I’m on a plane on my way to Pasadena to speak at the Hay House I Can Do It conference, where I’ll be surrounded by well-intentioned spiritual self-help authors who are committed to helping people live their best lives.  At these events, which I’ve spoken at many times now, I’ll hear people come up to these celebrity Hay House authors and gush about how their lives were saved because of the books they wrote. I have no doubt these gushers genuinely mean it. It’s an honor to share the stage with these life saving pioneers.

But (I hate to put a “but” here because I’m so grateful to Hay House and so in awe of some of these wonderful authors) something about all this keeps troubling me.

What Motivates Visionaries?

When I got back from World Domination Summit this summer, I wrote this post about what motivates visionaries to try to change the world. The conference was full of well-intentioned do-gooders trying to make the world a better place. Amazing things were being birthed as a result of this impulse to do good. But I couldn’t help wondering whether this impulse to be of service came from a pure, noble intention or whether it came from some sort of underlying sense of unworthiness or ego-driven motivation. In other words, why do we do what we do?

In the comments on that post about World Domination Summit, a few people argued, “Who cares why? As long as the world is benefiting from these impulses, why question them?” Yet as one of those self-help author do-gooder types who is committed to getting my own ego out of the driver’s seat and letting the Divine take the wheel, it matters to me.

Is Your Self-Worth Tied To How Helpful You Are?

I have a theory about all of this. I think those of us who commit to acts of altruism on behalf of making the world a better place do so because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Something within us doesn’t feel good enough/ valuable enough/ worthy enough unless we’ re devoted to helping others. We don’t believe that we’re good and valuable and worthy not because of any external action but because we all have within us a spark of the Divine which makes us inherently worthy. So we go out and help people, and people tell us how we’ve saved their lives, and then we feel more worthy. We matter because we matter to someone else. Then our worried, scared, “never good enough” egos feel better.

So what would happen if someone waved a magic wand and all the do-gooders suddenly woke up and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we were worthy- without all the accolades and applause and love letters from those we’ve helped. Would we lose all ambition to help others? Would we just sit on a park bench and bask in our awakened worthiness?

I don’t think so.

The Pure Impulse To Serve

I think it’s part of human nature to feel the impulse to ease the suffering of other living beings. When Eckhart Tolle woke up and realized that everything he had ever desired existed right here in the present moment, he spent months sitting on a park bench, basking in the bliss of his awakened state. He suddenly knew he was a valuable, worthy child of God who didn’t have to do anything to earn that grace. But Eckhart didn’t stay on that park bench forever. At some point, a pure impulse to share with others the bliss of what he was experiencing in the present moment motivated him to write The Power of Now and A New Earth. I don’t think the sharing of this message was motivated by ego. I think it was motivated by this pure impulse to ease the suffering of others who were missing the bliss of the present moment by living in the past or the future.

This is all just my theory, but I now think we’re often motivated to do good things because we’re trying to feel more worthy. But it’s possible to know we are worthy and still serve others from a pure, clean impulse to ease the suffering of others. (Martha Beck helped me learn to tell the difference here.)

I Can’t Do It

So as I get ready to speak to an audience of people I hope to help with my words, I am doing a worthiness meditation so I can get my ego in the backseat and let the Divine use me in service to those who might be suffering. I remind my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) that she is already good enough/ valuable enough/ worthy enough without gushing fans or long lines at my book signing or getting to sit next to Louise Hay at dinner.  I am asking for Divine guidance. I am realizing, ironically, that I am speaking at an I Can Do It conference, and yet, perhaps, as Tosha Silver suggested, “I Can’t Do It.” Or rather, I Choose Not To Do It- because I want to let the Universe do it instead.

That’s what I hope to relay to those I serve at this conference. I don’t want to just feed their scared, worried, “not good enough” egos. I want to help them remember that they don’t have to do it- that if they get their egos out of the way and let the Divine take the lead, all will be well and they will finally find the peace they’re seeking.

