Helping People Surpass You

November 29th, 2010 by Steve Pavlina

It’s been said that we’ll usually help our friends reach a level close to ours, but we’ll decline to help them surpass us.

For example, if a friend is struggling financially, you may be willing to help them avoid a foreclosure if you’re able to do so. But can you summon the will to help a friend become much wealthier than you?

If a friend is struggling in their relationship life, could you help them find and experience love and fulfillment even more deeply than you’re currently experiencing it?

Can you help a friend surpass you?

Can you do this without feeling envious? Can you feel a sense of compersion for their success?

Or do you resonate with the Morrissey song, “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful”?

Is there a limit to how far you’re willing to help someone?

Helping My Friends Surpass Me

One of my early lessons with this occurred when I was a Boy Scout. I joined a local Scout troop when I was about 12 years old after my parents nudged me to try it. Friends of theirs had a son around my age who was into it, so I guess that’s how they learned about it.

I went somewhat grudgingly to my first meeting of Troop 961, but I fell in love with it almost immediately. One reason I enjoyed it so much was that this troop had such a cool Scoutmaster, a Search-and-Rescue guy named Robert Gibbs (“Bob”) who was in his mid-20s. He was adventurous and loved the outdoors, so we went on camping trips every month, plus week-long Summer camps on Catalina Island and Winter camps at Lake Arrowhead. Bob gave me the nickname Gilligan because I used to wear a white Navy gob cap on camping trips. He even filled out one of my award certificates with the name “Gilligan Pavlina.”

In Boy Scouts I learned first aid and lifesaving techniques, wilderness survival, wood carving, and countless other cool skills. I enjoyed cliff diving, snorkeling, canoeing, archery, rifle shooting, backpacking, and much more. I pushed myself to keep trying new things, eventually earning 21 merit badges, including 5 in one day. I also began to develop some early leadership skills, serving in roles such as Patrol Leader and Senior Patrol Leader.

In Boy Scouts you’re encouraged to rise through the ranks, which include Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. Each rank has many requirements, such as earning certain merit badges, serving in leadership roles, and doing community service projects. The early ranks are pretty easy, but the requirements become increasingly challenging as you get closer to Eagle.

I made it to Life Scout, but I didn’t make it to Eagle before I turned 18. For a while I was disappointed that I didn’t do the extra push to make it to Eagle in time. However, I did help some of my friends complete their Eagle projects. At first I was a bit envious that they made it to Eagle and I didn’t. But when I saw them being presented with their Eagle badges, it was a moving experience for me. On the inside I was celebrating too because I helped contribute to their accomplishments. I was proud of them.

One Scout friend did a service project to clean up a community park. It was sweaty work, but the park looked much better after we were done, and there was a shared sense of accomplishment afterwards.

Sharing Success

When you help someone achieve one of their goals, you participate on an emotional level. Their success becomes your success.

This is especially true when you help someone surpass you. It would be great if you could achieve their level too at some point, but even if it doesn’t work out that way for you, you can still celebrate their success as your own.

The people you help may get most of the accolades and honors of that success. They’ll be the ones wearing the cool new badges on their uniforms, but that doesn’t prevent you from sharing in their joy.

You don’t need anyone else’s permission to share in their success. Regardless of their attitude towards your contribution, you can still celebrate in silence.

Part of me still wishes I’d made it to Eagle instead of “only” making it to Life Scout. But that regret is greatly softened by knowing that I helped others surpass me and achieve what I could not. To this day when I think of Eagle Scouts, I remember those particular boys and the roles I played in helping them achieve that goal. For me the rank of Eagle Scout has become a personal symbol of contribution to others rather than of my own success and achievement.

Being Outdone

As I’ve been blogging for more than six years on personal growth, I’ve seen many people use the ideas I’ve shared to surpass me in every area of life I can think of.

People have used my writing on health as inspiration to help them achieve levels of vitality and fitness well beyond what I’ve achieved for myself. Others have used what I’ve shared about abundance to earn 10x what I earn and then some. Bloggers have used my blogging advice to help them create sites with traffic levels way beyond mine.

Even going back to my days of writing articles to help out computer game developers before I started blogging, there are people who credit me for helping them make their businesses successful, and they’ve since gone on to achieve successes far beyond anything I did with my own games business. I’ve helped inspire the creation of many more games that I was able to create personally.

Taken as a whole, I feel that my personal accomplishments are quite modest compared to what others have done with the work I’ve shared.

Staying Humble and Teachable

I feel honored to be in the position I’m in. It’s deeply gratifying to know that by sharing my best lessons, I can help people achieve successes I’ve never achieved for myself.

This is both inspiring and humbling at the same time. It helps me see that we’re all teachers and students of each other.

I’ve seen this from the opposite side as well. I’ve been able to use the ideas shared by other teachers in this field to surpass their results in some areas. By combining their insights with my prior knowledge and skills, I was able to progress further down certain paths than they’ve been able to. And then I’m able to turn around and be a teacher to them.

For example, in January I gave a presentation on building massive web traffic to share my best insights with dozens of well-known transformational leaders. I felt honored to be able to give back to those who’ve taught me so much. When I saw that they were eager to learn from the youngest guy in the room and respected what insights I was able to share, it served as a reminder that I need to keep learning from those who’ve learned from me… and never to feel like such an expert that I deny myself access to their valuable lessons.

When you help a friend surpass you, you can celebrate their successes along with them. Their victories become your own. And if you can remain humble enough, you can also learn from them by allowing them to contribute to you. Don’t let pride get in the way of that.

Being Grateful

It’s good to celebrate your personal successes and accomplishments. Success is a team effort though. Be sure to express your gratitude for those who helped you get where you are, and if you someday surpass them, consider returning the favor by offering them a leg up now and then. Better yet, do us all the honor of sharing your own insights, so that we may all learn from you.

Life can be a team effort; it doesn’t have to be a competition. We can play the game such that when one of us lands on the Moon, we all celebrate it.

I want to see you surpass me in whatever capacity you can. Then I can celebrate along with you, and hopeful you can turn around and teach me something as well. :)

I wonder what my old Scoutmaster is up to these days. He must be in his mid-50s by now. If I could find him, I’d love to get together and catch up. Thanks for being such an inspiration to so many boys, Bob, and thanks for so many cherished memories. :)

Incidentally, a very heartfelt movie about this topic is Mr. Holland’s Opus. If you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to check it out. It really demonstrates the power of inspiring others.


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