044 – Selfish Gains Quickly Erode

by | Mar 11, 2024 | Podcast

There is nothing wrong with personal achievement. But you can’t necessarily equate your accomplishments with serving the world. And unless you’re serving the world, your successes could end up feeling very empty.

In this episode of Creativity Excitement Emotion, David breaks down the three types of motives and the results one can expect from each, as well as what he learned from blink-182’s Tom DeLonge.



00:17 – Deeper realizations
01:12 – Doing things for personal gain
02:20 – Selfish gains quickly crumble
03:10 – Three types of motives
06:04 – Serving the masses (what you can learn from blink-182)
07:40 – See your projects through this lens


There is something I recently found that kind of gave me pause around the whole constant “Go, go, go, push more, publish more, always be productive, get more done” side of things.

And surprisingly it had nothing to do with health. Although, of course, health is important. And I came back from Calgary with eye floaters. I’m doing what I can to reduce them by cleansing and cleaning up my diet and it seems to be helping.

But this insight didn’t come from some kind of health scare or anything else. It came from some personal development work that I’ve been doing, and as you know I’m constantly reading and listening to things at this point.

It’s like there’s only deeper realizations in a way. You’re not going to discover something completely new for the first time by the time you’ve read several hundred books and read thousands of articles and listened to thousands of podcasts and been through various personal development programs.

But the essence of what I heard was this… and again, it’s not something revolutionary or completely new. I’ve probably read or heard or seen stuff like this dozens of times, and yet this time it hit me square between the eyes and that was this.

When you do things for personal gain and selfish reasons, even the successes you do get, and you can get successes being selfish… even the successes you do get tend to crumble or be taken away or is stolen from you.

True success is not based on personal gains alone. Click To Tweet

I’ve had some successes that were like that. I just couldn’t quite figure it out. It’s like I accomplished all this, but suddenly something appears to distract from that success or detract from that success.

Or the success itself just doesn’t seem meaningful to anyone but me. Like, it makes no difference whatsoever in the eyes of the people that I’m supposed to be serving and care about most, and I couldn’t quite make sense of that.

But I’ve started to have some growing awareness around this more recently as I’ve been diving into some, personal development material.

So, first and foremost, success earned through selfish means or for done for personal profit or selfish gain tends to crumble. These successes don’t last. They’re not meaningful.

And the things we do to benefit those around us, like our team members or collaborators or partners or employees, and the things we do to benefit customers…

You might remember me talking about win-win-win before and that’s in line with us. We want to create a win-win-win situation where there’s something in it for everyone. Like there’s something everyone cares about.

And that made me go like, “Yeah, I love creating things. And on the other hand, I feel like it’s okay to kind of slow down and look at what it is I’m doing.”

And I think there’s sort of three broader categories as I think about it. The first one is something that’s done completely out of selfishness. You know that there’s a gain in it, you know that there’s a credibility or authority boost, or you might be awarded or credited in some way, and you do it because of that. And of course, I’ve done stuff like that.

And then, the second category is stuff that you just do for fun. You ever notice how sometimes, you go and work on a fun side project that has nothing to do with your main one, and suddenly it takes off? You’re not the only one. This has happened to many people. The things you do for fun, it’s almost like people get to join in and be a part of the inside joke.

And then, the third category is I don’t want to call it “philanthropic,” but it’s doing something for humanity, right? Your products and services in some way, shape, or form benefits humanity.

Lots of people hate McDonald’s, and lots of people hate Starbucks, but they are adding value to society in some way, shape, or form. That’s why they’re valuable and that’s why they’re successful because, at some level, they’re valuable. There is a win and it’s not just a win for the person who created the company. It’s not just a win for the executives. There’s another win somewhere for the customers most likely.

So, for me, I’m starting to think the sweet spot is not in category number one. You can probably tell from everything I’ve said that selfish pursuits may not get you where you want to go.

You might get a few PhDs and MDs and some letters after your name. Dr. This and Mr. That and titles and whatnot. And look, some people are really into that stuff and some people take that seriously. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But it’s probably not going to do a whole lot more than that. Like a doctor who earns a whole bunch of degrees and gets a bunch of letters after their name, unless they benefit humanity somehow, it makes no difference whatsoever, right? It’s just a matter of status at that point.

So, I think the sweet spot is number two and three, right? Doing something for fun with no expectation that it’s going to do anything or go anywhere. No monetary gain, no viral social media, nothing like that. You’re doing it for fun and it might go there, right? It has the opportunity or the chance to go there, but the reason you do it is for your fulfillment.

And that’s much better than category number one, doing it for profit and selfish gain.

And so the sweet spot then is between two and three, and three is creating that win-win at least and hopefully a win-win-win. Creating a product or service that benefits you, sure, but also benefits humanity.

I recently watched a guitar video with Tom DeLonge and it’s not like I’m the biggest blink-182 fan in the world, but like in their own words, they were popping in the 90s and early two 2000s.

And how could you get away from that? So, I heard “What’s My Age Again,” and some of their other popular songs, “All The Small Things,” and I enjoyed it.

That’s kind of where I got started on the guitar too. And he was saying like, “The thing that we try to do is create music that is simple enough to get across to anyone.”

Like he says, “Sometimes you’ve got to take a step back. You might have something that you specifically want to do with your art but recognize that if you do complicated things, if your chord progression is super sophisticated, if you’ve got swept arpeggios all over the place, then maybe there’s an audience that relates to that.”

There’s another audience – probably the masses – that doesn’t get it. They don’t get all the technical side of things and they just want to hear something cool or fun. And that’s the kind of music that blink-182 plays.

So, when you think about that example, it’s like, “Okay, their music benefits the listener and you know, by their admission, they may not be the best at singing, they may not be the best at playing, but they sort of struck this balance where they’re good enough at what they do to command an audience.”

So, to me, that falls somewhere between two and three. So next time you have a success and you’re wondering, like, “Why wasn’t this more meaningful?” Like, “Why didn’t this take me somewhere? Why don’t people recognize me as so and so with this credential or this award or anything else that I’ve accomplished?”

And the reason is probably – and you do the looking yourself – but the reason is probably that what you were working on was number one, selfish and not number two, doing it for the fun of it, or number three, doing it to serve a greater cause.