Do You Yearn To Serve?

Generosity, altruism, charitable acts, and self-help teaching are all great. Don’t get me wrong. But if you find yourself compelled to be of service, I invite you to examine your motivations. Are you trying to feed the hungry ghost of the ego, which never gets filled no matter how many people you help? Or are you motivated by that clean impulse to ease the suffering of others? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Knowing I can’t do it alone,

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  1. SS

    Another great post! Thank you! I help because I can. We all have a responsibility to do our best not only for ourselves, but each other, our place on this planet, and the community around us. We all need help at some time in our lives, so its no wonder the golden rule is Golden! Do unto others…… 🙂

  2. Kelly B

    Wow Lissa! Thank you! I am currently one of those people whose urge to help others falls under the “makes my ego feel more worthy” category. Since I am also currently re-examining my life and what I really want to do with it, this reminder to not be motivated by the ego but by the divine within is a big help. Thank you again Lissa.

  3. James Ferguson

    Hi Lissa, you have hit upon a point that is overlooked too often by those of us who want to share our wisdom; it really doesn’t matter whether you get the recognition for your enlightened wisdom; when you do what you do because of your desire to create more love in your life and in your world, then it doesn’t matter whether anyone sees you doing it, or if you never get invited to a Hay House seminar, because if you do what do you do for others for recognition or other selfish reasons, then you need to heal your ego. Reign it in so you can do the Creator’s work – to create more love in your life and that of your brothers and sisters. You see, without love, benevolence becomes egotism and piety becomes spiritual pride, just manifestations of the powerful ego that drives too many of us including so-called enlightened ones. May the Creator continue to pour forth love and light upon your path so that you may continue the much needed work you are doing to teach others how to create more love every single day of our lives. Blessings, Rev. James

    • Lissa_Rankin

      Yes James. You get it!
      Blessings to you

      • Isabel

        Ego is poison!
        As the Dalai Lama says, doing good to other living beings is an egoistic process, because it makes us happier! It’s not calculated; it just happens naturally and ego has nothing to do with it!

  4. Gwendolyn Grace

    Thanks for putting it out there. I agree. We do not need to prove we are worthiness or get affirmed with praise. We can each live for our own joy, sit on the bench, paint rocks, climb trees, have babies, hike the land, whatever. Whatever turns us on heals the world one person at a time. Your post reminds me of Debbie Fords “dark side of the light chasers”.

  5. Teri Conrad

    Lissa, I have been absorbing your teaching for well over a year now. You articulate so beautifully exactly what I (and clearly many others) need to hear as if on cue.

    I too have been taking a deep hard look at ego and the role it has been playing in myself and my peers. At times I battle cynicism and lack of faith. I’ve struggled to find my place in this world. It ain’t always easy sister! The LAST thing I want to do is posture and pontificate. I just want to contribute. It doesn’t have to be glamorous although there was a time when getting on a stage and having everyone’s attention seemed so validating. It now feels empty and hollow. I want to be quiet until I have something worth saying…. like this post. Thank you.

  6. Rebecca C

    A question, or perhaps another thought to contemplate- Lissa, you’ve set forth an either/or situation. Isn’t it possible that a lot, or most, or many of us live in the gray area between these two opposites? And what about those, like me, who give because it feels so good to do so? Is that ego-driven, or Connection-driven? Altruistic acts are like yoga for me; after each I just feel so darn good- down to my core. It’s more of that mind-body-spirit connection.

  7. Warwick Begg

    Thankyou Lissa for your irrepressible spark of heart, intelligence and truth-seeking determination. You also make me laugh with your wry way of putting things. I think that in the end, helping people is actually the greediest thing you can do, because what else feels as good as your heart swelling with joy and tears when you see the blossoming of hope and the rush of faith burst onto a person’s face? It’s gotta be a divine addiction, where we have a taste of Home, and feel the loving connection with all things. Big hugs if I may – Warwick.

