But First Be Useful

It is often better to be useful than to be yourself.

Very few people are born with such extraordinary talent and charisma that their path to being heard, seen, and respected is easy or free of obstacles. Contrary to what we are often told, most of us cannot simply be ourselves and expect to get anywhere in life. Instead, we have to prove ourselves. We have to prove that we have good ideas, that we can do good work, that we can work well with and for others, and that our ideas and our work have real, practical value to those we work with or for.

There is no promise in this world of being liked or accepted by others. Even if we live in a country where we are free to express ourselves and pursue our interests, nothing guarantees that others will actually accept those views or that we can earn a living pursuing the things that interest us. If, however, we begin by being useful in some way, it is much more likely that the people we are useful to will consider or even seek out our perspective and possibly even support our interests.

Even being useful does not guarantee that our opinions or interests will be valued, but if we are not useful, it is all but certain that they won’t be. This should not require us to pretend to be someone else, to sell out, or to do work that violates our morality or integrity, but a useful version of ourselves will get much farther in life than a useless one.

Think of usefulness like practice. The more we practice being useful, the more we understand what people need and how the world works. In this way, usefulness is the practical manifestation of empathy. Usefulness gives us space in our relationships to develop our ideas, skills, and interests in such a way that, when we have something unique to say or to offer the world, we will be more likely to be seen, heard, and accepted because we have already proven ourselves.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

-Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body, Severna Park’s Holistic Chamber of Commerce, and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

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