. I felt joy for the first time in a very long time. Whatever drives me to play Joan of Arc (and she was burned at the stake!) would take years of analysis.

    I returned from my trip refreshed and am able to do what needs to be done with love rather than guilt.

    Thank you! Thank you!

Founded with love by Tyler Tervooren

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