  8. William Allman

    If one truly feels agape (love for all humanity), then one’s thoughts, feelings and actions automatically align with Divine will, and our lives become a living sacrifice.

  9. Laura

    Very thought provoking post Lissa, thank you for this food for thought. I think I would be lying to myself if I said my desire to help others was completely pure. I hope one day to make my living by helping others. I currently work as a waitress and I do get a boost to my ego when I get a big tip or a compliment on my service. I know that I am driven to do well because of a fear of failure, my need to be a people pleaser (which I’m working on), and of course to pay my bills. Yet I do still think that the warm happy feeling I get inside when I’m able to help someone, improve their day, make them smile, pay them a compliment, or share useful knowledge with them is mostly because I genuinely want to put good into the world because I believe it’s the right and kind thing to do. No one taught me this or forced me to become this way because I remember when I was a little girl, I would love to pay special attention to someone who was having a bad day or was feeling sick. I would show compassion, make them a gift, or try to take care of them or make them feel better in any way I could. Sometimes, I feel all people need to know is that you truly care, and I know I do.

  10. Mary Ellen Hannon

    I love how you continue to inspire me! I am yearning to serve because I have finally realized that’s why each of us put on this planet. Thank you!

  11. Zoe Buckley

    The clarity with which you write is refreshing. I tend to serve because I would hope that if I were in the same position that someone would do the same for me.
    I don’t usually analyse why I’m doing something I usually do it simply because it’s the right thing to do. Is that ego? I’m not sure cheers Zoe

  12. Brynne Mackenzie

    To be with great spirit and little ego. To say “I am here what have you to ask of me today?” That I may be of service to increase the energy of love and light in this world this amazing gift of hope. We are to believe so unbelievers may one day believe too. I do not know why or how but I have known ever since I was born that energy guides us both positive and negative.

  13. PK

    Of all the write ups your posted, this one touches me within. My ultimate intention to serve is questioned. I have been helping others (providing counselling) based on my own experiences, and I felt good knowing that they felt good. It does not seem like an all ego issue to me, but more of what is inside that propels me forward when situaitons arise. My feelings guide me onwards. Yes, there is doubts, apprehensions, and even fears at times. If I could put the first step out, the rest I leave it to the Universe. Most of my fears do not happened, yet the negative feelings inside will always ask the same question:- “Am I really good enough to help?”. These days, I do not go out of my ways to help, but at the right time and right place, I still do. It is a challenge for myself in my path of spiritual evolution.

  14. Tanna Edwards

    In the past, service has been ego-serving work, but when Spirit-led, it feels VERY different. Thanks in part, to you, I am having many more Spirit-led moments of service, and posts such as this make me stop and go…hmmm….they help me to realize that I am on the right track…with you….and yes, the Divine.

  15. Dr. Sweta - the self expressio

    You know its interesting for me my ego gets in the way by preventing me help others in the grand way, I know I am supposed to. My worthiness issues comes from believing “who am I to wake up the worlds consciousness?” Because the work is effortless for me (I truly just feel like the vessel) but and I have a limiting belief that its lonely on top so I try to “help” the wrong people (folks who are not my tribe). I heard Mary Morrissey speak this wknd and she said something that really resonated: you have that inner calling to serve because there is a group of people who put the call out for YOU and it would be a disservice not to stand in your greatness as all these ppl will not have been served as god chose you specifically for that tribe ( my paraphrase).

    • Lissa_Rankin

      Dr. Sweta,
      This is a common way the ego gets involved in keeping up from delivering our service from a totally clean place. We tell ourselves “Who am I?” to do this visionary work in the world? Yet, as you said, it’s not really our work in the first place. If we get the ego out of the way, it is just the work of the Divine working through us…

      I know you will find your visionary voice!
      Much love

      • Dr. Sweta - the self expressio

        Thank you so much – you have been such a great role model and support to me on my own journey of fulfilling my mission!
        with love and gratitude,

  16. Sheila Bergquist

    I have often wondered the same thing, even of myself! I think I help people with a genuine and pure intention, but have to admit that the good feeling I get is a mighty nice benefit of it. And I guess that’s not so bad really. As long as we really want to do good and be of some use to others, and are not just doing it to boost our egos, it is fine to feel a little self satisfaction too. Great article!

  17. Mere Dreamer

    Rather than gaining value from helping … I have value, so I can help others. This makes me happy.

  18. Betty-Anne Howard

    As you said, I think it’s essential that we be mindful of why we do the things we do, as you said so eloquently. Makes me also think about the Equine Coaching I participated in where I had to keep my intentions clear while not being attached to the outcome, may seem like a contradiction in terms however when you work with horses your truly get the meaning of that. I find it hard to leave my ego at the door & have to pull myself back on a regular basis & remind myself that I am worthy regardless of the outcome. A very difficult state of mind to maintain given all the crap many of us dealt with in our childhood & the misogyny in our world. Always nice to be reminded as you’ve done in your blog Lissa of this reality.

  19. mary blackhurst hill

    What a thought provoking post (the first one I have read by you). Thank you. I seek to help others in their transformation (I am an Image Consultant) because I have been transformed myself and have a burning desire to pass it on. I suppose you could say I seek to bless because I have been blessed. And I love what Rev James says. Back to 1 Corinthians 13 again, eh?

  20. Wendy Johnston

    the world and our perceptions… so much suffering in our minds. Yes, the only way in this world is to help our fellow beings alleviate suffering by loving, uplifting, generous, authenticity. We are all worthy.

  21. Dana Keaton

    No, you are not alone. Fear is the block for each of us to pass through. I strive to be of service without being attached to serving or the outcome. Daily reminders in prayer that I may serve the divine and not my needs, as my needs are met through service to my god. This is how we help each other, by focusing on serving wherever we are led. If only I could be constantly in that space the joy would be huge.

  22. 3487855

    Lissa, Awesome topic! When we are coming from the mind or our personality or conditioning (often called the Ego) we will serve from a place of trying to fill some hole within us. When we are connected to and coming from our Soul, our connection to Source energy – then the desire to serve is about fulfilling our soul’s purpose, which is really the purpose of all. We are all One and so in healing the self, we are healing others (and we cannot take anyone anyplace we have not been ourselves which is why healer heal thyself is paramount!). In our desire to support others on their healing journey (because only we the individual can truly heal ourselves – no one else), we are shifting the collective human consciousness to the next stage of Its evolution. To ensure we are serving from a place of Soul/Spirit and not mind/personality – we must have a regular (i.e. daily) Spiritual practice. That way we stay in alignment. When we serve from this place, we are not depleted, we have healthy boundaries and we make our self-care the first priority. It’s a beautiful way to live! XoHeather

  23. KDfrAZ

    Lissa, what of the feeling, “I was helped, therefore helping others is the natural response.” The idea of paying forward as an automatic response to having been helped. (And of course we have all been helped.) I’m not sure when I internalized this, but I’m pretty sure I got it from my sweet mama.

    Does NOT mean I don’t have the “oh, am I being an egotist?” questions, because I do. But they deal more with my sometimes klutzy delivery than the act of passing along the help, trying to find a way to make it clear this is a passing-along of community love.

  24. Dawna Nolan

    I so love this post! have been thinking about these things from a purely personal point of view lately, realizing that I have long equated any kind of self-care or doing ANYTHING that makes me happy (especially if I can’t see a way that it does “good” in the world, i.e. picking flowers, or writing something i don’t publish) as a kind of selfishness, because i SHOULD be using whatever talents and resources I have to serve the world. And the barrage of what is awry in the world doesn’t stop, and gets more horrific by the day, which lends an urgency to my not only wanting to serve, but feeling a pressing obligation to do so. I am slowly coming to the realization that any change–huge like world hunger, or teensy like having a more loving relationship with my sister–only happens if I (and all the beings in the universe I am connected to, whether I know them in the material world or not) when i make any choice based on what makes me happy. And oh this sends up every red alert I’ve got! Who do I think I am that my happiness is the most important thing for me to pay attention to?!? But the magic in it, is that when you have gotten quiet enough, what makes you happy is only love. and i mean that in the most literal sense. nothing else really truly makes us happy. so when I have an array of options, if i choose the one that makes me happy because I love myself, and believe I’m worthy of my own love, then the choice is ALWAYS going to be a healthy one–and not just for me, but for EVERYONE I come into contact with. just so with healers or anyone who wants to help the whole hurt world–they have to do what they do because it makes them happy. i’m almost certain–because I’ve read thousands of the books myself or heard the speakers, and thought they were the answer i’d been seeking–that those people who come up and say that someone’s work changed their life aren’t able to see yet how change and transformation works–sure, we can be inspired, but the real transformation in consciousness can’t EVER come from outside. It seems to me, that means if you (or anyone who’s a “helper’) love what you do and it makes you happy, then you do it, and get ego out of the way by understanding that your only job is being happy—you can’t REALLY help anyone, they have to do it themselves. Ego is what makes us think we have helped anybody. (my own ego is SHOUTING right now that all the beautiful people who do helping work are going to be offended and hate me for saying they don’t help anyone, i’m trying not to listen to the caterwaul) As you said about Tolle, he wanted to share his bliss, and maybe he also wanted to be connected to more beings more deeply, but first, it made him happy to think about these things and write about them. We are imperfect and flawless, so we can never, ever get ego completely out of the way–ego is the human condition–but i really think the litmus test is happiness…and before you get to the self-love that allows you to know what makes you happy, you have to be in gratitude, for EVERYTHING…even things that seem awful, because gratitude leads you to compassion which leads you to love–which leads you to happiness. I know this is way too long already for a comment already, and i keep finding myself getting so excited and exuberant about how everything is connected that words just fly out of my mouth and off my fingertips willy-nilly. And I am very grateful for your post, because it is another point on the map I needed to visit on this journey. big huge love to you.

  25. Meagan Hammer

    There is a message in this post that i needed to hear. I have always known that i want to make a difference in the world but as i continue on my new awakened spiritual path there has been some very confusing conflict with this desire. I think you brought me some clarity. I think that i finally identified and now can began to disintegrate the ego need to do good out of a false sense that I am not good enough and a false belief that the world is a hostile place and I must “save” it. I have been struggling with my lack of fulfillment even though I work for a great company that has the resources to change the world, end hunger, support healthy communities, and all the other missions and values i desire. It is probably because the ego will never be fulfilled and my intentions are not coming from the right place. thank you for this post

  26. Shawn B

    Hi Lissa. Reading this post reminds me that I am not alone in the struggle I’ve been enduring for the past 3+ years. I’m one of those people who has a successful career and more or less enjoys my job, but I still feel this intense longing to do something more meaningful with my life. In truth I’ve always known what message I should be sharing with the world, the pure non-ego driven version, but my fear of losing the security I now have causes me to constantly find ways that I can turn this message into some sort of money making enterprise. This in turn drives the ego driven thoughts of fame, success, etc. which pull me away from the real value of the message I want to share. It’s a horrible catch-22 which has kept me in a state of analysis paralysis for years, and the stress of not letting my light shine has had quite an impact on my soul.

    I appreciate the work you do, and the insight you share. I’m starting to feel like I might be getting closer to that tipping point of just taking a leap of faith, and hoping that there’s a net somewhere below that will catch me.

  27. John M. Rinaldi

    …..when one has seen what he has seen how can he not do what he can?

    Can’t it be that simple.. an act of kindness in such a cold world? In a sense it’s tom she sense of it all retrospectively.

    If it’s ego driven, then my god what a waste… can you even grasp the concept?? ‘to feel good about another’s demise? I would t want anyone to suffer so I could fix them??


    John Rinaldi.


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